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Getting to know you

29 August 2017

FSM spoke to Graham Lowe, newly-appointed managing director of Hochiki Europe, to find out about him and his vision for the future of the life safety industry.

Could you tell us a little about your career with Hochiki Europe and your professional background? 

I’ve been in the fire safety sector for more than 38 years, joining in 1979 in a technical role, having developed my experience in a related industry. I have expertise in all aspects of the industry, from electrical engineering and fire detection and alarm (FD&A) design, to sales and senior management. 

I began working at Hochiki Europe in January 1996, starting as a regional sales manager for the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Throughout my 21 years at the company, I have progressed from business development manager for specialist distribution, to UK sales manager, to sales director, before embarking on my present role.   

What are Hochiki Europe’s most memorable successes over the last decade? 

A key success for Hochiki was the creation of an international research and development centre to aid and support our strategic growth plans, pioneering the development and implementation of new and innovative products globally. In addition, the creation of our Hochiki system package offering has allowed us to further strengthen the support we offer to our partner network around the world.  

We are also proud of the opening of our Hochiki Middle East office in Dubai November 2012 and the Hochiki India branch office in New Delhi in December 2015. These, combined with our recent acquisition of DES Italy, now named Hochiki Italia, in Verona, mean that our reach is greater than ever before, helping us maximise the support we offer customers across EMEA.

What is your vision for the future of the business? 

Over the next five to ten years, we are committed to becoming a leading player in the international overseas market, and are working to further increase our market share year-on-year. We’re particularly keen to grow the sales of our emergency lighting solutions around the world, and to bolster our activities in the Middle East, promoting the use of European (EN) and Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL) standard approved technology in the region.  

To do this, we are working to innovate our product range and further enhance the connectivity of the life safety technology we supply. This is being done in close partnership with our sister company, the fire alarm control panel specialist, Kentec, as well as our network of independent third party panel manufacturers utilising and supporting the Hochiki Europe open protocol ESP. 

Thanks to all of this, we have no doubt we will be well placed to ensure our systems and our service support continue to meet our customers’ evolving needs. 

In your opinion, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the fire safety sector today?

As an industry, I think we need to do much more to educate building owners and governments around the world about the dangers that can result from a fire emergency, even in the most modern built environments. 

We need to highlight how so many fire risks can be averted simply by investing not just in the latest technologies, but in upgrading and correctly maintaining existing fire detection systems to ensure they offer optimum performance. Especially in larger buildings, it is imperative that adequate early warning is given to building occupants at the onset of a fire incident to give them time to evacuate safely. 

Reaching out both to national governments and the owners of buildings, we can work to reach a state of affairs where the whole built environment has the systems in place to make sure occupants are kept safe from any fire risk. 

What is the biggest challenge facing your business over the next few years? 

As with the majority of UK-based business, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is a concern in the short term. However, we are putting the processes in place now to ensure that we continue to provide the best possible level of support to our customers both in the UK and overseas, as the country leaves the EU. 

After Brexit, and in the longer term, we will be focused on ensuring we continue to invest in innovating cutting-edge technology to keep ahead of future life safety trends, demands and challenges as they evolve. A key area we are keen to further develop is system integration, creating new solutions to connect all of the detection and emergency lighting equipment in a building into a single network. This is crucial to make them as easy as possible to keep offering optimum performance. 

Do you foresee any major changes in the fire sector over the next five years? 

I think we are going to see the introduction of even more stringent fire safety legislation and building control regulations over the course of the next parliament. 

Going forwards, I predict there will be a greater emphasis on the integration of building control systems - including fire safety and emergency lighting equipment - across the built environment. This will be both to streamline the maintenance process to ensure the systems are operating correctly, and to give all occupants early warning of a fire alert, so they can evacuate safely. 

What is Hochiki Europe doing to maximise production and supply chain capabilities?

We’re investing in our team to make it the best it can be, which means recruiting high-calibre staff, and supporting the career development of our existing employees. We’re providing them with training to boost their expertise, and to help them identify areas of our operations where we can further increase efficiency and productivity to maximise output and quality. 

Our warehouse is another priority for us, and we are exploring ways to further boost the capacity of the building’s 1,300m2 of floor space. We’re also investigating new solutions to improve the way we monitor and manage stock levels, in order to help us continue to deliver customer orders in full and on time. 

Is there any exciting technology in the pipeline? 

We have a number of new products that are due to be launched over the next few months. This summer saw the official launch of L@titude. This is an innovative modular technology platform capable of recording data relating to 10,000 events and incidents across a building, to help facilities managers identify ways to further improve the performance of their fire safety system. Moreover, it has some 2,000 software zones and zonal LED indicators, to help facilities managers find the precise location of a fault or performance issue so they can carry out corrective action as quickly as possible. 

We will also be shortly releasing a range of FIREwave Intrinsically Safe (IS) wireless devices, which have been designed especially for use in hazardous areas - particularly those with an explosive atmosphere. There are both IS smoke and heat detectors available, as well as an IS call point, helping to ensure the area in question is as safe for occupants as possible. 

In 2018, we intend to launch our new generation of SCI sensors, which include smoke, heat and multi sensors, each with an integrated controllable isolator.

Our upcoming LEAKalarm addressable water detection system, meanwhile, has been designed to identify leaks from pipework or external sources, to help facilities managers find and rectify any issues. It will be ideal for properties prone to flooding, or anywhere with sensitive instruments or items, such as data and call centres, archives, museums and libraries. 

Do you have a favourite project you have been involved with at Hochiki Europe?

A highlight for me would have to be the completion of the iconic St Pancras station in central London. We were heavily involved in developing the life safety system for the site, and we worked closely with the organisations leading the renovation to provide technology that would ensure the highest possible standard of safety for passengers and staff. 

What do you think sets Hochiki Europe apart from its competitors? 

Hochiki Corporation’s (Japan) century-long pedigree as a life safety systems manufacturer certainly helps us stand out from the crowd. The company was founded in Tokyo in 1918, and since then we have been renowned for the quality of our technology and the calibre of the support services we provide our customers around the world, via our international network of offices. 

Another key distinguishing feature is the wide range of EN and UL standard approved systems we have on offer, which helps give our customers confidence that they are fitting high-quality equipment that complies with some of the world’s most stringent safety regulations. 

For me though, I think what truly sets us apart is our commitment to continuously improving our customer service and our commitment to research and develop in respect of new technologies. This is at the heart of our culture and the factor that will help us continue to grow and succeed as a business well into the future. 

Graham Lowe is managing director of Hochiki Europe

For more information, visit www.hochikieurope.com