Questions & Answers with community faces
Brett Byrnes (42) spent the first few years of his life downstate near Detroit, before moving in 1984 to Frankfort, where he graduated in 1996. His son, Micah (20), also graduated from Frankfort, but in 2019. Now, the father-son duo work together five days a week at TKS Security, a company that Brett co-founded more than a decade ago with two partners—there are six other full-time employees in the Traverse City office and 18 others throughout the state, in their offices in metro-Detroit and the southwestern Michigan town of Jenison. Oh, and Brett’s father, Ron (61), works part-time for the company, too. (In their past lives, Brett’s father worked for a different alarm company, his mother worked at a central station for an alarm company, and his paternal aunt and uncle co-owned a small alarm company, so Brett jokes that security must be “a family thing.”).
After high school, Brett studied at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) in Traverse City on and off for a couple of years, while holding various jobs—Walmart, Crystal Mountain, Riverside Canoe Trips, United Technologies, Crystal Downs Country Club. He admits that he was mostly waiting for his senior prom date, Elly Jennex (41), to graduate. The couple married in 1998, when they moved to Grand Rapids; Brett began working in the security industry soon after, upon the couple finding out that they were soon to be parents.
They now have four children: Cora (21), Micah, Anna (17), and Thea (11). Brett worked for ADT Security from 1998 through 2010, when he decided to try going into business with two partners. So, since then, TKS Security has been around for more than a decade now and has expanded greatly, with more expansion plans soon on the horizon. Operating throughout Michigan and parts of Ohio, the company provides electronic security services to commercial, industrial, residential, and other vertical markets; examples of customers include financial institutions, schools, power companies, medical offices, primary and vacation homes.
Meanwhile, Micah has been around Brett’s work since he could walk. As a teenager, he worked part time helping to organize in the office or to build computers in his father’s shop. Just like his father, Micah enjoys tech and has always been interested in computers, alarm systems, cameras, and networks; thus, it made for a natural transition for Micah to begin working for his father’s company full time upon graduation, while also taking classes at NMC.
Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with the Byrnes boys at their Traverse City office.
The Betsie Current: What made you want to work in security? What do you enjoy about this line of work?
Brett Byrnes: My mom once said, “I don’t care what you do, just don’t grow up to be an alarm installer, like your Dad.” I had brief dreams of being a professional musician one day; I think she would have preferred I did that actually. I think she was referring to all of the long, crazy hours that security company owners and employees work, basically being “on call” for all holidays, weekends, and nights. That being said, this might be one of the fastest growing industries—I love it. I like change, and the fact that the rules change, technology changes, and the applications are fluid, that is exciting for someone like me. Our goal is to be customer service-oriented first, and technology driven. I would say, providing solutions that actually help people is extremely satisfying, also. We are a licensed fire alarm contractor, so installing a potential life-saving system in a school, for example, has its rewards. It’s not just a job.
Micah Byrnes: After I graduated from high school, my dad gave me the opportunity to work for him. I thought it may be a temporary job, at first, to help me figure out what I wanted to do, but as soon as I saw all the different and cool technologies that we work with, I really dug my heels in to learn as much as I could. My favorite thing about this line of work is the constant need for problem solving. Although it can be really frustrating at some points, once you’ve got everything tied together and powered up, it can be really cool. I honestly didn’t think there was as much new technology involved as there is. It’s really fun to play around with all the new systems that we try out. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I do.
Current: Brett, you are an example of someone who did not follow a “traditional” education path. Why do you think that path worked for you?
Brett: I definitely did not follow a traditional path. Sure, I took classes at NMC on and off between 1996 and 1998, but I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I could barely afford classes at community college. I really couldn’t understand how I was supposed to borrow tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars and pay it all back in a timely fashion, which I think was an unpopular thought for me to have back then, since a bunch of my peers were doing it. I almost went to Kendall College, where I had been accepted for art, but I chose to look for a job instead, since the numbers for paying back school loans were just not adding up. Not only that, but I know it’s a bit unconventional to get married just out of high school; finding a life partner is supposed to be harder than finding a job, and I think we both felt that, if we had that figured out, we should make a move on it. So, while I had stayed in the area while Elly was finishing her senior year, since she was a year behind me in school, I was at NMC. Then we got married and moved to Grand Rapids with our—really Elly’s—savings and without a real plan. The job market without skills was very limited at the time, but we were in no rush—until we became pregnant with Cora. As soon as I found out we were going to have a baby, I became a different person; the job search became real. I was 20, she was 19. I knew from my dad that alarm technicians could support their families, and he was working for ADT in Detroit at the time. This motivated me to find an alarm company in Grand Rapids, where I landed an interview after calling 15 to 20 times. This was the dreaded job that my mother had warned me about; I think she knew that I would become “addicted” to this type of work, and she was right. I had just started an interesting job in an ever-changing tech industry at a time when I could work as many hours as desired. At one point, I enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College and took some classes, but there was just too much work to do and not enough time for school. The environment at a big company was chaotic, to say the least, and I liked solving problems and trying to help make order out of chaos; there was no end to it. I didn’t realize it then, but at the time, I was gaining skills in customer service, time management, technology, marketing, sales, contracting, etc. All of this would help me later, and it wasn’t coming from a textbook. Why did this path work for me? I think that, because the electronic security industry is currently evolving and shaping, it is great for someone who may not yet understand their strengths and weaknesses. It offers opportunities to “shift” into a fitting role and especially to fill many different roles. I was able to learn technical skills and develop other skills while working. Fortunately, there are different licenses and certifications available to study for and earn. While working full time, I was usually also studying for a test, certification, or recertification. I hold a State of Michigan Fire Alarm Contractors and Fire Alarm Specialty Technician’s license, a State of Michigan Security Contractor’s License for TKS, and I hold other industry certifications. For more than a decade, I’ve held different jobs in this field: I worked as a fire alarm inspector, service technician, installer, supervisor, operations manager and estimator before starting our own company.
Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you?
Brett: I spend the first part of the morning answering emails, texts, and phone calls. Coffee is involved with every important decision. The rest of the day could be designing security systems, talking with customers, or spending time on job sites. I run service calls if needed still, but the staff usually has that all handled; they are awesome. I try to schedule out a few weeks in advance, if possible.
Micah: I am normally out in the field. This involves running wire, installing security systems, doing service calls, meeting with customers. Sometimes I work in the office doing “help desk” activities and tech support. One of the projects I’m tasked with is writing tutorials for internal procedures. I do this from time to time, as I have time. I think I already have the bad habit of working too much.
Brett: I should note that Micah doesn’t work directly under me. We have an operations manager, installation manager, and an installation supervisor, all to whom Micah must report first. As a boss’s kid, I think I have tried to make it a bit harder on him on purpose; maybe I’ve even pushed him away a bit at work. I’m not sure there’s a clear textbook rule for the situation, but I want him to be sure this is what he wants to do, not just because I do it. At this point, I am more focused on business development and sales, not day-to-day operations. Of course, I see him at the office, and I try to harass him with a playful punch on the arm or tease him about his choice of socks in front of the other employees, like a dad should! And sure, I try not to miss the opportunity to work alongside him as a peer on the occasional service call from time to time. He’s so excited about the technology and is quickly surpassing my networking and IT skills. Of course, I’ve got 21 years of experience on him, so I love the opportunity to “flex” some of that when possible. But when it comes to assignments, scheduling, day-to-day work stuff, he gets those from our normal operating procedures. My dad, Ron, works part time for us in the Detroit area, and he gets to “flex” some old-school knowledge on me, so I’m just passing that along! When Micah and Abby [Micah’s girlfriend] visit us for dinner, we really have to make an effort to avoid “work talk.” It is a conscious effort; I am not sure we do it that well, but we try.
Current: How has your typical workday changed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Northern Michigan last March?
Brett: Definitely less travel! Where I was going to Detroit, Marquette, or Grand Rapids one or two times a week, that has pretty much stopped, for now. Some of it is due to us hiring more employees; the rest is due to restrictions and trying to be a good citizen. We were already doing virtual meetings often, so our business had almost no learning curve to deal with when the restrictions began, as far as virtual meetings. Because of the type of business we are, our disaster recovery plan requires many of our systems to be cloud-based. This makes working remotely or flexibly very simple to do.
Micah: At first, things were really slow, as we were being especially careful. We are deemed an essential business, so we had to take a ton of safety precautions. Eventually, things got busier. Our office rules are pretty strict, though—we have to wear face masks at all times, every person gets their temperature taken as soon as we go into the office, and we are not allowed to gather in large groups.
Current: Where does the name TKS Security come from? Why did you start this company? Who are your partners/co-founders, and what do they bring to the table that is different from what you bring?
Brett: Good question! The “TKS” actually stands for “Turn Key Systems,” a play on the fact that we have a locksmith/key partner in Richard “Dick” Nowak, and we did a lot of subcontracting at first, “turnkey.” Now, as we are dialed into our vertical offerings, we added “Security” to our name, so that it is very clear to others what we do. Our partners are myself, Dick of Hersey, and Joel Marquez of Rockford. We started the company in 2010, because there was a need for updated technology solutions in security and customers were looking for better service, especially in the “remote” areas of Michigan, like the northwestern Lower Peninsula. Big companies often don’t provide a good enough level of support to outlying parts of the state, focusing only on Detroit or Grand Rapids. We also saw an opportunity to live closer to where we came from. Dick has experience with electronic locks and hardware; Joel has lots of experience in installation and operations; I have experience in sales and design, with a background in service and installation. We all hold different types of licenses and certifications.
Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What is next? Have you had any collaborations?
Brett: My work has changed a lot over the past 10 to 15 years. Electronic security used to be made up of “closed” systems, which were not easily accessible from anywhere but on-site. Today, people need the freedom to administer their alarms, cameras, door locks from anywhere in the world. “Multi-site” customers are people with multiple homes, multiple offices, buildings, etc. They don’t need to have a big building in order to need serious electronic security. We are able to provide solutions that they can easily use to scale appropriately with their growth. We love to collaborate with local contractors on projects. We recently worked on a large project with Eclipse Communications from Benzie County. It’s hard to explain the level of detail that is required, because of the nature of this business, but I can say it often requires enterprise-level network management, redundancy, and attention to network security. We often work with Eclipse in Benzie County, because of their expertise and understanding of this. There are also other great IT contractors in and around the area. What’s next? One of things I am most personally excited for is our TKS Training Center in Traverse City. We will be training our new staff in-house with our purpose-built LMS training lab and environment. We are preparing to scale, and the training program will allow us to scale in a more effective, uniform way. As we are building the West Michigan market, we expect a new office in Metro-Detroit within one to three years, as well as one in Marquette. We have already outgrown our Jenison branch and are searching for a new building there—I heard that we may be open in Arizona someday too, who knows? Another collaboration we have that your readers would probably be interested in is with Traverse City-based Freshwater Agency, whose CEO is Robert Rose, another ’96 Frankfort graduate. Freshwater—formerly Clockwork Agency—does our digital marketing and is involved with several other project-based integrations. They are currently working on a fairly large SEO website and rebrand for us that will be done this year. It’s pretty funny, because Bob and I were known as class clowns in high school and weren’t generally allowed to be in the same class together! Now, we collaborate professionally, making pretty important decisions. His team is amazing and talented.
Micah: Since I started working for TKS Security in 2019, the company has become more organized and up to date with the latest technologies. We have moved to a much larger facility in Traverse City and hired more employees.
Current: What are some of your favorite projects that you have worked on? What are the top three sellers?
Brett: Personally, I would say some fun projects have been a webcam at Arcadia Bluffs, one on a lighthouse in Lake Michigan, and a solar-powered, stand-alone security camera in the Upper Peninsula, at an automotive proving ground. I installed the webcams at the Frankfort lighthouse and the one at Harbor Lights in Frankfort, too; people can check out those feeds live online, which is pretty neat. Cameras, alarm systems, and access control are our most popular services. I am always surprised that people still use brass keys on new buildings—keys were invented in the 6th century, I think! Electronic locks make more sense to me.
Micah: I ran a multi-site bank project in Northern Michigan during the summer of 2020 with around 130 cameras. That was my favorite. I walked through the job, ran the install, and was able to see the end product. The customer ended up calling us back for more projects, also. My favorite part about that was staying organized and making the company and customer happy. One of the biggest jobs I ran was down in White Cloud and was more than 140 cameras, 40 access-controlled doors, and an alarm system.
Current: We know you lived in Buckley while your kids were young, and many of your kids have attended different schools at the same time. How did you juggle all those schedules? Why was it important for you to move your family back to Benzie? And, Micah, what was this like for you?
Brett: Our oldest three all went to Buckley Elementary, which was great. As they got older, their interests started to begin to include choir, football, rugby, and art, which were not available in Buckley. We decided to go to Traverse City West, because the middle and high schools are straight north of Buckley, almost a straight drive. Elly drove them each day, since she was already going to Traverse City for work. I helped when I could. When Thea was old enough for school, she went to Glenn Loomis Montessori in Traverse City. Cora and Micah both played Rugby for the TC Blues; Micah played QB on the football team at T.C. West. Anna also played football in junior high; she is tough. There was a lot of running around. Elly and the other parents were like magicians, making it all happen! Micah made the varsity football team at West as a sophomore, but he had a life-changing experience before the season could start. At the end of summer, Micah got injured in a non-sports related injury. He was at a friend’s house when the parental adults became involved in a physical, domestic fight. In an attempt to diffuse it and stop the fight, Micah ended up breaking his wrist, his labrum was torn, and he ended up suffering a TBI [traumatic brain injury]. This is a situation that a 15-year-old kid should not have to be in. Because we weren’t there, and because Micah was not could not fully remember, we would only find out the extent of his brain injury later. Other than his arm cast, Micah looked the same, but he did not act the same. His personality was immediately different, and he was doing and saying things that were not “him.” His motivation for everything was gone, which was very unusual. We would find out from doctors later that he could then only read at a third grade level, because of his brain injury. His vision was compromised, and he suffered from depression. I’ll let him speak to this, but I think he must have felt embarrassed and confused. At some point, he felt that there was no hope trying to catch up at school, he was no longer going to graduate on time; he had missed too much school from hospital appointments, football was no longer his identity, and he still could not read very well. I can only imagine how hard it was on him. Vision therapy and numerous doctor visits eventually helped, but I think he felt left behind and unable to catch up. I didn’t realize the extent of his injury, and I kept pushing him harder—I regret that to this day. One day, after an argument he and I had, he ran away to Los Angeles. He always had an interest in music, and I think he thought, since school was a “bust” for him, that music, this way, could be his path. This was the hardest time I have ever had as a parent. I remember the call from him after weeks of silence: “Dad, I know you probably won’t want me home, but can I please come home?” I broke down; of course he could come home, I was just so happy to hear his voice. We met him in Lake Havasu, Arizona, where my mother now lives. It was close to L.A. and the best option at the time. My mom helped support him until we could get there. He wanted to get back in school, and it just so happened that my father-in-law was superintendent of a school district on the eastside of Arizona. We took him there, where he stayed with family and enrolled in Globe High School. After finishing the junior school year there, we all decided it was good for him to come home. When back at home in Buckley, we had to decide which school would be best for him. He was healthy again and motivated. He had accepted the fact that he would probably not graduate and may have to go for another semester or year in order to graduate. Out of curiosity, I reached out to Frankfort, where Elly and I had both graduated. It was a 40-minute drive one-way: not impossible, but not easy either. Elly and I already had plans to move back to Benzie County, anyway. Not only was Frankfort able to accommodate us, but they worked well with Micah, and with hard work from all of the FHS staff and from Micah, he was able to graduate on time with his class year! Anna also went to FHS this year; she and Micah drove together. They became closer siblings, and Elly kept Thea at Montessori in Traverse. Cora was no longer in school by this time but, wow! What a rollercoaster!? Micah enrolled at NMC after high school and also started working for TKS. This is how Micah went from Buckley, to T.C. West, to Arizona, to Frankfort.
Micah: I kept a lot of this private for a long time. My sophomore year at West was mostly visiting doctors and failing classes that I normally excelled in, mostly because I was struggling to read. I missed a lot of school because of feeling depressed, too. I didn’t feel embarrassed; I guess I just don’t remember much about how I felt at the time. Except I remember feeling very angry and frustrated. I feel like the whole experience has taught me a lot about life; I’m now very grateful for that. As far as switching schools so much, it’s always interesting to meet new people and to go to new places. You learn a lot and get a lot of different perspectives from people. I’ve been a new student a couple of times, so it didn’t bother me as much as everyone thought. I was behind from missing some school, but FHS staff and Ms. Dewey helped me to get caught up, and I’m grateful for that, as well.
Current: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you are not working? What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes?
Brett: Definitely making music. Micah and I both love music—we even like to listen to the same music sometimes, ha. I was a weekend warrior for a bit in my 20s and 30s; I used to play out occasionally with friends in a band and sometimes as a duo with Elly. I had a home studio for a while. When the kids were young, they grew up with live music around them. I’ve always had audio and visual equipment around home, too, guitar amps and such. My grandpa Byrnes was a sound engineer at Cobo Hall, so I guess the Byrneses are just drawn to electronics. Micah is more gifted than people know. He also still produces a song or two each month from his home studio. Sometimes, before work, he will send me a link to an audio file, which I can play in my car and listen to before anyone else; I consider this a privilege. I play various instruments, and we plan on building a home studio at our house this year; we just moved last month from Buckley to Benzie County. Cora and Anna are also very musically gifted. Do not plan on a Byrnes version of the “Partridge Family” anytime soon, though. That has never worked, and only leads to arguments for us, thus far! We would rather have our own gigs and not fight each other; I will still wish for it, though. Other than music, sometimes we will snowboard and ski together at Crystal Mountain. We used to fish and hunt a little; hopefully there’s time for that again, now that things are a little less busy.
Micah: Like my dad said, playing/producing music is probably something I do every day. I love jazz and funk, but I also love to make hip-hop and trap music on my laptop using FL Studio. I’ve been producing and making music since I was 10 years old. I’ve been around live music my whole life—we always had a Hammond organ, bass guitars, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, and drums in the house. I remember playing bass with my dad’s band while they were practicing one time. My parents had a home studio; I think that’s how I got into music. I love snowboarding, surfing, and mountain biking. I spend all my money on stuff I love to do, because you never know when you won’t be able to do it again.
Current: How have you seen Benzie County/Northern Michigan change since you grew up here?
Brett: I’m still re-exploring the area again, but most of the changes I have noticed since I’ve been gone are basically “face-lifts.” We have always lived nearby and visited often, so I probably haven’t noticed any of the subtle changes. The core of what makes this area great—the land, water, and people—still thrive here. Many of my friends and their families are still here. At the very least, they still gather here, if possible, every summer. There’s something great about getting together and telling ridiculous stories from our youth.
Micah: I always used to visit my cousins in Frankfort; it always seemed like a second home to me when I wasn’t living here. In the summer, we would always be at the beach. Elberta Solstice Festival was one of the highlights of our summer, when it was going on. I live in Frankfort now with my girlfriend, who grew up here. With her family living here, too, it definitely feels like home for us.
Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of living/working in Benzie County and in Northern Michigan, in general? What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?
Brett: The biggest work challenge might just be travel. Northern Michigan is full of businesses that need the same security services that businesses in more populated areas need. There is no reason that a company in a small town cannot get the same great service that a company in a larger city gets. The most rewarding thing, however, may also be travel! Every place you go in Northern Michigan is a great place to be. There’s always a decent view and great people to meet. I love exploring a new small town I hadn’t been to before or revisiting one I haven’t seen in a while.
Micah: The biggest challenge for me is having to get up two to three hours earlier to get to a job site on time, compared to if I lived in a city. The biggest reward is meeting new people in Northern Michigan. I like that I get to snowboard, mountain bike, and surf all in the same area.
Current: What could Northern Michigan do to attract more talented young people to this area?
Brett: I think internet service is one of the most important things. With so many people working remotely or mobile, a fast, reliable internet connection is the way to accomplish this. The area attracts people naturally; to keep them here, they need a good internet connection—I am not young anymore, so I cannot answer further, haha.
Micah: Affordable housing is the biggest challenge I see. I think if we had more affordable housing, more young people could get a better start. If there were more year-round jobs and careers, that would also be a huge help. I think more young people would stick around.
Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots?
Brett: Dinner at Dinghy’s, the Roadhouse, Platte River Inn, Hotel Frankfort. Pizza from Stone Oven. Elly and I used to always get a Judy sub from East Shore Market. There seem to be a lot of great restaurants. I know I’m leaving out some that I forgot or haven’t had the chance to visit yet. For some reason, we’ve never been to The Manitou; that’s on our list. We like catching up with old friends for food and drinks at Lucky Dog, Stormcloud, Geno’s, or the Villa, if we get a chance. I love Frankfort football games on a Friday night. Fishing on the Betsie River takes me back to being a kid. I love just facing west anywhere on a Lake Michigan beach.
Micah: I love Arcadia and St. Pierre trailhead for mountain biking. I love to snowboard at Crystal Mountain. Roadhouse is one of my favorite places to eat. I just started snowmobiling, which is a ton of fun.
Current: What does your perfect winter day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?
Brett: Any time we can spend with the kids doing anything, that’s a great day. They grow up so quickly. Elly just took Thea ice skating in Benzonia; that’s on my list. I would say a nice walk with my wife and our dogs, Gabby and Beau. A winter bonfire is a great way to end a day. Elly and I have been fooling around with music again, so maybe rehearsing a new song at the end of the day, too.
Micah: Hanging out with the family, snowmobiling, or getting pulled on my snowboard behind a snowmobile!
Visit “TKS Security” on Facebook, or GoTKS.com to learn more. Call 888-595-1115 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. TKS Security offers free estimates and security assessments. Contact Bretty Byrnes directly by emailing email@example.com or calling 231-631-5413.
Featured Photo Caption: Brett and Micah Byrnes a father-son team at TKS Security. Both graduated from Frankfort High School. Photo courtesy of the Byrnes family.