Frank De Fina’s death this week came as a shock to everyone in the security industry. The industry has lost both a giant presence and a good friend. He made his mark as a talented executive at some of the biggest companies in the security industry.

The “Dark Restaurant Society”

I saw Frank De Fina a lot in dark restaurants. I was honoured to be among the security industry journalists invited to his twice-yearly press dinners, held at nicely accoutred (if dimly lit) restaurants in places like Atlanta, Dallas, and Las Vegas, wherever there was a security industry trade show.

Frank named the gatherings the “Dark Restaurant Society.” More than anything else, it was a meeting of friends. Conversations could go in any direction, whether music (Frank Sinatra or Rock and Roll) or any number of other topics. Frank would hold court amidst a long table of journalists (some squinting to read the menu in the low light). There are so many stories he told over the years, some again and again – each time with an intentionally embellished new detail to keep things new and, of course, to make it funnier than before.

Those dinners were generally the highlight of a busy trade show week, a chance to put the important work of security and journalism aside and just have fun. I was honoured to be included, and treasure the memories.

Frank De Fina also hosted a trip to Japan for a group of lucky industry journalists (including me) in 2005 when he was Panasonic’s top executive in the United States. For several days, we toured Panasonic facilities in Osaka and Tokyo, and got a full indoctrination into the Panasonic (and Japanese) culture. Frank introduced me to shabu-shabu (in a dark restaurant of course) – and to a new vision of Panasonic that substantially increased their security business.

Strong business acumen

In the business arena, Frank was the master “politician” capable of manoeuvring often complex corporate structures

In the business arena, Frank was the master “politician” capable of manoeuvring often complex corporate structures that crossed cultural and industry business practices, and numerous individual personalities. He developed strategies to cultivate new business opportunities for established and new brands. He also knew how to actually execute these strategies within an organisation (where even the best of ideas often die on the vine).

Those who have worked with Frank tell me his personal interaction and engagement with individuals played a big role in his management style. He had the innate ability to energise people and entrust them with his vision. Whether under stress or in the best of times, Frank was always simply Frank, even as he battled recurring bouts of illness that most around him were not aware of.

Security industry icon

After leaving Panasonic, Frank applied many of the same principles to reposition Samsung as a major force in professional security. Frank’s personal impact on increased sales, growth and market share were quite remarkable during his tenure at both companies. Later he took his skills to SightLogix and, most recently, Hikvision. I interviewed him a week or so before his death, and I have to say he made a good case that he could work the same magic a third time.

Personality traits and interests

Frank had many notable personality traits, interests and qualities that made him unique. Most notable was his sense of loyalty – to family, first – and to those around him that he trusted in his inner circle.

Frank’s love of guitars, mandolins, banjos and all types of music in general were also high priorities that added a unique contrast to his corporate persona. His infrequent (but well planned) stints playing guitar and singing at corporate events provided a brief glimpse into this other artistic dimension of his personality. Frank was also big on giving back to community and to those in need, although he didn’t talk about it much publicly.

A well-spoken industry executive who led some of the largest companies in the security market, Frank was also a big kid at heart and got excited to attend concerts and ball games (even those outside of Yankee Stadium).

And let’s not forget his sense of humour, which was highlighted at last year’s Security Industry Association (SIA) dinner in NYC. Anyone in attendance will attest that Frank was at his best, stealing the spotlight from a comedian-emcee who had no idea what he was getting himself into when he called Frank out in the crowd.

We will miss him, and offer our condolences to his family and many friends.