Who was Alexander Henson ?
Founder of the First Industry Association
Alexander Paul Henson (5 Sep 1914 – 5 Jan 1989), affectionately known as “Uncle Henson”, was the founder of the Association of Licensed Security and Investigation Agencies (“ALSIA”), now known as Security Association Singapore (“SAS”).
Highly Skilled and Decorated Inspector
Mr Henson was a colourful figure during his days as a Detective Inspector with the Singapore Police Force. He was awarded the Colonial Police Medal for gallantry, commended for his part in a gunfight in Geylang Serai and commended six more times by the Commissioner of Police for brilliant investigations. Throughout his 21 years of service at the Force, he had taken part in five gunfights with gangsters and robbers, and every time he escaped without a scratch. He was well known in Singapore as a “Crime Buster”, and his name invoked respect in members of the community and fear in the hearts of gang members.
Founder of First Local Security Company
Upon his retirement, he commenced work as a bodyguard to one of Singapore’s millionaires, Mr Ng Eng Kiat, the then Managing Director of Far Eastern Bank Limited. Mr Henson saw the potential of engaging in a business of security services and realized that during that time all security businesses were monopolized by Securicor and Wormald Security, both being foreign owned. With the limited resources he had, he ventured out and started the first local security company, “Henson’s Security & Private Investigation Agency”, in the early 1960s. Riding on his decorated name and reputation, he was successful in securing contracts for buildings and factories. He secured contracts with both Shaw and Cathay Organisations, and provided security for the homes of millionaires.
Why is the Security Agency of the Year Award named after him ?
Security Industry Change-maker
As the founder of the SAS, he was the catalyst for industry transformation during the time. The security agencies of the 1960s and 70s recruited anyone, dressed them with any kind of uniform and deployed them for security duties at buildings and premises. The guards had no formal security training and did not know what they were supposed to look for or act on. There were no proper security standards or guidelines.
With rapid industrialization and ever-increasing number of factories and commercial buildings, the demand for security and private investigation services also increased. Many overnight and fly-by-night security and investigation agencies were set up. Business was good, and the so-called agencies started to use high-handedness by way of engaging thugs, gangsters and criminals as business partners, security guards, bouncers and private investigators.
With his vast experience and astute mind, Mr Henson was keenly aware of the situation in the industry. Instead of competing within the industry as it was, he dreamt of building the industry up into one where the men on the ground were trained and respected, rather than looked down upon as mere “Jagahs” or “Watchmen”.
In 1976, Mr Henson audaciously mooted the idea of forming an association whereby security officers would be regarded as professional personnel. Through the association, he would push for further regulation of the industry and open a dialogue with the authorities, especially after the government intervened in 1973 with the Private Investigation and Security Agency Act passed to regulate the industry.
Mr Henson devoted much time and effort in writing to all security practitioners, informing them of his bold idea. After much convincing, 11 security agencies heeded to his call and responded. On 19 July 1977, the members met at CISCO premises and participated in initial discussions. The ALSIA was thus established in 1978 as the first trade association representing the security and private investigation industry in Singapore. If not for the passion, commitment, and tenacity of Mr Henson in garnering support despite an adversarial climate, SAS would not be in existence today.
The life and story of Mr Henson serves as a timely reminder to continue striving for excellence within the industry. A linguist with a natural gift for picking up languages, he spoke fluent English, Cantonese, Hokkien, Khek, Teochew, Tamil, Portuguese, Japanese and Malay. Mr Henson explained that he “never studied these languages. (He) picked them up by listening to other people.”. His commitment to providing quality service and protection inspired many, and it is with the same sense of humility that should and will continue to drive the SAS in serving its members and championing professionalism in the industry.
The Security Agency of the Year Award aims to carry on the legacy of Alexander Paul Henson. Awarded agencies will be looked up towards to pave the way for industry-wide change, as Mr Henson did in the past with the founding of SAS.