Mike Gifford

Executive Vice President, VFP Fire Systems Inc. (an APi Group company) in Huntington, West Virginia

I began working full-time right after high school in 1963. I’d hoped to go to college, but due to my home situation I couldn’t — when I was very young my father was crippled in an automobile accident and my family needed me to go to work. My first job was fabricating pipes in the shop at Viking Automatic Sprinkler Company in Cincinnati, Ohio, for $2 an hour. The company was about 120 miles from our one-red-light town. So that was my start: riding a bus, hitchhiking, and walking from a small motel to work every day.

Heroes Come in Different Forms — I Was Rescued

If anything was ever going to change, I needed a hero. Well, I found two. Pete Maxwell was in charge of design for the company, and one day he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. Naturally, I told him I didn’t want to keep doing this forever. “It would be nice to someday be president of the company.” He laughed and said, “Maybe you will be.” Then he told me he was willing to bring me into the design department if I started going to school, but after 90 days he’d either give me a raise or fire me. I took the chance, and it wasn’t long before my second hero appeared. Lem Linnell, who was president of Viking at the time, loaned me $500 to help my mother start a little grocery store. That generosity sustained our family, and I thank him to this day.

I guess I was doing alright because after about a year I was transferred to Louisville, Kentucky, to be the first branch designer. That’s when my career really began. Later, in 1967, I suggested we expand our business into West Virginia. From there I became a branch manager, and then in 1991 I was given the privilege to be promoted to vice president. Eventually, I became executive vice president of our affiliated business, VFP Fire Systems.

Today, I have the reins to help in anything, but I’m never alone: we have so many great managers who stand on their own two feet. We’ve worked across the country and we’ve done projects in other parts of the world — Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Mexico — and that’s meant a lot of challenges. Sometimes we come up against people who say you can’t do something. Well, when others tell you that you can’t do something, overcome that fear and do it. Just do it.

Living with a Cause

The heroes keep coming. I believe APi Group is the greatest group of its kind. Our chairman, Lee Anderson, Sr., and our president, Russ Becker, honor our country and communities with passion, and their example inspires me every day. In 1986 I started the program Living with a Cause — it’s all about helping everybody but yourself. We pledge allegiance to God, family, city, county, state, and nation to support and help those who are not as blessed, from families to individuals to veterans.

Viking and its leaders rescued me. They gave me a chance, and they taught me to want to do things that others said couldn’t be accomplished. That’s the world I live in now — I call it the APi Group world.