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“ADT”, Derby: hexagons and tax barons

“ADT” burglar alarm, Derby • I’ve just emerged from a bout of research on my selection of “Modernist” alarm boxes – Modern, ADT, Thorn, Chubb, Capstan, Lander, Shorrock, Yale – and my head is spinning. I’d chosen them purely on design grounds, but with the exception of Capstan, they form a mind-boggling web of company takeovers, at least proving my theory that these stylish designs were created for the big boys. Security is a serious business, and this is globalism in action: the major firms are like a bunch of ever-larger Pac-Men chomping each other up from the 1900s to the present day, merging, PLC-ing and reverse-takeovering along the way, and led by figures including an emigrée philanthropist, a millionaire professor, a tax-dodging Baron, and a Croesus-salaried CEO currently in jail. Grandaddy of them all is ADT, an American firm formed in 1874, when a bunch of telegraph delivery firms incorporated as the American District Telegraph Company. By the 1960s they were a huge public concern, already operating in Britain, and in 1984 they were taken over by the Hawley Group, an acquisition vehicle run by business mogul Michael Ashcroft – aka controversial Baron Ashcroft of Belize, who was treasurer of the Conservative party while being non-domiciled in Britain and paying no UK tax. He renamed the company ADT Security Systems, registered it in tax haven Bermuda, and in 1997 sold it on to globalcorp Tyco (who make undersea cables and the like), via a reverse-takeover which gave Tyco Bermudan tax status too. At this point Tyco absorbed Modern Alarms and Thorn, and the all-conquering ADT we see here was born. Ashcroft bowed out, and in stepped CEO Leonard Kozlowski, who after trousering $81m in dodgy bonuses – some of which he allegedly spent on $6,000 shower curtains and an ice-sculpture of Michelangelo’s David pissing vodka – ended up in jail from 2005 till 2022. I’m sure that nowadays everyone at Tyco and ADT is lovely and kind, and doesn’t evade tax or have weeing ice-sculptures. But that’s not what I’m really interested in: before I started learning all this, all I cared about was the yellow hexagonal box. So, to get back to the important stuff, it was designed by Colin Marsh for Modern Alarms to replace the round Eurobell featured yesterday, and taken on by ADT when they bought up Modern. ADT have used this so-called “nut” ever since, and they now have branches in over 50 countries, millions of customers, revenues in the billions, and – apparently – a 45 year contract to maintain the security of the British and American governments (expires 2034, so ex-CEO Len will be out of chokey by then). I don’t know who Colin Marsh is, but he’s obviously a talented designer: it would be nice to think he was getting a royalty for each of his ubiquitous yellow boxes. But given the lack of justice in the world – even the burglar alarm world – he probably isn’t. • Spotted: Town centre, Derby, Derbyshire, DE1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Derby South

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