BUSINESSPERSON OF THE MONTH
By Gary Kauffman
Alex Chilton doesn’t wear a Sam Spade fedora or Thomas Magnum-style Hawaiian shirts or live in a trailer on the beach like Jim Rockford, but like those fictional characters, he does hold the title of private investigator.
After more than a decade as a P.I., Chilton stepped away to run his own gun store, Savannah River Armory. Now, after two years of getting that store up and running, he is returning to the investigative work that he loves.
“The Armory was taking on a life of its own and I had the right people in place to run it,” Chilton said. “I just felt it was time (to return to investigating). Call it an investigator’s intuition.”
That Chilton made private investigation a way of life may not have been a big surprise to those who knew him as a child.
“My aunt has a recording of me when I was like 5 years old saying I want to be like Dick Tracy, that I was going to be a private investigator,” Chilton said.
But Chilton started his career in the public sector, serving as a law enforcement officer in a variety of capacities, including investigator. In August 1999, he decided to launch his own career. He passed the private investigator test on his first try and began networking for jobs.
In the early days he investigated a lot of fraudulent insurance claims and allegations of infidelity. Many of those cases required surveillance and he became known for that.
“That was my niche, gathering information surreptitiously,” Chilton said.
But the hours involved were brutal.
“At times when I was starting out I wouldn’t see my family for two or three days at a time,” he said. “After five years I figured I needed to do something else because of the hours. I had to redefine who I was as an investigator.”
Chilton began pushing for cases that involved more fact gathering and interviews. That led him to work more for lawyers.
“That required more interacting with people and understanding the human condition,” he said.
He became extensively trained in interviews, statement analysis and investigating criminal deviant behavior. He had a staff of employees and enjoyed some golden years in the private investigator business.
But a combination of a burn-out workload, the death of a key employee and another key staff person leaving for family reasons led Chilton to re-examine his career. He moved into a staff position as a legal investigator for attorney Vic Hawk for a year and a half, then decided to open his own business, Savannah River Armory.
“Firearms have always been a passion in my life, so I thought, why not turn a hobby into a business,” he said.
But during those two years he never quite left the private investigation business behind, still taking the occasional case. The gun store also brought him into contact with people with diverse backgrounds, which turned his thoughts back to private investigations.
“The Armory has given me the opportunity to meet some very talented people with backgrounds that are easily assembled into the investigative industry,” he said.
These contacts have given Chilton access to other areas of the country and the world, allowing him to branch out from a regional investigative service to a multi-national service.
“I’m still able to offer the same services, I just have a deeper reach,” he said.
Chilton is also investing in the latest technology and broadening the scope of his services to include adoption fraud, which is a growing concern for legitimate adoption agencies and anxious parents.
What are you passionate about in your business?
Knowing the facts, because the facts truly have no agenda. The facts typically are irrefutable. That’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about being a fact investigator. I think that’s what’s made me successful in the long term.
Is your business anything like what we see on TV?
We don’t kick in doors and we don’t intimidate people. We don’t bug people’s homes and we don’t get into gun fights and car chases. Do we get into dangerous situations? Yes, we do. Some private investigators carry guns and some don’t.
We do have people in the industry who are like Magnum P.I., some who are more gregarious and outspoken. I’ve always liked being in the background. I feel I work best that way, and I’ve impressed that on my employees.
How do you unwind?
I don’t know that I ever unwind. In the past I’ve been fortunate to have enough work to keep me occupied. Even when I’m on vacation it’s ended up being a working vacation. But my wife, God bless her, forces me to unplug. Every two or three years we go someplace without electricity, usually where you can only get to it by boat.
I have six kids and three grandchildren, so as I’m getting older I’m beginning to understand the necessity of unplugging. But I’m not saying that I do it very well.
Who has been your biggest influence?
As far as my work ethic, both my mother and my father. Both were driven people. Professionally, probably the biggest influence has been the lawyers I work with.
If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne. That’s my life story.
What gives you the most satisfaction in your business?
The exoneration of an accused person is the best reward. I’ve had several cases where accusations were made, a trial was held and the clients were found not guilty. That’s probably the most satisfying thing in this business. It’s the vindication of knowing that what you’ve worked for, a group of 12 people can see that the facts bear the truth. There’s no courtroom blustering. You just get up and state your case. It’s satisfying knowing that the information you put together had a part in that.
What does the future hold for you?
This is where I finish. Private investigations is something I’ve returned to to finish.
For more information about Chilton Investigation Services, see their website at chiltoninvestigationservices.com.You can contact Alex Chilton at email@example.com or call him at 706-589-8788.