Falcon Security: One of the Best Security Companies in Iraq
|Wednesday, 08 January 2014 00:00|
Interview with Gary Cavender, General Manager of Falcon Security
Let´s begin with an overview of Falcon Security.
Falcon Security was started in 2003. We were one of the first companies to be registered not only in Iraq but also as a local company. We have now been in operation since April 2003. We currently have 540 local people and about 75 expats working for us. We all over Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad to Kirkuk to Erbil. Our main business now is in the oil service, where we provide security services for the executives and employees as they move back and forth to the oil fields.
Falcon Security was registered by the Iraqi Ministry of Trade in April 2003, becoming one of the first companies licensed to do business in Iraq following the regime change. We currently have approximately 620 full-time employees, of which 88% are Iraqi citizens. Our clients operate nationwide, from Basra to Baghdad and Kirkuk to Erbil.
What makes you one of the leading companies in the field of security not only in Iraq and in Kurdistan but also in the rest of the Gulf area?
I think there are a couple of reasons. First of all, we are 100% Iraqi owned; Mr Peshraw owns the company. We have expat standards; we use former US military personnel to help set the standards and we then maintain those standards. We use the latest equipment; we use armoured cars throughout the south and we also have some armoured cars in the north. We have a fleet right now of about 175 vehicles that we operate. We track every vehicle; every vehicle has a tracker so that we can tell their speed and location and they all have a panic alarm if something were to happen to them. We know immediately if someone is speeding for example. These are the types of things that set us apart from our competition. We have 3 operation centres. We run an operation centre here in Erbil, one in Baghdad and one in Basra. Therefore we have complete coverage and the ability to know what is going on anywhere. We have people working in intelligence, both locals and expats who can provide the latest updates on the current situation in all of these areas.
Falcon Security is an Iraqi-based company that only does business in Iraq. We have had numerous opportunities to expand our operations to other Middle East locations, but that would be contrary to the Company’s core focus. The Company owner, Mr. Peshraw Majid Agha, is motivated by his interest to helping Iraq resume its rightful place as a free and democratic country in the international society of nations. He understands fully well that the key to Iraq’s success is going to be nationwide security. His security operations are governed by five fundamental performance standards:
In your opinion, how big is the security services market in Iraq? Is there a tremendous demand in the market?
I think that when the US military left, everyone thought that the need for security would be decreasing, but as you get more and more oil companies and people coming in, not only in Iraq but throughout the oil service business in every country, the need for security increases.
Iraq is a nation with enormous potential. Without question, its petroleum resources are among the largest in the world. But that is only one of its many positive attributes. Historically, Iraq has been known as “The Fertile Crescent,” and the “Cradle of Civilization” because of its incredible agricultural potential. With the right investment in infrastructure, Iraq could become an enormous exporter of produce for the entire region. Additionally, Iraq’s ancient historical significance could make it a powerful tourist destination. However, all of these potential economic resources depend on a stable security environment. When sectarian and regional difficulties are settled—that is, when the factions understand that there is adequate opportunities for all groups to flourish under a common national destiny—Iraq may well become the most prominent and influential nation in the region. This is all dependent on providing a safe secure environment in which to live and work. Security will continue to be crucial to Iraq’s development for the foreseeable future.
What are some of the largest or the most successful projects that you are involved in?
I think that one of the largest projects we are involved in is the security we provide in the South of Iraq. There are increasing opportunities for the security business and also for private investors coming in. There is a very good situation here within Erbil.
This is a great question because the answer must be understood from two broad perspectives. On a business level, one of the largest projects we are involved in is the security we provide in oil fields in southern Iraq. In the north, we work with many other international oil companies. These are the projects that allow us to stay in business and pay our bills. On another level, we are extremely proud of what we have accomplished locally and regionally for the people in Iraq. Whenever we are preparing a bid for a new potential contract, our owner, Mr. Peshraw Majid Agha, always asks us to brief him on the impact that our work will have on the local communities. He never loses sight of the fact that if Iraq is going to succeed socially and economically, it will be because we provide good-paying jobs and career opportunities for Iraqi citizens. I enjoy my job, but I am especially proud of the fact that I work for a company that cares about its employees and sees a higher mission than just the “bottom line.”
Could we say that you are probably the best security service provider in Iraq?
Well I like to think that we are. There are many good companies out there but if you look back at our track record we probably have one of the best safety records of any company operating in Iraq. We hire some of the best people available as our team leaders and our medics and many of our local employees have been with us since 2004. At one time we had over 1500 local people working for us supporting US Government rebuilding operations, so we have a large pool of experienced former employees from which to draw. Our people are trusted, vetted, trained and capable of eventually taking over and doing a lot of the jobs that expats have been doing before.
What is your strategy for the future? Are you going to expand into other areas?
Mr Peshraw´s philosophy is never to expand too quickly. We want to make sure that we grow within our capacity. We have continued to grow but we want to make sure that we do not take on more than we can handle. You may say that you can do something, but you have to have the critical people in the leadership positions in order to do it. Those critical people have to be locals, not just expats. You do need some expats but most of the critical jobs now must have trained local expertise. This obviously takes time to develop but we see growth. We are experiencing about 20-25% growth and we think that we can maintain that growth for the next 3 to 5 years.
Mr. Peshraw is a visionary who is always looking at the “big picture.” He often talks about the kind of Iraq he wants to leave for his children and his grandchildren. After his success in the security business, he formed Falcon Group of Companies and began investing in urban development, agriculture and engineering projects. Mr. Peshraw understands that as Iraq becomes more peaceful, more politically tolerant and more respected regionally and internationally as a nation state, businesses will flourish and the quality of life of its citizens will improve. This is always first and foremost on his mind and governs his business decisions.
What are the major challenges that you are facing?
One of the major challenge of this security operation is that it requires a 7 days a week, 24 hours a day operational commitment. You never slow down. There are more and more people coming here to Iraq and Kurdistan and there are more and more people buying property, purchasing vehicles and looking for business opportunities. The risks in some areas are reducing but the risks in driving for example, the risks of having an accident are increasing. These are areas in which we have evolved in our market. We have gone from toting guns, to being medics and first aid responders ready on the scene to be able to take care of anything that might happen. A second challenge that is specific to Iraq is the geometric growth taking place. There are more jobs, more businesses, more workers, more vehicles on roads, more traffic, and more retail spending. All of this growth puts incredible stress on the infrastructure.
In time as the situation calms down and things become safer here, what is the outlook for the security services? Are you going to diversify?
Well, I don’t know if on the security side we are thinking about diversifying. Within Falcon Group of Companies, we have diversified into agriculture, urban development and engineering as well as oil and gas services. In terms of security, our focus has always been on safety -- the number one priority is the safety of our clients. For the oil service business the priorities are health, safety and environment. So these are the kind of things that we must take into consideration. We spend a lot more time now on training and on having the right equipment and also on developing our local personnel. We are training a lot more locals to be able to take over as team leaders and more locals to move into the medical services that would be required for example if you were on the road and had or came upon an automobile accident. Our corporate management is constantly looking for ways to promote locals into more senior managerial or technical positions as soon as they are qualified.
Do you have your own training facilities?
Yes. We are one of the few companies that has a full time training department. We have personnel that are certified to conduct drivers´, weapons and medical training. Many of our expat personnel are former military and police officers. The senior trainers are EMTPs certified to teach medical training, emergency life-saving techniques, etc. Our long-term goal is to have Iraqi nationals filling all the specialized positions that are currently filled by expatriates.
What is your personal experience working in Falcon Group?
I first started working with Falcon in 2004. I think Falcon has always been one of the leaders in the field. A lot of it is down to the vision that the Chairman, Mr. Peshraw Majid Agha has. He has always had the vision that Falcon Security would be part of the foundation of Falcon Group but his vision is to grow Falcon Group into much more than just Falcon Security. When we first started we were just Falcon Security and now as you know we are running many different companies here. Falcon Security will continue to evolve; where we will be in 5 years? I don’t know, but we will still be here operating and contributing to the employment and well-being of Iraqi citizens.
Do you feel a lot of pressure being in the security business to make sure that when clients are happy with your security services that they move into other services that the group provides?
I think that it is not just about people coming to Falcon Security and then moving into other sectors of the group. There are people that go and directly talk to the oil and gas sector or to the real estate sector but many times we do tell them what other services we offer. When clients are happy with our management structure and the company philosophy, it is only natural for them to increase their business relations with us.
Now, there is a new foreign company that is coming into the oil and gas business here, would you advise them to use your security services?
I would say that it depends on what they like to do. We can provide a service; we are not the least expensive but we think that we are probably the best in terms of service. I would advise them to look at their situation, to look at where they are from and also where they are operating here in Kurdistan and also Iraq. If you are operating just in the city of Erbil, for example, the security requirements are far different than they are in other locations. Therefore it really depends on where they are going to be operating.
What are the specific risk factors that these oil and gas companies must take into consideration?
As I alluded to earlier, the number one risk is vehicle accidents throughout Iraq. You have to think about where you are operating and where the closest hospitals are. You must take into consideration the lack of first responders. Driving, in terms of the quality of the people who are driving you and the quality of the cars is the main risk here. In our case, we change the brake pads on our armoured vehicles every 500km. These are the kind of things where you don’t want to wait until something bad happens, instead you have to be preventive in these places and situations.
One of the biggest safety risks in Iraq is the danger of vehicular accidents. Not only should companies insure that drivers are highly trained in defensive driving techniques, but also that vehicles are kept in top condition and that first aid kits and trained medics are always available. One advantage to using a local company is that we know the locations of the local hospitals and can always insure quick access to doctors when required. Other types of risks vary considerably depending on where companies are operating, and constant intelligence is crucial because risks change over time.
To get back to your question and to look at what they should consider: they should first consider where they operate. Then they need to look at their exposure, for example are they travelling every day on the road or just once a week. They should consider not driving at night time as the roads are not well lit and some of them still have potholes etc.
You mentioned that the number one risk is being in a car accident, what would you say are the following major risks?
I think the second major risk would be that of an IED. The likelihood of being shot or ambushed has really reduced, especially in Erbil. The security in Erbil is very good indeed. Even in Bagdad and Basra the security is getting better. I know that is hard to believe when you look at some of the numbers that are reported but you also have to look at what the targets are. Recently, the targets have not been oil companies, they have been more along sectarian lines.
Is your entire fleet of vehicles armoured?
We run a mixture of fleets, it depends where we are located. In Baghdad and Basra we run entirely armoured fleets. Every car that Falcon Security operates right now is from 2011 or better. We try to rotate the cars that we have out after three years of service or less depending on the number of kilometers. The armoured cars that we use are built in the UAE and we import them in. In the north we also run a mixture of armoured and non-armoured cars. Some clients require that they still have armoured cars but other clients do not.
What message would you give to someone that is thinking of coming to do business here in the Kurdistan area, particularly in terms of security?
I think the message I would send to people is that first of all I would welcome anyone. I think that there are great opportunities for many people to come here especially in Kurdistan and in Erbil. I think that soon you are also going to see Basra start to develop and it will even become more conducive to do business there in the future. The security business is similar to real estate, in that it is all about location, location, location. You cannot cookie cutter and look as Iraq as a whole: you have to look at each region individually. You have to look at what your modus operandi is and how many locals you are going to hire. Your best security option is to hire as many locals as possible from the local area, to get the people working and to let them see the results of what development of the oil here is bringing to the local people, not just to the overall economy of Iraq.