with Jakkie van Jaarsveld, Operational Director, Oil & Gas Maritime International
The company is still very young as it was only founded back in 2009. Nonetheless, today OGM International already operates with bases in Africa, Middle-East, Asia and Europe with a headquarters in Switzerland. Can you first of all elaborate on the highlights of these first years?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: First of all, establishing a good partnership in Switzerland was an important first step for us. The fact that we can operate from a politically neutral country has given us a significant advantage worldwide. The setup allows us to be operational in certain countries where it is sometimes difficult for companies of other nationalities to work. Finding this Swiss partner was definitely a highlight in getting us started.
Derick Boonzaaier: While it looks like we have only been operational for 2 years, prior to this Jakkie was already part of OGM global, a company involved in the oil, gas, mining and shipping industry. The subsequent steps were the result of a successful combination of extensive experience in this industry with Jakkie’s international security background in oil and gas.
From South Africa, you service the African continent. Can you elaborate on the role that the South African operations play within the group as a whole?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: At first, we only wanted to use the OGM International office in South Africa as a hub for Africa. We were not really interested in venturing into the South African market itself, until we were invited to a workshop in the Netherlands in February 2011. After some conversations, I realized there was a potential in South Africa in the oil & gas and maritime sector. We got hold of a number of contacts and started looking into the different opportunities of doing business here too. At this point, we are only just registered as a security company in South Africa, and aim to provide the same services that we provide to our clients from Switzerland, Egypt, Botswana and Mozambique. In a next phase, we met with the South African Oil and Gas Alliance (SAOGA), which introduced us to a number of potential clients. What we want to do is to provide a professional one-stop shop for the oil & gas and maritime sector. We want to service the clients in South Africa, as well as in the rest of the Sub Saharan region.
The fact that we are politically neutral is a significant advantage. When the large oil companies find a European flavour in any kind of organization, they will see this as an advantage.
They clearly look for reliable partners with a strong track record. The company’s motto already says it: “Effective through experience.” Can you elaborate on this track record, and how it helps you to capture the attention of some of these bigger clients?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: I have personally been involved in the construction of LNG plants in Yemen, in the Middle East, where I was the security project manager for a project between Technip, KBR and JJD. Before that, I worked in the Middle East for the Ministry of Oil, where I had to provide a solution for pipeline and oil infrastructure security. The people that we are using on our teams also come from the same background and are former special forces, military police and navy. We use multinational teams and can provide specific nationalities if required by the clients. When we work in a certain country, we are keen to provide the locals with work and training. The day we leave, we leave behind skilled people that can later pursue a career in the safety and security sector.
South Africa is still in an early phase, but we believe that we can do the same here. There are a lot of veterans that we would like to use in certain projects.
Derick Boonzaaier: While all of our resources are indeed former special forces and so on, as soon as you enter the private sector you will find different lists of qualifications that need to be updated every 4 to 5 years. Regardless of the operational background of our people, they also need to go through a range of secondary trainings. We do not employ anyone without such background.
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: Our business approach is also different from other security companies. In the oil & gas, maritime and mining sector, the clients have a different approach when it comes to security. Some prefer unarmed versus armed solutions while others prefer low-key solutions. We sit around the table with the clients and have a brainstorming session to try to understand his specific requirements. Afterwards, we go back to that specific country and perform a full assessment of the area of operation, in order to provide the client with a master security plan. A clear advantage for the South African nationalities is that they understand the culture in Africa. Even in the Middle East, I have seen the locals getting along very well with the South African nationals. We do not speak down to other nations and treat others the same.
We have also signed the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers in Geneva. We are not a paramilitary organization, but a security company that provides professional services to clients in the oil & gas and maritime sector. Any wrongdoings or illegal actions will be immediately reported while we will operate under the local government laws that we are working in. When people hear about private security firms, they generally have a wrong image that involves violence and shootings. In several projects, armed forces are being provided by the different governments, while our staff only takes the role of security advisors.
Do you feel that this is an image that needs to be changed?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: I believe there are a lot of people in the industry that are trying to change the image of private security companies. The problem exists in so-called fly-by-night companies, which are called into existence for one-off contracts. Some of their actions can really hurt the industry in a bad way.
Clients are also tired of looking for service providers that can provide security, safety, life support, etc. That is where we come in with a one-stop shop solution. We provide the clients with country risk assessments, the setting up of the camp, outer-perimeter fencing, security, a meet-and-greet at the airport, an evacuation plan, and so on. While we are the “new kids on the block”, being Swiss-based and offering these all-in-one solutions is what distinguishes us. We are also realistic in the projects we take on, and will not accept any projects where we are not sure of successful execution. We always try to do the right thing, because in this industry the only thing you have is your name and reputation.
Some may consider private security as an expense that can be avoided or saved upon. What arguments can you bring to convince them of the importance of adopting a full and adequate security plan?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: In most countries where international companies are operating, they are required to subscribe to an insurance plan. To obtain coverage from an insurance firm, a certain extent of security needs to be in place. I have worked on projects where companies only have the minimum required security in place, which is insufficient in practical terms but sufficient for insurance purposes. At a recent security conference in China, where Derick and I were speakers, we were backed up by a spokesperson of Siemens who reiterated that good quality security personnel has its cost and is an area where companies should not tighten their budgets.
Derick Boonzaaier: At a global level, piracy for example has barely gone down, while attacks have even been on the increase in Africa. It is a fact that the threat has been decreasing in those areas where organizations such as the local navy or the NATO have started to patrol. Where there is security on boats and in particular areas, there is evidence that pirates are less willing to attack.
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: We are now also in advanced talks with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) regarding the rules and regulations of the industry in South Africa. It is more challenging to operate from South African soil to the rest of Africa for security companies. East and West Sub Saharan Africa is booming when it comes to oil and gas, especially on the maritime side. There has been a shift in focus from the Middle East to Africa, where a lot of natural resources still remain to be discovered. South Africa is well positioned to be a hub for this type of services, as well as logistics and personnel support. By cooperating with SAMSA, we can attract even more business to South Africa. On the maritime side, South Africa has very strict laws to place armed security personnel on vessels. Therefore, many of the vessels bypass South Africa to pick up our staff in places such as Mozambique. If we can have a renewed system in place that enjoys the local government support, more vessels can be attracted to South Africa.
Derick Boonzaaier: Indeed, while there is already a lot of traffic in our ports, new measures can enhance job creation and attract more activity.
South Africa is a new market. Does this mean that attracting talent will remain a challenge?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: The clients are looking for companies that can provide them with properly vetted, screened and skilled personnel. Our database of personnel is good and there are a lot of skilled people in other sector in South Africa, such as engineering. Clients look for companies that can provide them with the necessary peace of mind, and look for service providers that can provide them with a total problem solution.
Derick Boonzaaier: A lot of the other security companies have focused on the so-called short trips, i.e. they have a vessel that is being deployed for 10 days or monthly return trips. We, however, try to work with the larger oil companies on longer term projects. This in turn provides more job security on a longer term. There are jobs for everyone and in the end it all comes down to building relationships and trust with the customers.
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: Many of our clients have also clearly stated that they do not like subcontracting security companies. As a solution, we offer our clients in-house personnel that works under their name. At this stage, we are the only Swiss company to provide such services.
Do you see any additional services that may potentially be added to the OGMI portfolio in the future?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: In a case where a client for example wants to start up drilling operations in more hazardous areas, they will first need to set up a camp for their staff, work out a solution for transportation of their staff to and from the camp, and so on. As part of our life support solutions, we offer these services altogether.
Derick Boonzaaier: Getting visas, meet and greets, transporting people, etc. are all aspects of our services where working together with local partners remains of key importance.
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: We are also thinking to set up offices in Nigeria and Egypt. It is clear that things will be moving in a short period of time. We want to position ourselves in certain regions in order to support our clients as well as the local governments. They like the fact that there is no political interference and that our company is politically neutral.
Derick Boonzaaier: Our advantage is that we do not come with any baggage. Many of our competitors have a track record in either Iraq our Afghanistan, which gives them a certain stigma.
This also implies that you have to be very careful about the type of projects you select?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: Exactly! You have to carefully select the projects and even the clients.
Where will we now see OGMI on the medium to longer term?
Derick Boonzaaier: We will not jump into anything but first of all service well the clients that we have at the moment. We are not going to neglect anything that we have going on now.
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: Looking at the structure of OGM International, it can pose a challenge to win contracts with our Swiss / Italian / South African management blend. There is no US touch to it, while that is where many of our clients are headquartered. Many of the major oil companies have their own security forces, but are now experiencing difficulties to deploy those resources at some of their new projects. Step by step, these companies are starting to enter into talks with us.
Any final message you would like to send out to the international readers?
Jakkie van Jaarsveld: If we get the support from the South African government, we can really make a difference. If we can pass the different political issues, there is a huge scope for job creation in our industry in the country. The government has already announced that one of their key focal points is job creation, but we can only support them in this respect if they support us too.