Neil Fergus, chief executive of Intelligent Risks, talks opportunities and risks in Brazil as well as the upcoming CSO Roundtable Latin American Summit in Rio de Janeiro this December
Neil Fergus is Chief Executive of Intelligent Risks, an international management services consultancy specializing in security project management and major events. He has been involved in the planning and/or delivery of security for five Olympic Games, two FIFA World Cups, and numerous other events including Asian Games, Pan-American Games and Commonwealth Games. Neil and his company have worked on a number of projects in Brazil over the last seven years and he was a member of the Rio de Janeiro Bid Team that worked so hard to win Brazil the privilege of hosting the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Neil is a recipient of the Award of the Golden Olympic Rings from the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for service to the Olympic Movement.
Neil will be the keynote speaker at Opportunity and Risk: The CSO Roundtable Latin America Summit, to be held December 6-7, 2010, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We talked with Neil about the opportunities and risks in Brazil, the lessons learned from the recent FIFA World Cup games, and what CSOs can gain from attending the event in Rio.
Dynamics: Is it important for senior security executives to be on the lookout for new opportunities for their businesses, in addition to their regular work in assessing risks? Why and how is this done?
Neil Fergus: Modern senior security executives need to do much more to advance the interests of their company than just to understand the severity or complexity of security risks in certain regions or countries. They need to be able to identify and advocate smart solutions to treat and reduce risks and they need to possess the tools to achieve the required outcomes.
In recent years, much of the general international reporting on security issues in Brazil and in Rio de Janeiro has been episodic in nature and much of it has been sensationalist. There are genuine security problems that intermittently confront the local population, as well as international visitors. It's critical to understand the local environment, some of the underlying social issues, the trends in criminal behavior and incidents, and the significant progress that is being made in improving the law and order situation in many parts of the country—particularly Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
There is a chronic need for effective subject-matter experts and reliable local providers. The ability to promptly complete due diligence checks to confirm the bona fides and suitability of vendors is critical. Therefore, ASIS has a very important role to play in relation to promoting and maintaining skills and standards, and as a professional networking association to assist CSOs to identify skilled, experienced, and ethical service providers.
Q: Why is this an appropriate time for a conference in Rio that looks at opportunities and risks in the region?
NF: Brazil is emerging as a new global super-economy. It is currently the tenth-largest economy in the world and the World Bank estimates it will grow to be the fifth-largest economy, and possibly the fourth, within the next five years. It is a major supplier to developed economies of critical resources and commodities; including iron ore, oil, gas, and agricultural products—and those exports are scheduled to balloon in the next decade.
The statistics on social progress in recent years have also been extraordinary. Since 2003 the number of people assessed as living in poverty has been reduced by 20 million, from 17 percent of the population to 8.8 percent. Since 2001, the income of the poorest 10 percent of the population has grown at 8 percent per year. The majority of Brazilians—52 percent—is now assessed as lower middle class by international demographers. Since 2003, 13 million new jobs have been created and 12 million people in rural areas have gained access to electricity.
Brazilian society has become more homogenous and regional inequalities have dramatically narrowed. The majority of multinational companies are actively exploring opportunities to invest in the new Brazil: whether they want to partner with Brazilian industry, participate in the commodities sector, invest in infrastructure, or develop a Brazil market for product sales. As in any developing economy there are risks to be mitigated, such as sovereign risks, health-safety risks, and security risks. Now is the ideal time for CSOs to meet in Brazil to further their knowledge on this exciting and dynamic country and to develop a first-hand appreciation of the security environment for the benefit of their corporations.
Q: What are some of the security challenges you identified in the region when you assisted in the planning of the many events you’ve been involved with? Has progress been made on mitigating these?
NF: The challenges in relation to the security of international sporting events and political summits in South America are similar to those experienced in other regions of the world. Whether in Rio, Lima, Buenos Aires or in Beijing, London, or Delhi, there are no chasm-like differences—notwithstanding the nuances of the local environment and resources available. Among the key issues are to ensure security is an integrated functional area with overall master planning, as massive events don't work at optimal levels if planning is delivered in operational silos. Human resource shortages are often a problem for major events. It’s widely recognized that investing in the local workforce with focused capability building and training programs will garner outstanding results. CSOs should note there is a comparatively well-educated and motivated workforce in Brazil that responds positively to appropriate skills training and incentivization.
Q: What do you think are some of the remaining challenges?
NF: There are numerous challenges facing the global emergence of Brazil. For example, there are considerable pressures to deliver an extraordinary number of committed critical infrastructure projects (including urban renewal, schools, health facilities, airport enhancements, surface transport—road and rail—improvements, and more international hotels).
There is also a critical need to continue the program to bring social services, including community policing, to disadvantaged sections of the population (reaching into all major “favelas”). The federal government of Brazil, through SENASP (the Secretariat of National Security in the Ministry of Justice), is administering a multi-billion dollar plus program to raise national policing standards and is investing in public service skills and capability building across the country.
José Mariano Beltrame is one of the leading 'architects' of the new Brazilian security paradigm that impressed the IOC sufficiently for its members to award the Olympic Games to Brazil. He is Secretary of State for Security in Rio de Janeiro and will be a keynote speaker at the CSO Roundtable Latin America Summit in December.
Q: Were there lessons learned from the recent World Cup that will be meaningful to Brazil?
NF: Numerous Brazilian observers attended the FIFA World Cup in South Africa to learn from that experience. Specialists in a number of fields and disciplines are still reporting back to their organizations and ministries in Brazil. Certainly there was considerable attention focused on the stadia and infrastructure projects, including rail links, that were completed—and indeed on a few that were not finished for the World Cup.
The South African World Cup was a great success on most of the key performance indicators but there are always improvements that can be made to a previous event by close study and careful planning. The Brazilians are leaving no stone unturned to ensure FIFA 2014 and the 2016 Olympics will be international best-practice major events.
Q: What will you discuss at the conference that will be particularly compelling to senior executives?
NF: In 2002 our company, Intelligent Risks, was approached to assist with the development of security planning for the 2007 Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro. The vision of Carlos Nuzman, president of the Brazil Olympic Committee, was to deliver a safe, secure, and successful Pan-Am Games as a launching-pad for Brazil to be awarded hosting rights for the first Olympic Games in South America.
Despite the skeptics, Nuzman and Brazil delivered a great Pan-Am Games and it’s now a matter of history that Brazil was awarded the Olympics last year in a landslide IOC electoral victory. The last eight years have been a remarkable journey for Intelligent Risks, working with all levels of Brazilian government (federal, state, and municipal), organizations like the Olympic Committee and various corporations, police services, and agencies. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with great, enthusiastic, and talented Brazilians but we have also suffered occasional frustrations and setbacks on our fascinating journey.
As keynote speaker at the Roundtable event in Rio, I intend to share some of the key lessons we've gained from our experiences as a foreign security company operating in Brazil—both the good and the bad. It has nearly always been a positive experience but there are traps and pitfalls for the unwary or for corporations who surge underprepared into any new venture.
Q: What do you think is the value of attending this event for security and business executives?
NF: This CSO Roundtable security summit will comprise a wonderful mix of Brazilian and international commentators that are guaranteed to provide CSOs with a particularly keen appreciation of the risks and rewards associated with conducting business in Brazil. The potential rewards most definitely far outweigh any risks. However, if companies move forward in Brazil, like anywhere else, without a full appreciation of the local environment—including security threats—then those risks can increase dramatically.
This summit will enable CSOs that already have corporate responsibilities in Brazil to reflect on and benchmark their safety and security operations. And for new CSO entrants into this exciting global market, this summit should prove an invaluable "master-class" on what works best and why, in terms of most effectively managing your security risks.
Peter Piazza is strategic operations director at ASIS International and a former associate editor of Security Management magazine.