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David Rubens

It’s the end of an era for consultant David Rubens – but very much the start of a new era also. Mark Rowe caught up with him.

Some 22 years after he began in UK private security, he is taking a new direction. No more will he have his own company name on his business cards as a consultant and trainer. It’ll be his name on InfraSafe Security International, part of a US company Advantor, and his name on his company credit card. Now David has long been the sort of security person as likely to be in Russia as London Olympia, where Professional Security speaks to him over lunch during the Transport Security Expo. Even for him he has been jetting around: Florida (where his new company is based) to Ukraine, and to Dubai to chair a conference; to Nigeria, and Florida. It’s a change from running courses in close protection. David’s time in UK private security began in 1991. One of the more widely-experienced men you are likely to meet, he trained in martial arts in Japan. To see is to believe – search ‘David Rubens 5th Dan’ on Youtube. He recalls – we’re sitting in an Argentine steak house over the road from Olympia, where he’s chairing the Public Transport section of the conference – how he was one of the original door supervisor trainers for Westminster City Council in 1992. We’re talking the dawn of history in terms of what became council registration schemes for doormen, a forerunner of the SIA badging from 2005. “And now, 22 years later, the entry level for anybody looking to do a corporate security job is now a masters degree and we are now talking about doctorates in security management, something that would have been inconceivable in 1992.” He was involved in the first steering committee advisory group around 1998 for door security, and as he recalls of those days, some of the people that thought they were going to set the agenda were the proverbial big and bald-headed sort. But they didn’t. “And it became very, very clear that whatever else the SIA was going to do, it was going to change the nature of the dialogue; and now security risk management has become not only a profession, it’s become a profession run by men in suits. If you go to a security conference now, it’s men in suits.” And men in suits who could be working for dog food or aircraft companies. “There’s nothing per se security about those guys; they tend to have strong hand-shakes but they are project managers, people who are running a security business.”

David speaks of a couple of developments. The argument over what (if anything) academia can do for me, the security person, is finished. “There’s no question any more of the value that academic research can bring to security risk management, and I see that in two ways. People that wish to get into the industry will do their masters degree, or even their foundation degree course, if you look at the Bucks New University course.” Here he praised Phil Wood of Bucks New University. “You don’t have to be a 30-year veteran of the Manchester CID, if you want to come in and learn about security risk management. Just like architecture or pharmacy or any other profession, you can learn about security risk management and I think that’s fantastic. And I also think what’s fantastic and it’s very significant and impressive is the number of 40- and 50-year-old professionals understanding they need to go to university and they need to get a masters degree. The question of whether it has value is no longer in question.” And yes, the masters taken part-time does fill two or three years of your life; but you do it for the doors that it will open. David is qualified to speak on this subject as someone who took his masters at Leicester University and who has done work on the other, teaching side of the desk, and who is carrying on study, doing a doctorate at the University of Portsmouth on complex and crisis events, whether terrorism or a storm or flood, or a power cut that affects whole regions. The UK has reached the stage where there are doctorate-level research possibilities for the security practitioner. University of Portsmouth is introducing a Doctor of Security and Risk Management (D.SyRM) programme from 2014, and there has been real interest in that from many people who have completed their Master’s, and have the feeling that they would like to continue with academic research connected to their own fields of activities. David suggests this will be as important for the few years as the masters degree in security and risk management was once.

As a man who has had to scrap over the years as an independent security consultant, he’s one to face facts, even uncomfortable ones for the industry. On masters degrees, he says: “There’s no question that the level of entries and final dissertations has lessened. And as someone who is a dissertation supervisor there is no question that some of those people should not have been on the course, and the work put out showed a fundamental lack of understanding of what is required.” The universities should not have recruited those people; and if recruited onto courses, after two years there should have been some way of making them understand what academic study demands, how to write an academic paper. David added that it compares unfavourably with Dutch and Scandinavian students; a lot of work is failing to live up to UK standards. That said, as David goes on, many readers will remember the Security Industry Authority opening conference at the QE2 conference centre at Westminster in 2004. “All of the issues that we discussed then are still live and have never been answered: this idea of professionalism, recruitment and training of people in security. “One of the major problems I have is that what was initially seen as a way of getting an entry-level qualification has become accepted as the industry standard,” a standard that workers do not move beyond, unless they seek an academic, rather than a vocational, qualification. David describes himself as someone who was an SIA supporter and then anti-SIA. For one thing the regulator failed to bring additional professionalism into the industry: “They are still doing low-level, entry level accreditation, but don’t teach people how to do a risk audit,” which would be much more valuable he suggests than, say, knowing technical details of the Human Rights Act. The possibility of creating a genuinely well-trained cohort of low-level security officers has been bypassed, he says.” But in general looking back we do have a professionalisation of the security industry to a large degree and that can only be a positive thing.”

What then of his change in job? “I was approached by an American businessman who had been on one of my seminars, a security technology entrepreneur.” Most of the US-based company’s income had come from the US military, the Department of Defense, ‘and out of the blue he said they were looking to develop an international division looking to create their presence in emerging markets, mainly Africa, Middle East and eastern Europe. And would I like to run it? And that’s the short version, and within five weeks of that conversation I am now just returned from Orlando, Florida, where they are based, and had that position confirmed.” As David puts it, that brings ‘a major stage of my life to an end’. I remark that by coincidence another industry stalwart, Stefan Hay, former SITO and FSA man, is likewise moving, out of the security industry altogether. Perhaps as a sign that it is a small world, David recalls having dinner with Stefan before one of the early Safer Doors conferences, around the millennium, run at Bridlington by Andy Walker, then a former police officer who did work for the Home Office. David and Stefan found that they each spoke German and enjoyed speaking it to each other. Sehr gut, I said. Sehr gut, David answered smilingly, with a good German accent.

Enough of German, what about Africa?! David said: “It has been clear from the people we have been speaking to so far, there is a real desire to find strong dependable security and risk management capability across Africa, and the existing capability is way below what is needed, given the present operational environment and the emerging threats.” David recalled one of the speakers at the Transec show describing how African terror groups are beginning to connect with each other. Besides terrorism, there’s crime and assets to protect. “A problem is that a lot of people who are outside of that environment want to try and sell solutions whereas we say that by basing ourselves in Nigeria we want to become trusted partners. Genuinely helping them develop security and risk management capabilities across their operations, rather than trying to sell them technology of some sort of another. And while a lot of people talk about this,” David went on, perhaps sensing that cynical readers might say this was just another sort of sales talk, “the truth of the matter is that a large proportion and perhaps the majority of technical solutions that have been put in place across Africa do not work. That can be for various reasons: the technical capability of the people on the ground is not well developed enough to handle the complexity of the systems; there isn’t the capability to maintain them; there isn’t an understanding of the physical environment that they are working in. For example you might test your camera system to a certain level in London, but that won’t allow it to work in a north African sand storm.”

David proposes something different; such as identifying local operators who have the potential to become product engineers, flying them to Florida to training them on the systems, where they have the opportunity to build them, and take them apart, so that when they return to Nigeria that have genuine technical competencies. Also suggested is working with Nigerian colleges to train engineers to install and maintain systems, and security managers to write a security audit, so that the installers fit the right products in the right place.

For the foreseeable future then, David will be based in Nigeria. No need to scrap ice off the car windscreen there, as in north London. It’s an interesting example of where the opportunities are shifting. The previous growth market, maritime security against piracy, does link with Africa, as pirates are working out of Somalia (though they are preying more on the tourist targets of Kenya, as western navies in the Indian Ocean are at work) and the Gulf of Guinea. David is an example also of where you can get in private security. “And I think it just shows that one of the secrets of making progress is that you just a) have to stick around long enough and b) just try to gently keep push the envelope out. There are real opportunities now. It is all based on asking yourself what can I do to make myself better in some way. And I think there’s a real understanding that the security sector should be given the respect, and is worth the respect, of any other sector. Security has become something that allows the practitioner to engage in a lifelong career progression, and, like the engineer, doctor, or scientist, the security professional gets better over the course of their career. It’s not merely a matter of attending seminars and collecting your points for CPD (continuous professional development) – you are genuinely developing yourself.”

About David Rubens

A director of the Security Institute, and a Chartered Security Professional (CSyP) he was recently appointed as an associate lecturer at the University of Portsmouth. He holds an MSc in Security and Risk Management from Leicester University, and has been a Visiting Lecturer in the Security and Resilience Department of Cranfield University, the civilian arm of the UK Defence Academy, where he taught on the Strategic Leadership course.

David can be contacted at
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