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Interviews

Interview: Ted Jones

We hear about international emergency response from Ted Jones, pictured, a founder and CEO of Northcott Global Solutions.

We’re sitting across from Ted Jones, one of the founders of the company, on its upper floor in Bevis Marks, not far from the Gherkin in the City of London. On the floor below in the ops room round identical clocks tell the time in Caracas, Baghdad and Singapore, besides London. So far it looks like other emergency response companies. Ted begins by saying how his differs. Usually you have either the medical side, responding to a travel or personal injury, ‘on the back of insurance policies … and they are jolly good, but essentially what they really are is a cost containment model for underwrites, making sure the insurer, their client, isn’t being stung by expensive days in hospital’. Operationally, they are quite limited, to the developed parts of the world; with policemen and ambulances. “The other type of company, that would absolutely claim with some justification to be an international emergency response is the traditional private security company; but actually if one examines that a little closer, how do they make their money?” By winning contracts. They don’t place people all over the world on the of-chance of a tsunami or civil unrest; nor do they have much medical capability.

Spectrum of scenarios
Ted argues that his company sit by themselves as they’ve built up a network of more than 7000 service providers in every country, ‘across a lot, lot wider spectrum of potential emergency scenarios’: medical, civil unrest, natural disaster, war, kidnap and ransom; requiring legal, diplomatic, cyber, maritime, tracking, travel management, hospitality or business continuity help. Much of the company’s work, then, is finding those service providers. The response might not be to fly you home, away from some riot, but to place you in a hotel 25 miles away until the rioting dies down. Having arranged the terms with the service providers beforehand, they (who know their country or region) can go to work, when called, at once. Operationally, Ted suggests, that gives a very different model to the traditional providers. As Ted says, that’s more robust and flexible, and responds to the actual problem; that man is downstairs with an AK47; or you’ve got appendicitis. “While the rest of the industry aim to get to the nearest ‘port of departure’ in three to seven days, we are normally at the client point of incident within the hour, normally; around 40 minutes. Because obviously we are using local providers that have been pre-vetted and terms and payment set up.” And the company is 3000 cases into that model.

Examples
Ted offers some examples. South Sudan, January 2014: international airspace was closed. That scuppered a response that had to fly in first, ‘whereas we were using local providers’. Professional Security, having just attended the Fraud Advisory Panel conference for charities, asked about NGO charities. Ted replied: “NGOs are great people, don’t get me wrong, but they may make the mistake of thinking the local community will look after them and sadly that’s not always the case; they are going into some very difficult places and they need a back up plan’. Another example; a bank in London rang about one of their staff sent to Moldova to do the paperwork on a foreclosure of a loan; an ordinary enough piece of business. Not alas in Moldova; the businessmen felt they could intimidate the young banker into not doing that, by hanging him by his ankles from a 17th floor window. The bank called a service provider that replied they’d be there in 48 hours. The banker replied to the effect that he couldn’t hang outside the window that long.

“They then called us; we had people there within 45 minutes; they explained to the board members this wasn’t to continue and he was on a ‘plane three hours later, back to London.” Not that the work is always so dramatic; another case meant flying a teddy bear (business class) for a mining executive’s child across continents, because the family had forgotten it. Same business model, Ted points out; giving options in response to a problem, ‘and in a time frame relevant to the client, rather than what suits our profitability’. On the tracking side, Ted says that the satellite and phone tracking as used by his firm isn’t different to others’; except, the response is ready to do something about that red light you are tracking on a screen. Here Ted gives the example of a Norwegian kidnapped in Pakistan: “He got into a taxi he shouldn’t have done.” Five hundred yards down the road, he got beaten up; but was able to press the alert button on his ‘phone, so that his employer could track where he was. The ops room was able to arrange road-blocks; the kidnappers, being street-level criminals, got out the car and the man was released within 40 minutes. As Ted adds, the traditional approach to kidnap, triggered by insurance, is on receipt of a demand. While kidnaps may be for political or religious reasons, Ted adds: “I have never really come across a kidnap case that didn’t have a commercial element.” Better then, if possible, to stop the problem – and the firm points to the fastest time it’s resolved such a kidnap, in Haiti, for a Swiss pharma firm, in 17 minutes – rather than activate a procedure in a day or two. Professional Security asked about the local service providers; was there a risk that despite agreeing terms, when a case cropped up, they wouldn’t deliver? Ted had already spoken of how, if for any reason the first service provider in a place, couldn’t respond, the ops room would ring the second provider, or a third. The service provider have the relationship with Northcott, and know they will get paid – especially once there is a case and the model works – and the more cases, the more money. Hence while Northcott began slowly, most of those 3000 cases are recent. Most cases are purely medical; toothache on holiday; or someone hit by a car. On that side, the company uses former RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) people. The firm did work in Africa during the ebola outbreak; and is registering refugees for the European Union. And they haven’t failed a client yet.

More or less dangerous?

Professional Security asked just the one question; could Ted say or forecast if the world, or parts, are getting more or less dangerous? The world has always been a pretty risk and complicated place, Ted replied. Business is in every part of the world; so businessmen are going into dangerous parts, certainly; he spoke also of ever-increasing employer liability, ‘that’s only moving in one direction’. As for specific world problems, he said: “I hope the IS problem goes away; I don’t think it will, in the short term. There are a lot of unsettled questions around the world, and even if they are settled, there are natural disasters, and they will always happen.” The bottom line, as Ted said in closing, is that people will always travel and will need to get home safely.

Contact: http://northcottglobalsolutions.com/contact/index.html.


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