Talking business with security company boss Tony Sugden

In 2006 Tony Sugden, a retired Major in the British Army, co-founded Warrior Security, a security firm which operates primarily in post-conflict areas of Africa providing security management to corporate, government and humanitarian organisations. The firm currently runs operations in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zambia and plans to enter Kenya this year. Sugden told How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi more about his business.

Tony Sugden

Tony Sugden

What inspired you to establish Warrior Security?

After 20 years in the British Army, and a further seven years as an employee in commercial security, it was perhaps inevitable that I would consider setting out on my own. However, it was also a realisation; despite the plethora of other security companies there was an opportunity for a company to tread a slightly different path. Security companies have traditionally set their course according to the muscle and stated security budget of the client, which hitherto has been set unrealistically low and as a result led to low wages, low morale, poor performance and poor profits among security companies. Our approach has been to create a model that essentially reshapes the client security aspirations and budget through quality and slavish adherence to the basics: selection, vetting, training and management enveloped by a proper living wage. Our approach has coincided with the influx of major companies coming in from the mining, oil and gas sectors who are inherently risk averse and who have an extremely strong corporate and social agenda.

Tell us about your experience doing business in the DRC and South Sudan, two countries that have endured decades of turmoil.

Whenever I mention that I operate in these countries, it usually elicits a collective groan but in reality the opposite is true. The DRC and South Sudan have endured many years of conflict and degradation – and in some areas continue to do so – but they are in this phase because they want to create a safe environment in which to mature. What better place for a security company whose sole aim is pitching in to create the conditions for a prosperous future. In South Sudan we were the first company to voluntarily pay personal income tax on behalf of all our employees. We provide employment to the local community such that our direct efforts contribute to the welfare of about 30,000 people.

I understand you are planning to enter the Kenyan market. What is driving this strategy given that the market is flooded with security firms?

It is true that there are far too many security companies in Kenya, and in other parts of Africa for that matter. A recent census indicated that there are over 1,000 in Nairobi alone, the vast majority of whom operate below all government mandated minimums, such as wages and use of equipment. The shame of it is that these companies are in fact contributing to insecurity because their wages merely encourage the guards to steal. We have never been in competition with this element, which operates essentially below the line. Nor were we prepared to compete with the relatively few security companies who meet the minimum standards because their competitive profiles have all been based on price and market share. Where we see a gap is in the sectors and organisations that put a value on performance. In order to succeed in this arena you must possess unparalleled integrity. You need to be committed and you will not survive if you are not agile and adaptable to their security needs. These factors naturally weed out the chaff from the best. We believe we have what it takes and leverage it by being locally grounded.