What would you expect to hear when three old soldiers get together? The clunk of tankards? War stories of derring-do from yesteryear?
Probably less expected would be discussions of business strategies, financial spread sheets and the minutiae of office start-ups, but that’s what’s on the agenda for Simon Fordham, Howard Leedham and Ed Holland when they gather at their brand new offices at Abu Dhabi Global Market’s headquarters on the capital’s Al Maryah Island.
The three, who have a background in the British and Irish military, have come together to launch the first licensed security consultancy firm at ADGM, putting aside tales of battle to focus on the challenges of starting up and running a business with its main offices in London and Abu Dhabi – but with ambitions to go truly global.
“We’ll go wherever the client has a problem, within reason,” says Mr Leedham, who along with Mr Fordham forms the senior management team of Consilium, the latest security outfit to seek a significant presence in the UAE, but the first on ADGM. The two are old comrades-in-arms from the British special forces and have seen action together in many of the world’s trouble spots. Mr Holland, a former major in the Irish special forces, will be their permanent man on the ground in Abu Dhabi.
The roots of the business lie in Mr Fordham’s links with two other security firms. After 25 years in the military, with the rank of colonel in 2009 he embarked on a commercial career with BGN Risk, the security arm of Begbies Traynor, a global corporate rescue and recovery company. He already knew Tony Roman, the founder of Roman & Associates, a New York-based investigations company with extensive contacts in the American insurance industry and which operates throughout the US.
“I always wanted to be part of an international corporate business and we got a good name for ourselves in the London insurance industry during the Somali piracy crisis in 2009,” says Mr Fordham.
He had all along kept in contact with former lieutenant commander Leedham, who by now was making a name for himself in the Dubai financial scene as the chief executive of Dalma Capital, one of the few hedge funds in the UAE, based in the Dubai International Financial Centre. But Mr Leedham was itching for something where his field skills could be put to better use.
“I was lured into the hedge fund business but I got trapped in it. I’d already made up my mind to move into a less permanent role at Dalma when I started talking seriously to Simon,” he says.
Mr Holland, too, had been giving thought to his career after 16 years in the Irish military. “I always had aspirations to move into business and security seemed the most appropriate,” he says.
Consilium aims to be an integrated, high-end provider of risk and security consulting services, across all business sectors in support of governments, corporates and individuals, with a focus on discretion and confidentiality.
“We are open to accepting novel and challenging assignments,” says Mr Fordham.
The company, from its British base, already had a stream of business via London and its New York links, as well as Nigeria – regarded as an important base for African operations and where it is in partnership with a local firm.
But that network still left great swaths of the world uncovered and they hit upon Abu Dhabi as the perfect hub from which to expand into the rest of the Middle East, eastwards into Central Asia and the Far East, as well as southwards into east Africa.
“The security set up in the UAE is second to none but the same cannot be said for the rest of the region. The UAE is an increasingly important force in regional affairs and we decided on Abu Dhabi in full awareness of the fact that the serious decision-making takes place there,” says Mr Leedham.
The other attraction of the capital was the newly opened free zone, ADGM. “If we’d decided on Dubai and DIFC, we’d have been one of thousands of other companies. ADGM is on a growth trajectory for the next decade and beyond and as the first security firm there we get first-mover advantage in that sector,” says Mr Leedham. His colleagues agree: “ADGM is a new and fresh organisation, exactly like us. Being based there says a lot about us,” says Mr Fordham.
They found the online registration process that ADGM runs to be fast, efficient and trouble-free, and are impressed by the facilities on Al Maryah. They have leased serviced offices in one of the big tower blocks in ADGM Square as a branch of the London company and found it to be a relatively painless and cost-effective exercise. “We’ve avoided all the capital outlay of having a big office, but we are in the heart of an excellent and growing business district,” says Mr Leedham.
Mr Leedham said that the total capital outlay for registration and rent was less than US$50,000, excluding staff benefits and visas.
“This is slightly less than the equivalent would have been in DIFC, but for us pricing wasn’t a significant influence on the location decision,” he added.
Finance for the expansion and Abu Dhabi launch has come through a mixture of existing revenue, investment by the management, and outside equity partners.
They are mindful of the opportunities Dubai has to offer and are maintaining a presence there via the facilities of the Capital Club in the DIFC. “That gives us a base in Dubai and a place to meet clients. I’d like to think we are one of the first companies to exploit the synergies between Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he says.
It is unlikely, however, that three such action men will be sitting for long in front of a laptop or around a boardroom table. “Consilium will often be operating in hostile commercial environments but given our background and training it’s unlikely at least one of us hasn’t been in that situation before. We will be very hands on practitioners,” says Mr Fordham.