So is this Blackwater part 2?
“It’s similar,” Prince replied. “But we’re not here to serve government or defence projects, we’re not there to build their police force, nothing like that. We’re there to move an NGO, an advanced seismic crew or a drilling crew from a mining company, or if an oil operation needs their camp supported and built.”
The story of Erik Prince starting Frontier Resource Group and focusing on Africa is not new and I have blogged about that when it first came out. But what was missing were the details, or at least more than what was available at the time I posted that stuff. Thanks to the Civilian Warriors book and all the interviews, Prince has been able to talk a little more about this new venture.
So in the articles below, there are some great little details to pluck out and talk about. The first one that I thought was interesting, was the ‘a ha’ moment for Prince as to what area of business he wanted to get into in Africa.
Prince, who has flown since he was 16, said he realised the potential of operating a safe and reliable air service a year ago when the aircraft which was flying him back from a mine site in Burkina Faso nearly crashed.
“A scary moment but also one of clarity,” he said.
I mentioned in my review of his book that he is an entrepreneur and businessman, and he constantly looks at the world through this lens. His ‘a ha’ moment for the creation of Blackwater came from the realization that he needed to be home with his family, and the SEALs and other groups needed a consolidated, all in one training facility. So he identified a market weakness that he could exploit, and also saw the advantage for his personal well being.
He is also a pilot and has had a love for aircraft since he was younger. In his book, he was very proud of all the aviation ventures that BW got into, so this move towards aviation and logistics in Africa makes sense.
The other tidbit is the quote up top and what was directly asked in regards to security work. He was asked by the WSJ on whether this new venture would include armed security work or not? Here is the quote.
Such high costs also reflect the dangers of piracy and civil conflict, but Mr. Prince plays down his firm’s plans in the security realm. “We are not there to provide military training. We are not there to provide security per se. Most of that security”—say, if an oil pipeline or mining camp needs protection—”would be done by whatever local services are there,” including police and private firms. “We don’t envision setting up a whole bunch of local guard services around the continent.”
So the former Blackwater chief won’t employ guys with guns? Well, he says, “that would be the exception, certainly not the rule.”
I should remind the reader that Prince could easily contract the services of other security firms to help in security. That would mean using Academi or any of the offshoots of his older company. But like he mentioned in the quote, using local police or security firms is more than likely the path, which is already what most Chinese investors and companies are doing.
Although the problem with this arrangement is if those local forces are dependable? Can they deliver services on time and under budget, or is it even a good service? Can they provide high level PSD services for the engineers and workers for those companies? That is where PMSC’s like Blackwater would come in. Also, someone needs to manage those local forces, or look out for the best interest of the client.
I am quickly reminded of the In Amenas gas plant attack in Algeria and how depending upon incompetent local security forces (provided by the government) was a contributing reason why the attack was so successful. You must have a competent security company watching over the local security force that companies are either forced to use, or use because of cost and choice. I look at it from a concentric rings of security view point, and your outer layer should be your least dependable force and your final ring of security should be your most dependable. Ideally all rings are dependable in a perfect world, but that just does not happen in the real world. Another way to put it, is you need security you can ‘trust’.
But back to the articles below, I think this quote speaks pretty loudly as to why dependable and highly capable services are in such high demand in Africa.
“If you’re drilling in some remote area and your rig goes down and you need a new part for your rig; that’s 10s if not 100s of thousands of dollars a day. How do you get that thing quickly and with no excuses?”
Time is money as they say, and guys like Prince can absolutely organize an effort to get that part or human out there.
This also reminds me of another potential problem for companies. What if their equipment gets caught up in a mess like what the Arab Spring has created in the Middle East? For that, a guy like Prince could organize the effort to secure equipment and people until it can be either flown out or convoyed out of that mess. Those types of contracts remind me of what helped put Executive Outcomes on the map.
I am talking about the Ranger Oil contract that Executive Outcomes had in Angola. Basically things became unstable there and Heritage Oil and Gas turned to EO to save some equipment caught up in the mess. At the time, they were leasing some drilling equipment that was costing over $20,000 a day, and UNITA would not allow the company to get the equipment out of there. EO was contracted to secure that equipment, which they did.
It is also important to note that the Chinese account for the largest group of people kidnapped in Africa. I have talked about this demand for protective services by the Chinese in the past, and how the South African PMSC market has been filling that niche. Lot’s of money being spent on some risky projects–hence the need for security and folks who know what they are doing.
As long as we are talking about money, it is also interesting to pluck some of the quotes that discuss why Africa is so interesting to Prince. China is investing billions into development and resource extraction there.
Mr. Prince won’t share any revenue projections, but his prospectus notes that “China is Africa’s largest trading partner,” with annual flows of $125 billion. Most estimates put that figure closer to $200 billion, a meteoric increase from $10 billion in 2000 and $1 billion in 1980. The U.S., which was Africa’s top trade partner until 2009, registered $100 billion in annual African exchange at last count. China-Africa trade could reach $385 billion by 2015, according to Standard Chartered Bank.
Not only that, but the US is also delving more and more into Africa with it’s military ventures. So Prince is basically gunning to be the logistics and transportation ‘go to guy’ for Africa. If US strategy includes getting more involved with Africa, it will need companies in place that can provide a need wherever it presents itself.
Although he does have some competition, because there are numerous larger companies that have already been working that angle in Africa. PMSC’s in Somalia and their support of AMISOM are one example. There is still room though, and investors are looking for folks that they trust can do the job. That is a key point here, because Prince has shown capability in the past by making things happen, and putting his money where his mouth is. He spent over 100 million on new products and services when he owned BW, and much of it never reached fruition. But some did, and really paid off for him. I imagine he will do the same with this company. This quote shows why investors would be drawn to him and what has provoked Prince to get into this market in the first place.
“As I was moving around Asia trying to raise money for this private equity fund, a lot of the big investors said, ‘It’s great that you want to be a fund manager, but what we really need you to do is to build a business like you had before. Not a defence services business, but one that can help us operate in the challenging areas and take away a lot of the uncertainty’.”
Pretty cool and I imagine he will apply the same mindset to this business as he did with BW. Research the region, find services that are lacking or non-existent but are needed, or see a coming need for a product or service, and create that service or product to meed those needs. That is how he built BW, and that is probably how he will build this company.
As to what kinds of aircraft he will purchase and bring to the market, who knows? If you look at the aircraft that AAR has (former Presidential Airways and BW business unit), you can get an idea as to the kind of aircraft Prince might introduce into the game. Here is a quick run down from wikipedia as to what they have used.
Presidential operates CASA C-212 and CASA CN-235 turboprops. Recent contracts have added de Havilland Canada DHC-8 Dash 8 turboprop aircraft to the fleet. The company also operates turbine powered helicopters including Bell 214ST, Bell 412, MD Helicopters MD-530, Eurocopter/Aerospatiale SA 330J “Puma”, and Sikorsky S-61 rotorcraft.
The key for Prince is to invest in aircraft that can carry a lot, has robust fuel capacity, is durable, and can land on the really crappy air strips throughout Africa. The parts need to be cheap as well. I am sure he will find something that fits the bill. Either way, we will keep on eye on this. -Matt
Edit 04/02/2014: It looks like DVN (or it’s new name Frontier Services Group Limited) has acquired another percentage of an airline that operates out of Wilson Airport. Here is a clip from the news story about it.
News broke yesterday in Nairobi that DVN had apparently acquired a 49 percent stake in Phoenix Aviation which is based at Wilson Airport in Nairobi and engages in aircraft charters and aircraft maintenance, among other aviation services. First it was Kijipwa Aviation, based in Kilifi, a relatively small aviation company, in which DVN acquired a 49 percent stake in late February, then announcing that they were to bring on line as many as two dozen additional aircraft to boost the operational capacity of the firm. However, the acquisition of a similar share in Phoenix may change those plans as suggestions have been floated already among the aviation fraternity at Wilson Airport that the operations of the two local airlines may be consolidated or aligned under one umbrella or at least they will be working under one central command. While DVN reportedly dished out some 1.2 billion Kenya shillings to acquire the 49 percent stake in Phoenix, no confirmed value could be obtained for the acquisition of the Kijipwa shares. Both investments have been linked to the discovery of significant oil deposits in Kenya and the apparent need of international oil exploration companies to contract a range of services from local Kenyan companies, including aviation.
Frontier Resource Group website here.
Beyond Blackwater: Prince looks to resources in Africa
Sun, Feb 2 2014
By Stephen Eisenhammer
After running one of the world’s biggest and most controversial private military groups, Blackwater founder Erik Prince is starting a new venture providing logistics for oil and mining companies in remote and dangerous parts of Africa.
China is increasingly looking to Africa to meet its ever growing demand for natural resources. Trade between the two reached an estimated $200 billion (121 billion pounds) this year. With 85 percent of Chinese imports from the continent being oil or minerals, Prince sees an opportunity.
He wants to use his experience of getting people and equipment in and out of remote places, where there is little or no infrastructure, to help companies looking to exploit abundant natural resources in places like Sudan or Somalia.
The 44-year-old former U.S. Navy Seal became chairman of Frontier Services Group (FSG) this month, a Hong Kong-listed company of which China’s state-backed investment fund Citic owns 15 percent. Prince himself has share options in the firm that would convert to a 9 percent stake.