By Shane McGinley
The onset of the Arab Spring and continued terrorist fears mean the security industry is booming in the gulf
The recession has not daunted the security services sector in the Gulf and, if anything, the onset of the Arab Spring and the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks have seen demand soar, says Tej B Raj Lohia, managing director of Eagle Hunters Security Services in Dubai.
From Kevin Costner to Colin Farrell, Hollywood has glamorised the role of the bodyguard and the job title certainly does earn some extra street cred for those who have it on their CV.
“It is fun,” says Tej B Raj Lohia, managing director of Eagle Hunters Security Services, one of the leading firms operating across the Gulf. Whether it’s shadowing billionaire businessmen visiting in their private jets, keeping fans beyond arm’s reach of famous Hollywood celebrities or simply keeping a company’s borders secure, it is obvious he has a real passion for his job.
“The feel-good factor is that I am securing so many people across the globe,” the security boss says, and with a soft-spoken voice teamed with the undeniable physical presence of an A-List nightclub bouncer you are not going to argue with him.
“I am always in the field, I am only in the office two hours a day,” he adds. Despite this, he has big plans to capture an even bigger share of the ever-saturated security services market.
As managing director of the international division of a company his father set up in India in 1982 he has hefty shoes to fill and has therefore set big targets to achieve in 2012.
“The target we have is to grow 100 percent,” he says.
During the downturn, over the last two or three years, Lohia admits business had slowed, but he has set his sights on achieving these growth levels, despite a massive surge in the number of competing companies in the sector, especially in Dubai.
“It is a big industry. In 2001, there would only be about fifteen firms, now they have increased in less than ten years…There are at least over 800,” he estimates.
Even before the onset of the Arab Spring movement, companies were already ramping up their security requirements, especially in the UAE where hotels have spent millions upgrading their security surveillance systems following the assassination in 2010 in Dubai of a leading Hamas leader.
“Working with the co-operation of the police, hotels in Dubai in particular are spending a lot on major upgrades of already extensive security systems, in some cases almost doubling the number of cameras,” Ray Tinston, sales director of trade show The Hotel Show, said at the time.
“We know from a number of hotel operators that the scale of upgrade taking place since the Dubai incident is on a multi-million-dirham basis with one new property alone reporting that it is virtually doubling the number of cameras it is installing to almost 200,” he added.
“Installation companies also report the amount of business from hotels increasing by up to 40 percent since the incident.
In particular, cameras with better resolutions are being sought for clearer monitoring of entrances, lobbies, corridors and hotel car parks.”
Also in 2010, Abu Dhabi’s Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA) announced that it would be spending over $120m in installing a series of state-of-the-art surveillance towers that would oversee key infrastructure projects in the city.
Lohia’s father set up Eagle Hunters Security Services in India in 1980s and this market has also grown, especially in light of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
One of the hotels attacked, the Oberoi Hotel, dramatically increased its security operations. The hotel’s surveillance system has been upgraded from fifteen security cameras prior to the attack to 150 now. Security personnel have also increased by five times.
Similarly, active security systems that include video surveillance, access control, intrusion detection systems and X-ray machines at hotel main entrances are high on the shopping list.
“Dubai has ample opportunities. My father was coming here and saw the opportunities. He saw it in 2001 and he saw the vision and it was me that took it over then,” says Lohia.
He describes the UAE as “one of the most secure countries in the world” but you wonder which came first: the low crime rate or the high security levels? “Crime is less than two percent, which is rare… [But] you just have to be alert and be aware. We monitor big hotels and we have strategies and complete charts and security systems in place,” he adds.
As well as the manpower, Lohia also offers various gadgets and systems to companies looking to secure their businesses. In other words, you can imagine that somewhere in the company is a modern-day “Q”, developing the latest gadgets for real-life James Bonds.
“We are looking after hardware, but it depends on the client… In India we have a logistics agency that we work with and we have trucks which have GPS links tracking their movements. For example, if a truck has to go from Dubai to Sharjah it has to stop at five separate pumps. If it doesn’t [stop at one] our central monitoring system can engine-lock the vehicle.”
With security being heightened as a result of the Arab Spring protests and violence in several Gulf states, Lohia also sees this as an opportunity for further growth. “I had a talk with one of the retired colonels in Libya and he said he wanted to do something on security there. For example, we had a proposal to secure an area the size of Dubai Media City. We would have 40,000 cameras and watching each and every person’s move. Something like that for unsettled areas, like Bahrain, would work… If we can convince them [we will do it],” he says.
At present, the company’s international division has around 1,500 personnel in Dubai and 4,000 across the Gulf, and Lohia is also looking beyond these borders to grow the business and increase the number of staff required.
“There is high demand… We have set a target to start in different regions like Africa, Saudi Arabia and Doha. We also plan to double our international headquarters to Singapore and Angola.
“This month, our agenda was to start in Angola and we are in talks to start there. We have met the key guys in the country and they are interested and they want to do something with us. We give the best systems… We give them assistance, we train the people, everything,” he says.
As well as the bodies on the ground, the company also has a double layer of security and comfort for the client and has a back-up system to monitor what the guards are doing and to make sure they are keeping the parameters of building properly secure. “We have this guard-monitoring gadget so we know exactly what time the guard does.”
The company has about 25,000 people under its employment at present, but where does it get its recruits? “It is a mix of all. We get them from Africa, from the Philippines, from Bangladesh, everywhere. We have people from trained commandos to army generals to colonels… We also have a training academy,” says Lohia.
Once personnel are hired, they go through training, assessment and, most importantly, background checks. “We do a complete lifetime check and background check from A to Z… We are in touch with them on a regular basis when we go and train our people. Our new guys are trained as per standard of Dubai Police so we are in touch with them on a monthly basis.”
The type of work carried out by the recruits varies, says Lohia. “We are doing elite security services, where we provide high-end corporate security for people like Sir Richard Branson when they come here, or the head of Pepsi when she was in India.
“We have clients in India like Nokia, Spinneys, Emirates Grand Hotels, and Movenpick Hotels. We are doing the Masala Awards or whenever anyone prominent comes from the UK on their chartered plane we look after their security.”
In terms of revenue, the company’s main Dubai offices generated around AED33m ($8.9m) last year and Lohia aims to double that this year and increase staff numbers to around 3,000.
In order to achieve this, he has put in place a full marketing strategy to attract and win new business. “We have complete customer relation management, marketing on the move and we want to sell something different… We want to take this to another level of securing. Dubai has this growth. A lot of construction has stopped but existing contracts are always up for renewal so we can convince them we are different.”
Lohia has also expanded the services offered by the company beyond just security. We give a load of services… We are not just giving security, we are giving facilities management, housekeeping, cleaning, everything.”
Business certainly seems to be taking off as Lohia reports that he is currently one of the privileged residents of Burj Khalifa — which recently starred as the centre point of Hollywood spy movie Mission Impossible 4.
While Eagle Hunters has organised security services for Tom Cruise in the past on his various visits to India and the Gulf, Lohia certainly seems convinced that achieving 100 percent growth in Dubai and opening new markets and opportunities is no mission impossible.
Great one Shane...
Great Going Sir,... All the best for the company and country. A country can prosper when it is secure.
Hi Mr. Tej How r u.
Your security services is very good.
i am very impress of your services.