Since its foundation ten years ago, the private security firm Falcon Group International has grown under its mantra of “Boundless Trust” to become the dominant player in Egypt’s private security market, lending its services to banks, universities, and numerous public and private institutions. The company’s growth has led to its official ISO certification for quality management systems, and the company’s numerous partnerships with Egypt’s diverse companies has brought it to the forefront of Egypt’s undergoing changes. At 10 years, CEO Sherif Khaled shares with us his views on the growth of the company itself, and also its context within Egypt’s situation as the country seeks to guarantee its security consolidation to reclaim its place in the global economic and social community.
As Egypt emerges from years of instability since 2011, we finally saw the economy back to growth in 2015 yet it faces major challenges now as it continues to find its place in the regional and global context. What is your personal evaluation of the current state of the Egyptian economy?
In 2011 Egypt underwent new challenges and events brought on by the revolution, a watershed moment which rocked the Egyptian destiny. Some illegal factions started to get into the arena and started riding the wave of revolution, trying to control the movement in the streets. This created an unstable situation that greatly diminished investment in Egypt, both from foreign and domestic investors. From that period on, President Sisi was able to come in and stabilize the situation. There were two priorities of his administration, each of which dependent on the other. The first one was to keep the peace in the streets and the second one to revive development in Egypt. The problem the government had to face was which one to tackle first. With the events that we've been seeing every day, they have proven to us that these two things need to go hand in hand. In the meantime, we are addressing interior issues as there are also many external issues which are encompassing all of Egypt.
Now, to try to find a state of equilibrium in stability, President Sisi put a lot of trust in the Egyptian people and vice versa. Let's be clear, such a period left several negative impacts. Egypt is currently trying to overcome the negative image on our country right now to re-incentivize growth and investment. To do that we have some decisions to make in order to change the conduct of the people.
There are many who would like to destabilize Egypt due to its important state at the center of the balance of power in the Middle East, the Arab World, and Africa. Its geographical position is at the nexus of all of these vibrant regions.
Egypt's leadership has been trying to move the wheels of foreign investment to bring the economy forward. In our large and vibrant nation we face many challenges, and unfortunately they cannot be tackled overnight. The issue is: when and how to take the right step to fix the situation. That's what Egypt has begun. Over the past two years of this presidency, many steps have been taken to improve the situation and move the country forward. Despite all the efforts to tell the world that Egypt is a safe place to invest, war has developed in the region and in the meantime we are facing serious issues here. We are in a state of war against Egypt, not only in Egypt but everywhere in the world. Even in advanced nations we have seen terrible events which we would have never imagined. Therefore, when I'm talking about countering and fighting terrorism, I emphasize that the whole world must speak the same language and unite under one voice. Egypt has called many times to convene fellow states to address the dangers of terrorism affecting our region and indeed the world.
Terrorism has neither religion, nor nationality, nor humanity.
However, these dangers do not mean that Egypt is unsafe. As a professional in security here in Egypt, my assessment is that we have made giant strides in security. When we look at the casualties in the security situation in this period, the unfortunate victims were part of the security apparatus or the military; not civilians. Egypt's success in eradicating and countering terrorism is providing safety to the entire world. That will make us say the following: if each and every nation is keen to make its citizens safe, either within or outside their borders, they must stand with Egypt, not only with security reinforcements or equipment, but assisting with Egypt's economic opening.
For example, regarding the Russian plane crash last November, this terrible event affected not only Russia, but Egypt itself, as we felt the pain for these human beings who lost their lives that day. Egyptians are very passionate, we feel the pain of these tragedies whether they happen here in Egypt or not. It was a great pain when the world started saying how it was unsafe to travel to Egypt after this event. When tragedy struck again in Brussels recently, did people warn against traveling to Belgium? After the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, did people stop traveling to France? While as despicable as all of these events have been, the negative attention towards Egypt is double standard by the international community.
If we are to eradicate this phenomenon of terrorism, we must act with one swipe, and be stronger than terrorists, not by punishing a nation where one incident happened.
Speaking domestically now, when Falcon assumed the responsibility of providing security to universities, we were threatened. My family and myself have received threats, and some employees as well, some even had their cars shot at. We did not run out however and turn away from our responsibilities. Two years on, working with the entire national security mechanism and the state agencies, we eradicated these dangers and ensured a safe academic year.
We need the same example on the international stage. We should not punish each other due to an incident, we must stand by one another.
You mentioned Egypt's progress in security since the revolution took place back in 2011, would you say that Egypt is a stable country today?
Let me give you some official statistics, not only certified by the government but privately as well. In the academic year two years ago, academic study halted for 45 days, and 32% of the curriculum was cancelled. That year, a total of sixty-two people died due to terrorism-related incidents, and EGP420 million (USD 47 million) were lost in security-related damages. In the subsequent two years not one day of the academic year was cancelled, there were no deaths or financial losses due to the security situation.
The situation in the capital and the prime governorates of Egypt is completely stable. When we talk about criminal (non-terrorist) incidents, we have gone below the world average in car thefts and armed assaults. So, I can say that yes, there is certified security and stability.
When President François Hollande visited Egypt last April he marked three things critical for Egypt: overpopulation, economic development, and security. Would you agree with him?
These are very important issues, which the government is addressing now. Regarding population, this, of course, is a main concern for us.
On development: we see huge development across Egypt, both economic and industrial. We have seen a canal dug in one year; this is the result not only of the persistence of the state but of the people as well. People must always strive to be better and improve, but they must possess innate capabilities, potential, and drive.
Now, regarding security, let me give you some examples. Egypt started to import advanced equipment and technology for airport security, some of which has already arrived and functioning. Today, security at Egyptian airports is among the world's most modern and complex. Security advancement is not only based on investment but on communication, which is why the government has extensive outreach with public awareness, and the state is improving its contact with the public on security issues.
Egypt is advancing in its human rights cause, which is closely tied to the security issue. The Egyptian citizenry must develop the concept of human rights knowing that there is a correct place, time, and method to do it. The United States is one of the most vocal and advanced countries in the field of human rights, but even there we see the police and security apparatuses get rough with people they interrogate. Egypt hopes to advance in this field with a concerned security system combined with an informed civil society.
With all of these advances in Egyptian security do you think that the general public in France, the United Kingdom and the United States understand these changes?
Egypt must better communicate the changes in its situation with the world. No one can play blind anymore to the complexities of global developments.
Egypt is progressing in the area of stability. We are currently in a state of war on terrorism, and completely committed to this fight. However, we should be clear in stating that this conflict is taking place in an extremely small part of our territory. In tandem, Egypt is collectively advancing on the implementation of human rights. We are balancing these two objectives together.
While Egypt is a part of the global community, we have a very particular and unique culture and identity. We as a nation are trying to express ourselves to the outside world. We are working, though we know that these objectives are going to take time.
We as a civil society will address the people in addition to the government, yet we must address both the civil society and advances in the governance of this nation.
Regarding private security in Egypt, the sector has experienced a stable growth in recent years yet there’s still a strong government presence in security. How have both the public and private sector been able to develop at the same time, and not at the expense of one another?
Security companies are not a modern phenomenon. We are implementing a similar product as has been implemented in the United States and Europe. The role that these companies play is critical. National security and providing security services are two different things. We all know that in the aim of providing security, the states cannot be everywhere. We need the private security services to fill the gap to ensure we have a full range of protection. This does not mean that the government security lacks skill or power in providing security; there are other points which they need to address. What the private security companies do is pick up the slack to let the government do its job in consolidating national security, and fighting terrorism and crime.
Our company naturally cooperates with the public sector and authorities to provide security arrangements. This is the way things are done not only in Egypt, but worldwide.
President Sisi has had two priorities: economic recovery and security consolidation. Regarding the latter, what is the role of the private sector and your company in this national initiative?
Security is a national responsibility that rests on the shoulders of all Egyptian citizens, inside my sector and out. At this company, we know that what we do is critical to the health and stability of the community which we live in.
Falcon Group International is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In just 10 years, you have won the trust of the United Nations, your client, of the universities, and of the embassies. How have you been able to obtain such high-profile clients?
Falcon started in 2006 as a security company with 261 individuals. In three years, the employees have reached six thousand. When we started growing and expanding like that, we shifted to a holding company. Today's Falcon Group International is made up of five companies: one for physical security, one for cash transit, one for equipment, one for general services and one for tourism. We now have fifteen thousand employees. In 2013 we won the prize of the best security company in the Arab world, which we then won again in 2015. We also won the prize of Pioneering in Entrepreneurship in 2016. In addition, we have received praise from local and international evaluations for the company from entities such as Forbes. How did we obtain this trust? I am a firm believer that our investment in the person is key to our company and our success. Our strong team building and empowerment of our employees is how we build and consolidate our corporate identity and in turn, gain clients' trust.
Twenty five percent of my company's budget is placed in employee training and this large sector of our company's operations eclipses those of competing companies. We send our employees for training both in Egypt and abroad, and this goes for all types of personnel at our company - not just guards but everyone, even the cleaning personnel.
Our truthfulness with our clients and integrity in supervising all of the works which we have contracted to conduct is key to us. I view our clients more as business partners. I hold meetings with them periodically so that I can listen to their remarks and comments. I always work with the global way of thinking.
We always set a five year plan for our company and there is a division within our company which studies the market and evaluates our long-term growth. At our annual meeting each year, we come up with a new product and new ideas across the five specialties of our business lines.
Institutionally, we are proud of our advances and our international recognition of our efforts as a team. Falcon Group International has now been bestowed official ISO certification for quality management, an advent which we as a company are very proud of because it is a global recognition of the international standards we bring to the excellence of our work.
Thanks to the team’s efforts, I have been recognized as Knight by the United Arab Emirates due to Falcon’s work, and the UAE awarded us as the best security in cash transit and security company in the Middle East. Our new status as a regional leader is a mark of pride for myself and the entire Falcon team.
Today, I work and I support the civil society. I do not view that as good business, I view that as my duty as an Egyptian citizen and an Egyptian company to our community. This includes visiting hospitals, orphanages, taking part in national events, and lending a hand in what we can do to help. The duty towards our community is a key element of this company.
At Falcon Group International we work as one family, all the way from the top down, from the chairman to the new employee.
Regarding your expansion, what particular regions are you targeting?
We know we need to go international. At the moment we are not singling out a particular country or region. Currently, we are proud of our prominence in procurement at the primary partner here in Egypt and the Middle East.
As we know, investors care deeply on establishing valued partnerships. What is the most important thing they need to know about Falcon?
Regarding security companies here in Egypt, by law, there are no foreign stakeholders. However, there are other ways to partner, as we work in collaboration with our clients. Of course, any investor must carefully study the market where they begin to operate to consolidate the right partnerships. Within the sector here, Falcon is not only the winner of prizes and acquisition, but we have built up our work to now occupy 56% of the private security market here.
And your comments regarding Egypt's recovery and place in the world economy?
The Egyptian leadership is very keen to build and develop to ensure a better future. We have seen tremendous advances in recent years, and Egypt wants to do more. We look forward in welcoming more foreigners - businessmen and tourists - to our home. From the moment a tourist enters Egyptian airspace, we want to welcome him as if he were arriving home. By ensuring the protection of foreigners here in Egypt, we are doing our part not only for our own community but for the global society itself.
Please comment on the Egypt's current initiatives for the future.
We must address the youth. The Egyptian leadership has also been aware of this, which is why they have recognized 2016 as the Year of the Youth in Egypt. This is critical to our future prosperity and goes beyond any slogans or speeches; both the importance and threats to the youth are real.
Terrorists know that in order to disrupt a country, they must disrupt its future. Our youth represent our greatest asset to nourish, and to protect. Today in our universities you have future doctors who will treat our patients, future scientists who will come up with new ideas and thinkers who will put guidelines for our governance. Terrorists know this and want to hit the future of Egypt at its heart. However, our political leadership knows this, and recognizing this year as the Year of the Youth is not just a slogan, but an initiative carried out by the mechanisms of the state. Our parliament this year has a large percentage of youth representatives for the first time in history.
Critical positions in the government, including advisers and assistants to the ministers, have been created for the youth. Youth have been trained on how to lead. Egypt’s civil society is modernizing and advancing as a result. Today, we see a more inclusive, representative, and diverse makeup of the governance and civil society of Egypt: with a rising role of women. Women in Egypt are taking roles as government ministers and in senior position in government councils. They stand side by side with men in all ministries and government agencies, and are a key element in the government’s effort to bring our inclusive society forward. The progress of civil society, and ordinary citizen involvement, is key for Egypt and must be underscored as we look at just how far we have come.
I believe in Egyptians because I know Egyptians are capable. From the Egyptians who dug the Suez Canal, to those who built the Aswan Dam, to those who built the Pyramids, to those who dug the New Suez Canal in one year, the people need to understand the power and potential they have.