Romain Bordenave
Executive Director and Partner
Grupo IRENA, Alexander Kebaili
Alexander Kebaili
Managing Director
View from the Top

A Small Investment in Security Can Go a Long Way

By Andrea Villar | Mon, 02/01/2021 - 05:00

Q: What added-value services do you provide in the security arena?

RB: Grupo IRENA is well recognized by international government entities and by industrial clients with capital intensive projects in remote and high-risk areas. The quality of the services we offer is reinforced by over a decade of LatAm terrain experience and a disciplined European training and security culture.

We offer the benefit of being able to respond to both physical site security needs and specialized security consulting. Physical security services usually involve guards and private security details, while Consulting services include investigations, security audits, training and crisis management as well as contingency and business continuity planning.

Our offer is usually a combination of the two types of services. The important thing is that our clients can focus on their activities without being distracted by security problems.

AK: Grupo IRENA’s ability to merge physical site security services with an extensive suite of security consulting services, gives our clients the benefit of a one-stop-shop, integrated services, and responsiveness.

RB: We offer operational terrain proximity, bespoke services, local intelligence capabilities, and high cultural sensitivity. As such, our strategy is to tailor our services to client needs. We cover many sectors such as, chemicals, Oil & Gas, Renewables, or mining sites. Security in big projects can be quite challenging for our clients, but we have the expertise to work in very hostile environments.

When starting a project, the security requirements are not always obvious. Security isn’t a black and white situation, there are a lot of gray areas. The local military and police are not always able to ensure safe operations. We analyze the situation, identify the key actors and study our client’s operation. We then provide a tailored security strategy to the client. We also deliver risk awareness training, with a holistic approach to educate company executives, family members and other relevant third parties, on what they can do to reduce risk. We organize role play scenarios and equip our clients with essential skills to empower them to react appropriately to potential risk situations.

AK: Industrial sites often involve projects in remote and exposed areas with heightened security needs. Our consulting arm offers high value-added services. We provide our clients with leverage through our experience and intelligence network. This also includes training programs. One such program is called HEAT, which stands for “Hostile Environment Awareness Training”. As Romain mentioned, we do not just train the executives but their families as well. We developed a special program to include our clients’ younger family members, which uses age-appropriate pedagogic principles in combination with visual aids which has been a great success. Our 24/7 hotline services offer access to direct local support. If an executive has a question on whether it’s safe for their child to participate in an external activity, they can reach out to us and get the guidance they need. This is part of the personalized trust factor that we provide. Furthermore, our company also has a strong network of industry contacts that allows us to conduct comprehensive investigations for clients. Our physical security, training and investigative capabilities and how they mesh is our hallmark differentiator. 

Q: How do you keep up with the evolving techniques used by criminals?

RB: The key is access to good intelligence, a flexible response capability and continuous engagement with our clients. When faced with a challenge we find a solution. We have a specialist network that allows us to exchange information with other actors in the security industry. Understanding the challenges is key to devising effective responses. Sometimes a threat is not as serious as it appears. You cannot always stop an activity based only on one piece of information, or on one incident, you need to understand the context.

It is important to know what organized crime is doing, what their objectives are and whether they are interested in our client. If something happens in one part of the country, it should not necessarily impede a project elsewhere. Our main purpose is to ensure that our clients have the peace of mind to focus on their work.

AK: Intelligence is essential. There is a lot of noise in the news and a lot of fear in society. There are groups that are trying to ride this wave and that try to exert undue pressure. Sometimes they do not belong to the group they pretend to be a part of, or they try to boost their profile, while not being a real threat. In other instances, we have situations where clients are indeed faced with real threats. That’s why actionable intelligence is so critical.

Q: How exposed are companies to security risks in this country?

RB: It depends on the sector and the type of activity. Some companies with big exposure have a good level of preparation and security maturity. Usually, with them we focus on offering complementary support by providing services that help them execute their policies. Foreign companies often have high standards in terms of security and low tolerance to risk. On the other hand, for many people born in Mexico, the situation is not new. They are used to dealing with this kind of environment. They know some of the risks and they know the regions that are normally targeted. It’s important to be aware that anybody can be a target. Especially in the services sector, people think they are not a target. But it does not matter whether you are rich and famous: even taco stands are extortion victims. 

AK: Mexico presents a challenging security environment. Rampant socio-economic inequality, weakness of the State and pervasive corruption have created fertile soil for criminal activity. This deteriorating security situation is forcing companies to take a more holistic approach to security. We typically recommend our clients cover what we consider to be the 3 pillars of security: Personnel, Assets, and Response. Foreign companies traditionally have high-risk aversion. Locals are more accustomed to risk. In some instances, companies appoint Security managers who aren’t really equipped and trained to handle these issues. Considering the tragic consequences an incident can have, security cannot be taken lightly and requires a specialized approach.

Q: What role does company budget play in security preparation?

RB: SMEs often do not have huge construction sites over multiple locations that need to be protected. Not everyone needs personal executive protection. It would be sad if everyone did. A small investment can go a long way. Just being aware of the issue, having somebody in the company address the issue and talking about it in meetings can have a big impact. You can reserve a section of each board meeting to the topic of security. Security involves a great deal of common sense. In many situations, you just need to know what precautions to take, what the risk factor is in the area and what phone number you can call if something comes up. A big help is to have a person who is a reference for security matters in a company. This person is then supported by our services. An extra benefit for the company with respect to team motivation and talent retention is that employees will recognize and appreciate it when managers take security seriously.

AK: We value real client partnerships, with personalized services and follow-up to help companies get the most out of our services. People tend to think that security is expensive because they think of armored cars and guards. There are many things you can do to reduce risk before reaching that point. Every company, big or small, has budget restrictions. In our personal lives, we have budget restrictions, but we still buy health insurance. If we drive a car, we get car insurance. There are bad actors out there who can impact your operation. Planning for security is a healthy business practice which is compatible with being budget-conscious. Imagine the worst-case scenario: loss of life. Companies must face the victims’ families and the incident can end up in the newspapers. Projects can get stalled, while the company still incurs daily costs and potential penalties. In another situation, supply or access might be compromised. When things go south, you will wish you had invested in security. In that sense, security is the budget item you just can’t afford to ignore.

Q: What new clients are you focusing on this year?

RB: Grupo IRENA has benefitted from natural organic growth in Mexico thanks to our reputation and repeat-client references. 2020 has been a year of investment and planning to reinforce our local operations and to prepare the deployment of a more overt commercial approach with a focus on the industrial sector including O&G, Power, Chemicals, Mining and Automotive. However, we will also be looking to work more with SMEs with realistic solutions at competitive prices. The security situation in Mexico is getting worse and 2021 will be a challenging year. After the COVID restrictions are lifted, movement and risk exposure will increase. We will be there for our clients, whether they just need a risk awareness training session, or a full security planning and deployment package.

Q: What are your plans in terms of expansion to other countries?

RB: When we founded Grupo Irena, we launched operations in Colombia and Venezuela, as well. Since then, we have also entered Ecuador. Many of our clients operate globally and, to serve them better, our objective is to consolidate and grow our LatAm operations to provide a robust base for our Africa and Middle East expansion strategy. For 2021, our objective is to consolidate our developments outside of Latin America. We have many contacts in Africa and the Middle East and are developing our operations there. We are already active on some missions in Africa and we will certainly expand our presence in the region. In this business, trust is key. Trust it is even more important than your means and operational tools. When you can consistently demonstrate to your clients that they can trust you, you will be their go-to security partner all over the world.


IRENA is a European risk management company specialized in high-risk areas. Grupo Irena is the company’s Latin American arm 

Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst