Working for a company that specializes in corporate and business travel security and crisis response has given Peter Martin, president and chief executive of AFIMAC Global, plenty of war stories. Kidnap for ransom, cargo security, workplace violence, protection of traveling executives, dealing with cyber espionage, natural disaster response — they can all be in a day’s work for AFIMAC.
After AFIMAC purchased Mena International Group, a Miami company with Latin American operations, it made Miami its global headquarters, and Martin is based here. The U.S. headquarters remains in Cleveland.
In Miami, a corporate staff of 10 directs crews that number in the thousands worldwide.
Martin said the company chose Miami as its global headquarters because of its “excellent business environment” and the many Latin American headquarters located here. “Miami also has a strong educated workforce and excellent global airlines and travel options,” he said.
The combined annual revenue of AFIMAC companies exceeds $150 million. “Business in 2015 looks to be our best year yet,” said Martin.
With the world becoming a more dangerous and insecure place, AFIMAC business has evolved. “The market has really changed. The protection of CEOs and senior managers is really tied to shareholder value, share price and future growth,” he said.
Corporate risks come from all quarters: disease, cyber espionage, insecure travel routes, even hotel housekeepers who have been known to access computers while executives are out.
“We take care of safety, so the executive can focus on business,” said Martin.
Q. How do you keep traveling executives safe?
A. Planning, planning, planning. Upfront advance work and knowing your environment are the keys to keeping traveling executives safe. Armed agents, secure drivers, and armored cars are the final piece of the plan.
Q. Has this become a more complicated endeavor in recent years?
A. Absolutely. The enhancements in technology that can be utilized by the potential threats, as well as the complexity of the environments that we need to operate in, make our jobs increasingly difficult.
For example, a high-profile executive who was a diabetic was traveling to a remote area in Brazil for a filming project and contacted us for help to ensure that if a medical emergency arose, we had a contingency plan in place to protect him. We made sure that the executive had his medicine on hand and a backup in case it was lost or damaged. We identified the nearest hospitals, ambulances, helicopters, and medical evacuation services to that remote location and confirmed which ones were able to handle his type of medical situation and could be on standby for any emergencies that arose. In this case, it would have been necessary to take a boat to a helicopter pickup location.
Q. How has the Ebola outbreak in West Africa affected corporate security in that region?
A. It added further layers of complexity to our operations. During the height of the Ebola crisis, we had several teams on the ground providing secure driver transportation, armed protection details, and threat vulnerability assessments to clients whose operations couldn’t be interrupted. We spent a tremendous amount of time tracking the spread of the disease and educating our clients on the necessary safety protocols in order to avoid contracting it. Having experienced local personnel in the region was a critical advantage for us. It allowed us to make timely, fluid adjustments to our operations and enhance the safety of our clients. With Ebola cases now diminishing, operations are beginning to return to normal, but it will take some time before travels to West Africa can resume without any health concerns.
Q. What are some of the services you might offer for a high-level executive traveling in Latin America in a high-risk situation?
A. In a typical assignment, we start with travel planning and hotel selection. We do advance work on the routes to be traveled and select the best ones with many optional backup routes. Up until the time of the trip, we offer real-time intelligence of the areas to be visited and monitor for changes or events that could change the threat profile. Once the executive has landed, we provide a full host of services including drivers, armored and non-armored vehicles, and armed protection agents when needed. Depending on the threat level, we will also provide advanced route monitoring, medical response and/or evacuation services, as well as tracking and tactical emergency response teams from our command centers.
Q. AFIMAC has been in the strike replacement business for a long time. What types of services do you provide if one of your clients experiences a strike?
A. In the event of a labor dispute, AFIMAC provides everything from detailed planning and mitigation services to highly trained tactical security officers, replacement workers, and logistics equipment, including laundry, shower and kitchen trailers, base camps and sleeping quarters. We’ll also supply kitchen staff and logistics personnel to set up, run and repair any and all of the equipment deployed.
Q. How does the company help with a workplace violence situation?
A. AFIMAC does everything from the design and analysis of workplace violence programs to the training and certifying of people and businesses in the proper procedures should incidents occur. That said, our goal is to be proactive in these situations and assist organizations in making sound determinations of potential threats before any violence occurs. After expert analysis, we build plans to mitigate the potential risks of removing those individuals safely from businesses so it doesn’t induce resentment or retaliatory behaviors.
Employee terminations often have the potential for workplace violence. One client recently contacted us for help with handling the terminations of potentially problematic employees. The client wanted to have the termination meeting off-site, but we said that since the client did not usually have company meetings off-site, this would send a signal to the employees that terminations were likely. We recommended a secure room at the workplace that did not have any items or office supplies, such as scissors, that could be used for violent acts. We also sent an agent trained in non-violent confrontation management, de-escalation techniques and executive protection. We met with the manager who the company feared would be at risk and equipped him with a GPS panic alert device.
In some cases, AFIMAC conducts staff surveillance to monitor for any concerning post-meeting behaviors. In one case, a terminated employee spent the rest of the day in a bar, visited a gun shop and then was spotted in his car on the street where his manager lived. The panic alert device was tripped and the former staff member was confronted by police.
Q. How has corporate security changed in the cyber age, and what are some of the threats today?
A. The anonymity of cyber attacks coupled with the serious devastation they can cause make them a popular tool today with many groups. Hackers, for example, could try to harvest information related to an executive’s travel itinerary or a specific event. Take the example of an executive with a large energy company who is being targeted by an environmental group. A hacker might glean information about how a security system at a facility works, what security measures there are in place in case of a protest, how it might infiltrate a facility or what time key guests will be arriving.
We’ve had to deal with all aspects of cyber espionage including CryptoLocker attacks, which are viruses that essentially infect and lock down company systems and files. The only way to regain access to those files is to call a 1-800 number and use a credit card to purchase the “unlock link,” which returns access to the client. Some of these perpetrators actually have huge call centers and phone lines hooked up in order to resolve the issue quickly as if they were a legitimate help center. Sometimes a ransom to remove the virus is demanded by a stated deadline or all of the files will be deleted. We’ve also handled brute force attacks, where systematic attempts are made to crack passwords and gain access to computers by trying possible combinations of characters until the password is found.
While every type of cyber espionage threat is very different, the common requirement for protecting individuals and companies against them is to ensure everyone is educated on how to recognize phishing schemes, to test systems for weakness in anticipation that they may one day be targeted, and then to set up the necessary infrastructure to protect against any threats.
Q. What can traveling executives do to safeguard their computers?
A. This is a very complex subject, but on a simplified level, they should always keep their laptops with them, never use Wi-Fi networks in hotels, as those are easily compromised and often intercept all transmitted and received data, and never store information of any importance on the hard drives they travel with.
Q. You’re on the road about 50 percent of your time. Do you have any secrets for other road warriors?
A. Global entry is a must to ensure you don’t miss flights on global connections. Hydrate and exercise before a long flight. Even if you check luggage, it is important to keep any medications, toiletries and at least one change of clothes in a carry-on in the event of lost luggage. Regardless of how tempting it is, don’t use the Wi-Fi on planes for email. Disconnect and use the time for strategy and reflection.
Current position: President and CEO of AFIMAC Global, January 2006 to present.
Past positions: Group 4 Securicor Cash Logistics, vice president corporate security and investigations, 2002-2006; also trainer in corporate security and use of force training division, 1995-2002.
Education: Degree in law and security from Niagara College in Ontario; New York Institute of Finance.
Personal: Age 47; wife, Kim, and two sons, Connor, 17, and Wyatt, 15. Enjoys “spending time with my very active family.”