Arnaud Vaissié is the Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of International SOS. The company joined ICoCA as an Observer in February 2021. International SOS employs more than 12,000 people, multi-cultural health, security and logistics experts who provide support and assistance to clients, covering over 1,000 locations in 85 countries.
Can you tell us about International SOS? What inspired you to found the company and how did you make the connection between health and security that has proved so compelling to your clients?
Over 35 years ago, my great friend, Dr Pascal Rey-Herme, and I recognised a high demand for international standards of healthcare among the expatriate community and organisations in Asia. Pascal had been posted to Jakarta as a medical attaché, and we experienced this need first-hand. Our vision was to provide local knowledge and assistance with the ability to transport patients to centres of medical excellence.
Since then, the world has changed dramatically, and International SOS has changed with it. From our beginnings, we saw that security issues were often entwined with health needs. This is particularly in the areas of intelligence, incident response and crisis management. As well as wider business continuity and resilience. It was, and still is, a natural progression to continuously strengthen and adapt our service for our clients and their employees. We are seeing even more accelerated change now. COVID-19 has often thrust security professionals into the front line of the pandemic. This includes Chief Security Officers leading an organisation’s response to the crisis.
Our key focus is on prevention, combined with health and security assistance to advise and support when the worst happens. With us, our clients have pioneered a vast range of preventive programmes designed to put their Duty of Care into practice for their employees, helping to support business sustainability.
How are you seeing your clients’ consideration of risk changing and what impact is this having on their expectations of companies they contract to manage these risks?
The pandemic has increased Board level decision-making on health issues and the mitigation measures required to keep employees safe. Duty of Care responsibilities in health, wellbeing and safety of employees have changed. This has brought to the fore the potential of not only serious employee risk but also potential legal, financial and reputational repercussions. Organisations, and their management teams, have become acutely aware of the need to keep their finger on the pulse in the protection of their employees. We now receive 10 times more calls for advice from managers. For every business trip, a traveller calls us five times more now than before the pandemic.
Organisations are striving to get back to business operations, and travel, as rapidly, safely and sustainably as possible. Clients are demanding even greater responsiveness and agility from suppliers. Anticipation of client needs is key. Timely, accurate and objective intelligence combined with actionable insight is essential. And there must be reporting that will resonate with the Board.
What was considered as a nice-to-have or even a no-need-to-have a year ago have become a must-have. These include expertise such as crisis management, early detection of incidents and forward-leaning intelligence. Exactly the expertise developed by International SOS over the past 35 years. Topics that were in some cases considered as minor concerns are now on top of C-suite agenda in their morning briefs. As such, expectations of clients to the companies they contract are high and they expect excellent standards and reliability.
Today’s global business leaders know they need to plan well and prepare their organisation, not just react when something goes wrong.
As you look towards the future, what risks do you think are going to shape or break organisations, or even societies, in the years ahead? What should organisations in the risk management business be doing to future proof themselves, their clients and the communities in which they work, against these risks?
Our society and ways of working have been forced to change dramatically in a very short time. Organisations are facing emerging and exacerbated risks, the extent of which is still to be seen. For instance, there has been a rise in mental health issues coming to the fore. And there are repercussions of vaccine rollouts, including misinformation, social unrest and crime. Evacuations have become a key issue. Of the over 2,000 evacuations we have carried out since the start of the pandemic, many have involved complex security considerations. They are logistically difficult, requiring a high level of expertise, and impactful to the bottom line. Organisations that haven’t had logistical support in place have found themselves and their employees exposed. Moreover, many companies have discovered the fragility of their processes or internal organisation and are now in need of corporate resilience.
The post COVID-19 VUCA world we are heading to will require companies to have a strong operational backbone. This is along with an unfailing ability to adapt. The challenge will not be how long a company will last in times of crisis, but how long it will take to get back to business. In this respect, the role of risk management in an organisation is critical. Business continuity plans need to have flexibility to deal with new risks as they arise. While COVID-19 is likely to be the prism that other risks are seen through, organisations must avoid COVID-myopia and address all potential risks.
The wider community is also key – we all need to be pulling in the same direction. Organisations with the ability to support the community will also want to be supported in their efforts to do this.
ICoCA’s mission is to raise standards across the private security sector to ensure security companies and their clients respect human rights. Why does this mission resonate with International SOS, and how do you see International SOS helping contribute to this mission?
As an organisation with human touch at our core, ICoCA’s mission very much aligns with our own. We take pride in the fact that we protect and save lives every day. By providing employment, training healthcare and other benefits to our employees and by working with local service providers, International SOS directly contributes to the well-being of individuals in over 200 countries and territories. International SOS pursues the protection of individual rights through our behaviour towards our employees, customers and service providers.
In our relationship with ICoCA, we see the opportunity to help to raise the profile of this critical aspect of business sustainability within the security sector. It is important for the growth of the industry that clients are assured that human rights are protected and an integral part of their suppliers’ ethos. We feel honoured to have the opportunity to share our expertise with the ICoCA membership and share the important work of ICoCA.
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