The Wealth Scene chats to Stuart Nash, Managing Director and owner of security company Alchemy Global Ltd. Beginning in the 1990s, Stuart spent 13 years in the RAF, initially as a parachute trained infantry soldier completing operational tours in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait. At the end of the decade he then completed training to become an Air Loadmaster on Chinook helicopters. During the seven years Stuart served in 27 Sqn. Chinook squadron, he was deployed on operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and undertook training in Norway, Morocco and other NATO countries.
When did you leave the military and what did you get up to next?
I left the RAF in 2008 and worked extensively across the Caribbean, Latin America and Southeast Asia in a number of demanding and high-pressured environments. Most of the work was providing executive protection, risk management and asset protection services for global corporations, international musicians, government dignitaries and travelling business people.
Why did you decide to go down the route of private security?
Rather surprisingly, the first job I took on was as a security and logistics director for a media company. I was responsible for helping to stage concerts for a global alcohol company as part of an initiative in Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico. I love that region and the job was fantastic. So I spent almost five years in Central/South America and the Caribbean working for some of the biggest celebrities in music, global consumer brands, prestigious events and an international sports team. I quickly discovered that there are plenty of transferrable skills from the military that lend themselves to becoming a security contractor; general security awareness, contingency planning, attention to detail, integrating with multiple organisations, being on time every time.
Where did the idea for Alchemy Global come from?
The definition of alchemy is the transformation of elements that are worthless individually (base metals), but through a magical process (read our involvement) these base metals transform into gold. It seemed appropriate for the work we were involved in at the time. I had the privilege to be working with international live entertainment events in more than 25 countries, providing project management, security advice and logistical support. At first it was just a name and a bank account as a way of billing clients, but the Alchemy brand stuck and is still appropriate to what we see the company offering now.
So what does Alchemy Global do and what are the services it offers clients?
Simply put, we protect people, assets and reputations. But the methods we apply are anything but simple. We see ourselves as business and lifestyle facilitators. The service is peace of mind/freedom to operate/safety and reassurance. This is achieved through skills such as physical protection, open source intelligence gathering and interpretation, risk management, cyber skills (deep and dark web), personal awareness training, surveillance and chauffeuring. We focus on achieving results for our clients and use any method or technique available to achieve that.
Is there a great deal of regulation and administration involved in a business model like this – was it difficult to set up?
The UK security industry isn’t heavily regulated, and it was only with the advent of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) in 2003 that compulsory licensing of individuals working in specific sectors of the private security industry was introduced. The SIA has been repeatedly criticised in the past few years for poor cost forecasting and ineffective management of the licensing scheme. By many in the industry it’s viewed as having a low entry point into the close protection world; there’s a real disconnect regarding security and the SIA when you listen to comments by frontline stakeholders and hear about general enforcement issues.
The company operates globally; can you tell us in which countries you have operated in recently and what services you provided?
In 2017, we worked in 16 countries from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kurdistan, through to Ukraine and many European cities, the Caribbean, Malaysia, Senegal and Mauritania. So an eclectic mix. Our core business is protecting people and assets. The term “bodyguard” is often misunderstood and maligned as there are connotations of muscles in suits, but at the level we operate a bodyguard/close protection/executive protection agent is much more about planning, intelligence and being a chameleon. We also provide residential and commercial security audits, travel tracking and management services, personal awareness training.
Are you able to tell us which VIP clients you have worked with and the services provided to them?
We treat all of our clients like VIPs. Money, social class, professional status or lifestyle preferences should not be discriminators against people being able to live the lives they need. If you are facing an issue and we have the skills to help, we will help you and the same level of care, attention, planning and customer service will be applied. Our clients cut across the whole spectrum of global corporations, family offices, celebrities, teaching academies, gap year travellers and individuals who are at risk.
You obviously need highly trained staff, but what qualifications do they need and what are the characteristics you look for in people you hire?
Generally, we only use staff that we have worked with on jobs or if they have been referred from within our network. We use an independent vetting and screening company that checks employment history, personal and professional references coupled with independent credit checks. We take the time to corroborate CVs and only use qualified, competent and experienced people, but this is all entry level criteria. Just the benchmark to even work in our industry. What we are looking for is the softer skills, those who go the extra mile (repeatedly) without flinching. Our staff are an extension of the client, often embedded within their lives 24/7, so we need them to be consummate professionals with patience, etiquette, discretion, emotional intelligence and able to look comfortable in any surrounding our clients may operate in. They should be equally at home in an office environment, social function, award show or shareholder meeting.
You are about to launch a new London-based chauffeur service, can you expand on what that is please?
A chauffeur service came at the request of some of our existing clients who were dissatisfied with current standards and looking to consolidate their service providers. We were reluctant at first; we didn’t want to dilute Alchemy Global as a security brand. But after discussing it internally and realising we could offer a two-tier driving service that is slightly different to many standard chauffeur companies, we felt it could be positioned as natural extension and dovetail with our existing portfolio.
What was involved in securing the Transport for London (TfL) PHV Operator’s Licence?
The two biggest challenges we faced when applying for the license was that TfL don’t make any concessions for the business model we run of high level, pre-booked, set fare, VIP chauffeuring and that of a mini cab office on the high street who would accept walk-in drunk people who are vulnerable. It all comes under the banner of Private Hire. The second was the length of time taken to make the decision. We waited six months, which seems disproportionately long for a small business. The actual application is reasonably straight forward; complete and return some forms that give TfL an idea of who will be involved in the day-to-day activities and where it will operate from, have an inspection of the operating centre, our booking and dispatch procedures and record keeping.
Can you tell us a little about the range of vehicles that would be available to clients?
Some 90% of the journeys will be carried out in one of five industry standard vehicles. These are Mercedes S Class, Mercedes V Class, Range Rover and BMW 7 Series/Audi A8. Our commitment to clients is that no vehicle will be more than three years old, and it will only be used for chauffeuring purposes. The driver will speak fluent English and will have a decent knowledge of whichever city they operate in.
What is the most prestigious or expensive vehicle available to clients on this service?
For special occasions/decadence or VVIP clients with particular luxury requirements, we are able to offer Maybach, Bentley and Rolls Royce.
What advice would you give to new operatives looking to start a career in the close protection/security industry?
- Be professional at all times. You never know who is watching
- Always be dependable
- Hold yourself accountable
- Continue to develop yourself professionally each year with training and courses
- Relentlessly network.
What new services do you plan to offer clients in the future?
Once the chauffeur business is up and running at a good level we want to deliver some industry relevant training courses. We initially thought about training as a way to develop people we have on current contracts. Many of the skills we use are perishable and some have hard expiry dates. If you haven’t had refresher training for a number of years you don’t want to be in a real scenario and apply wrong/inappropriate/unlawful techniques. As these courses (and our hopeful accreditation to Highfield Awarding Body) have developed, we have seen there is a commercial opportunity to offer these courses to the wider security community as a whole.
Thank you for your time today Stuart and good luck with the new chauffeur business.