SJA Exclusive: Security in the Americas – Mexico

View of Mexico City - basilica in foreground

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The third entry into our Security in the Americas series sees Matthew Porcelli, CPP speak with Lee Oughton from the ASIS International – Mexico Chapter.

What are the most pressing security challenges you are facing in your region?

I have had the blessing of living, working and operating in Mexico since June 2016. Upon my arrival into Mexico City, there was something enchanting about this magical yet bustling environment.

Mexico City and the surrounding metropolis amounts to more than 26 million people, with Mexico and LATAM as a whole presenting a wealth of security risks, threats and vulnerabilities. However, I have never felt that I shouldn’t be here or that I don’t belong here. Quite to the contrary, I was and still to this day am driven – some might say passionately intoxicated – about the real and live challenges that we as security professionals and residents face every day.

I often ask visiting security professionals, when you come to Mexico, do you speak or mix with the locals? It’s quite shocking when you hear some of the responses. Even to this day, there are some professionals who are not embracing conversations with their local assets or teammates. This baffles me really, as one of the very first things that I learned at the tender age of 18, is always embrace the local culture and environment. There is so much we can learn from one another!

It isn’t all bad news though; most security practitioners coming to Mexico and LATAM are forward-thinking and connect deeply. I encourage you all to embrace your local surroundings.

Most that watch the mainstream news and or use social media will quickly identify the huge threat of the increasing power of the cartels. Quite rightly, the cartels currently hold their strongest position in years. Thinking about this specific challenge, I often get asked how to mitigate this risk or how to go up against the cartels. To the latter, I say: “you can’t!” As with any other risk, we can instead look towards mitigation measures to reduce the threat to ‘as low as reasonably practicable’ (ALARP).

Where you should be looking first, if you’re interested in coming, investing or operating in Mexico, would be to understand the environment that you’re looking to work in or visit. You can easily do this on your own, through researching government websites such as the state department for US citizens, but this does have its limitations. If you want to understand all potential obstacles and pitfalls, then you should look to source national/local and also granular intelligence/information about your area of interest. Of course, networks such as ASIS International membership can also provide outstanding context in various regions across the globe.

Fluid and real-time intelligence is the heartbeat of any operation here in LATAM.

Kidnap and ransom (K&R) has always been an evolving threat; more specifically within Mexico and certain other austere environments within the region. In the past, we have seen sensational headlines of foreign visitors and workers coming to Mexico being kidnapped and extorted. Most recently we witnessed the tragic circumstances in Matamoras of the kidnapping of four US citizens, where two were horrifically killed before the other two were released and able to recover in the US.

One thing we should check as employees in large organizations or as security consultants deploying into the region is what kind of insurance coverage, premium or policy is available? Of course it is very important to have insurance, but as security professionals, we should also always be focused on the job in hand, which is protecting our employees, teammates, organizations, assets, brand reputation, resilience and business continuity, to name a few. When you are here you may want to also investigate hiring protective services, such as secure transportation. Mexico and LATAM is rife with bad actors looking to exploit vulnerability.

If you aren’t protected commensurately, then you’re positioning yourself as an easy target. Some prevalent risks that you should be aware of include extortion, express kidnapping, phone scamming or fraud and pickpocketing within the city centres and tourist areas. This is not an exhaustive list but more to create awareness of some of most challenging risks that we see and experience here.

Can you describe your journey in the world of security?

Security has been my life – it runs through my veins and I am a protector in all that I do. At the age of 18 I packed my bags and left home in Portsmouth, England. In January 1996, I joined the Corps of Royal Engineers which for the next ten years was to be my home and those fine men and women were to be my family. This part of my life was a pure blessing and it is highly probable that this was the foundation and start of a wonderfully successful career in protective services.

The army taught me many virtues and skills, but the one that stands out the most is teamwork. Teamwork has always been at the heart or center of everything for me. Without your teammates you cannot achieve perfection. Within my ten amazing years in the army – where I faced many highs and lows – I would say the latter were the most rewarding. I genuinely believe when you are down, low, making mistakes and failing, this is the place where you can learn so much and find the most rewarding journeys. Anyone can win and succeed, but can you lose and come back stronger. That’s where the real strength belongs.

Departing the army in 2006 as a selected Sergeant, I then embarked upon my new voyage, which took me to Basra Palace with Control Risks Group. Basra and then Baghdad became my home, where I then continued my journey and moved over to a UK-based private security company called Britam Defence. This again was a great experience, giving me first-hand knowledge in the world of low-profile protection within hostile/austere environments. This role taught me how to be extremely flexible, nimble and a willingness to go that extra mile.

Then came my Halliburton Career, thanks to my best friend on the planet – Mark Niblett, Senior Vice President – Global Operations & Chief Security Officer at Crisis 24. I couldn’t have asked for a better boss, leader, mentor and most of all, friend. In my time at Halliburton, I held the roles of Country Security Manager in Iraq and Global Executive Protection Manager based at Halliburton’s HQ in Houston.

Back in Iraq, firstly via Dubai, I then took up positions of business development consultant to both the Harirud Group and Al Tasweeb for manned guarding and security services. This is where I then started to enhance the business skills that I had learned from my time at Halliburton.

After Dubai and Iraq, I jetted over to Mexico to start maybe one of the finest moments of my career, first starting with the Abbey Grey Group as their Business Development Director and member of the board. Diving into a completely new country and environment was a huge risk for me to take but I loved every moment. Mexico was like nothing I had seen or experienced before.

I then moved onto Fortress Risk Management. Towards the end of Fortress and totally unrelated to security, even though we wanted and we believe we have impacted the security industry very positively, The Kindness Games (TKG) was founded. I happen to be one of the Co-Founders and affectionately known as the Kindness Crusader. It’s so important for me to mention TKG as it’s a huge part of my life.

Another career enhancement came in August 2022, when I became a Board Member at The Relentless Revival Safe Haven which is an organization that helps victims of human and trafficking. The other board that I sit on is with a company called ZFIS, which specializes in risk consulting, investigations, litigation support, travel intelligence, plus market and competition intelligence. I moved into the CEO role at Fortress and in January of 2023, I stepped down from that role and into the role of Chief Customer Officer at SPS.

Tell us about your journey within ASIS and how it has helped you in your career?

My journey or relationship with ASIS started back in 2010 when I first applied and became a member while working at Halliburton. I believe it was the likes of the larger than life Chuck Andrews who may have got me into ASIS back then. He was and still is a great ambassador and huge advocate for ASIS and I’d like to think the same about myself but on smaller scale. What I like and love to do is always shine a light on the great things that ASIS International, its local chapters and its loyal members do.

ASIS is doing great things within the industry and is progressing well under the leadership of its CEO Peter O’Neil and current President Tim McCreight. I must give both credit, plus their extremely hard-working teams and all the global volunteers on committees enacting positive changes around subject area communities, certifications, standards and guidelines, the ASIS Foundation, women in security and next-gen communities, etc.

ASIS has served me very well in my career and I would encourage everyone to look at ASIS as a personal journey, where we are all different and there are certain elements that fit our own career and personal needs. What I use ASIS for is networking and building relationships and you can do this very well at local chapter level or on a global scale. There are great opportunities at all levels to be involved with committees, helping to shape the future of the industry.

I am also grateful for the speaking opportunities that ASIS has afforded me. I have spoken at the last two GSX events in Orlando and Atlanta. I have also had the blessing to be a Keynote Speaker at a virtual CSO roundtable session.

In a nutshell, ASIS is fantastic, but I would add that one’s experience is only as good as what one puts into it! Our industry is a great community and we are all helping to forge a brighter future for all. Please let’s keep linking arms, reaching out with a warm handshake and embracing one another with respectful hugs. Remember everyone – kindness counts.

You can connect with Matthew on LinkedIn here.

To read the previous piece about ASIS International – Argentina, click here.

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