The toughest school in the world

If you want to be among the best in today’s economy, you have to hold your own in Baghdad

Factors like "Wilderness", "danger" and "risk" have long ceased to be the dark, misappropriated downside of the dream of globalization. The supposedly deterrent factors are the special kick: They are the resistance against which only the best and the strongest prevail in the economy, i.e., in a certain sense, the yardstick for performance in the discipline called economics.

It may be a coincidence, but some of the most hardcore proponents of this business attitude come from England. "Control Risk Group" is, for example, a security consulting company that has for some time published a yearbook called "RiskMap" which provides companies with an overview of future trends in global corporate risk.

What the clientele of the company, which was founded in 1975 – 70 companies from the Fortune 100 list; in Germany, a rough portion of the Dax companies – gets in their hands is a kind of weather forecast. The news that the "RiskMap" spreads every year is actually always worrying. There is hardly a region where there is no risk. However "Control Risk Group" is not the only one.

The "RiskMap" does not warn its readers, but rather acts as a guide for corporations. "Control Risks" encourages its customers: No, according to the tenor, there is no reason to shy away from crisis regions. Consisting of a rough, two-page map of the world, essays, country portraits, and graphics, risk mitigation is seen here as an offensive, not defensive posture.

A small minority of companies show that active and rigorous risk management programs can open up new opportunities. The starting point of the RiskMap is that few, if any, of these problems are insurmountable for companies that think ahead, adapt and, above all, have the confidence to protect their own business interests.

Jake Stratton

A similar stance is taken by "The Economist" takes a similar stance. Founded in 1843, the British weekly magazine of business, politics and culture has become one of the world’s leading business publications, after articles such as "Risky Returns", "The Baghdad boom" and "Dangerous work" most recently the sensational cover story "Doing business in dangerous places" published. The cover of this ie features only a plain travel suitcase, covered in what appears to be bulletproof metal and a camouflage pattern. The suitcase as the ultimate icon of all graduates of the toughest business school in the world.

the toughest school in the world

With this computer-generated image, the traditional newspaper seems to want to give courage. In any case, the editorial repeatedly talks about "making money" and "huge profits" in dangerous places. Iraq in particular is seen as a "goldmine" and the case of food provider KBR is cited as a prime example. In June 2004 KBR had to supply 50.000 soldiers in Iraq; just one month later, the volume of orders is said to have increased by almost 200. The beginning of a success story. Energy, communications, security, intelligence, transportation and construction are cited as particularly profitable sectors.

Adrenalin is a special drug

Actually, only advantages are seen in doing business in places that are "dodgy" respectively "nasty" are. For example, there is talk about the special challenges that the "entrepreneurial individual" (Gilles Deleuze) grow beyond himself: The school of life is vocational school in a hail of bullets, or, as Heyrick Bond Gunning, a DHL manager, titled his experience bound in book form: "Baghdad Business School" (Eye Books 2004).

Heyrick Bond Gunning served in the Army for years before founding his own company. So he had experience on the battlefield and in the business world when DHL came knocking, hired him without further ado and equipped him with an assignment that would make him the first Post Saddam Iraq businessman to go down in history: he landed in Baghdad after the monument collapse with a tent and a handful of dollars to set up a branch of the postal company in the Iraqi capital.

Gunning stayed there for a year, striking deals with civilian and military actors. The U.S. Army, in particular, demonstrated a rough need for it. DHL could simply deliver many of the items in demand in the war zone more quickly. By the time the businessman headed back home, he was already a legend. The "contemporary adventurer, cannily disguised as a quite businessman" (Daily Telegraph) wrote down his experiences and became a sought-after consultant for companies with economic ambitions in the Middle East.

Stories like his make the structures in the working world of the crisis area seem very attractive. It seems as if one can work independently and on one’s own without having to wait for orders from the top. Ideal for people who are bogged down in the hierarchies of traditional workplaces and prefer to, "to run things their own way". All this is not only possible, it is necessary in order to face the risks effectively. Gunning: "That was part of the beauty of it."

That the workers are able to cope with these risks seems to be self-evident. Adrenalin is treated as a particularly attractive drug, the impression that the life-threatening situation in Baghdad could overtax the economic tourists is hardly even hinted at by any of the reports. If this circumstance does occur, it is only because of one’s own inadequacies: Once you stick your head too deep into the Iraqi desert sand, you lose sight and sense of when the time is right to return.

But even this scenario confirms the tenor: Danger is not perceived as an evil, but as a necessity. It is simply part of the job and therefore not an extra – hazard pay is by no means the norm everywhere. Employees of SAFAIR and National Airways Corporation, for example, who provide commercial flights to Baghdad, are not entitled to it. This job is more fun than working at home in the office. Gunning, for example, answers the question in the affirmative, whether he would accept such an assignment again. In view of the escalating situation in Iraq, he adds: "But I would negotiate a better package."

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