When International SOS and Control Risks joined forces in 2008 to tackle some of the biggest emergencies on the planet, they proved a centuries-old adage: Two heads are, indeed, better than one. The innovative, highly efficient venture thrived to such a degree that they received ASAP’s Individual Alliance Excellence Award for “excellence in planning, implementation, and results of a single alliance” at the 2016 Global Alliance Summit Alliance Excellence Awards. The March Summit, “Partnering Everywhere: Expert Leadership for the Ecosystem,” was held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland.
Several days after the awards, International SOS/Control Risks provided a lively session, “Executing in the Field: The Key to a Sustainable Alliance,” which offered a window into the unique partnership. The goal of the alliance was to completely eliminate competition that cropped up when International SOS was solely focused on security planning and Control Risks on pandemic planning.
The partnership resulted in joint mitigation risk services that provide travel security and medical assistance for clients around the world from regional centers in London, Dubai, Paris, Philadelphia, and Singapore as well as 900 remote sites and clinics. Specialist execution units offer advanced security training, risk forecasting, and emergency support worldwide; assistance centers and regional aviation units provide evacuation services in 150 countries.
Here are some excerpts from the session about the history and intent of the alliance from Sally Wang, vice president, global alliances & partnerships at International SOS; John Maltby, director, group strategy of alliances at Control Risks; Richard Fenning, CEO of Control Risks (remotely via video).
Wang: SOS was started in a basement 30 years ago. Now it’s a company of 11,000 people, half of which are medical personnel—1,000 are doctors. Our job is not to tell a company not to travel. Our company is an educator so the client can make the decision.
Maltby: Control Risks started out 40 years ago in a jail when one of the founders was illegally detained in a Colombian prison. The origins of the company are in kidnapping and negotiations, which eventually evolved into mitigating security risks. Our clients are in complex business environments.
Wang: SOS put out an ad about nine years ago when we were a medical company building out security. We thought we could do it on our own with 40 people, but we decided to grow it organically with a leading security firm to take it to another level.
Maltby: Control Risks had a vision for medical security as well as security for ex-patriots, and we viewed SOS as competition in our new turf. We had clients who were seeking emergency medical support and security planning from the same association, so we looked at partnering options and approached SOS, which had clients looking for a similar combination of services.
Fenning: The biggest challenge was at the beginning, explaining to clients how this alliance was going to work. A whole series of events tested it, such as the Arab Spring and mobile attacks. There was no room for misalignment. We helped clients with difficult situations around the world, such as an unfortunate accident with three students killed in a bus crash. We immediately deployed an incident management team that pulled together two teams from Bogota and Texas. Another example was in Honduras, which wanted to get a group of people out of the country when six Quebecers were killed on a humanitarian trip. Through the testing process, the alliance was found to be durable and sustainable.
Wang: The unique design of our alliance is for competing organizations with overlapping pieces as a joint venture in the middle. We decided not to give it its own separate name and identity: It is International SOS/Control Risks. How do you make sure of alignment? Customer feedback, brand strength, measuring business generations. If you don’t have it from both sides, you don’t have an alliance. You need to measure it; you need to look at value. If you were to get sick or have a security crisis, you only use one number, one app. Your security department is aligned. We have strong incentives built in to drive the business for each other. We buy each other’s services. It’s an expectation if not a written requirement. We occasionally work with other firms after having a dialogue with Control Risks first.