Manufacturing Plant Building at Al Ain
Anybody who has served in or visited any of the major conflicts zones around the world in the last two decades knows the name Hesco. The brand has become synonymous with force protection barrier systems the world over and the company’s MIL CONCERTAINER units a familiar sight for soldiers, sailors and airmen in conflict theatres.
Which is about as much as most of us know about the Leeds-based company. But to dig below the surface and ask executives of the company to expand a little on the technology, philosophy and business practices behind the brand is to discover a fascinating story. “Our estimates are that we currently hold about 60-70% of the global market for force protection barrier systems,” Hamish Russell, Global Business Development Manager for Hesco Bastion told Mönch in an interview at IDEX 2017 in Abu Dhabi.
The comment came on the heels of the company’s announcement on 19 February that it is building a manufacturing plant in Al Ain (the former capital city of Abu Dhabi) to fulfil an order from the UAE Armed Forces for AED91 million (approx. US$24 million) of HESCO Accommodation Bunker (HAB) units and defensive walls. “That’s the largest single order ever for us,” said Russell, adding that the order comes through the umbrella Tawazun economic agreement, which he describes as, “an invitation only club.”
The factory will not only create jobs – in both manufacturing and operations, particularly for UAE military veterans – but will also contribute to accelerated delivery of Hesco product to local and regional customers. The company has had a strong and constantly developing relationship with the UAE armed forces for over 13 years.
That illustrates the fundamental issue underlying Hesco’s success. Being in the right place at the right time certainly helped to start the process of significant growth the company has enjoyed. At the high point of requirements for force protection systems in Iraq and Afghanistan, the company was manufacturing some 80km of MIL units – a week! That volume, coupled with the ubiquity of the units in every theatre of operations, has led to Hesco’s ability to leverage a hard-won brand and a jealously guarded reputation, generating considerable revenue growth from the military market as well as adjacent market sectors.
But the world changes and the heyday of urgent operational requirements from far-flung conflicts has faded away. So how do you sustain market growth in such a scenario? “There are several markets we are active in that hold great promise, ranging from the oil and gas exploration industry to the flood protection community – in fact, flood protection is what we are better known for in the US, rather than force protection,” Russell commented.
Nevertheless, the military market remains critically important to the company. “The US is purchasing again in good numbers,” Russell commented, adding that aspects of the Hesco service have also contributed to customer loyalty. Training, for example, comes with the compliments and active participation of the company in most cases. “The units can be deployed very quickly by unskilled labour, but there are a few rules to getting it right: and we want to ensure the customer gets the maximum utility from every Hesco product, which is why training comes as part of the overall package,” he explained.
Innovation is also part of the success story of recent years. The patented TERRABLOCK XT leverages experience and learning achieved in the harsh operational environments – and constantly evolving threat picture – of Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali and many other conflict theatres over the last two and a half decades. A rigid faced, ground-mounted and redployable security fence, the system incorporates the central concept of the CONCERTAINER system with an anti-climb mesh that offers a graceful, rapidly implemented and cost-effective vehicle barrier requiring no special ground preparation; no digging, no concrete support but a barrier proven to stop a 7t vehicle travelling at 80 kilometres per hour.
Part of the Belgium-based Betafence Group, which has a total revenue of around €300 million, according to Russell, since 2016, Hesco continues to seek every opportunity to cross-fertilise and bring innovative – but often remarkably simple – solutions to a market sector that is too often ignored when it comes to assessing operational effectiveness. “We have never sat on our laurels – we are always seeking the best method of going the extra mile to ensure complete customer satisfaction,” Russell told Mönch. If the company had been around in Napoleon’s times, perhaps one of the Emperor’s favourite maxims might have had a slightly different flavour: perhaps God is, indeed, on the side of “big sandbags!”