Dodging Danger While Doing Business Abroad

The new global economy offers plenty of growth opportunities. But there are many dangers, too. U.S. executives were victims of close to 100 violent attacks in foreign countries last year--more than diplomatic or military personnel in all U.S. embassies combined, according to the State Dept.

In fact, the number of robberies, kidnappings, and other crimes against U.S. businesspeople has been rising through the 1990s as exporters rush into new markets overseas. Most multinationals have their own security staffs to protect senior management traveling or stationed abroad. But even these operations are taking a hit. Security is often one of the first divisions to go in a corporate downsizing.

So you've discovered you can double your business with a contract in, say, Colombia or Tunisia or one of the former Soviet republics. It's time to seal the deal. Yet your company doesn't have a security service, and you can't afford to hire your own protection. How do you ensure your safety?

TIP SHEET. You can start with one of the many sources of information on securing personal safety overseas. Kroll Associates (800 824-7502), one of the world's largest corporate-security companies, publishes a two-page Travel Watch tailored to each of 250 cities. For $6.95, Kroll will fax it to you. Or you can contact the State Dept.'s Overseas Security Advisory Council (202 663-0533) for country-by-country tips.

The best advice: "Learn how to blend in with the scenery," says Chuck Vance, CEO of Vance International, an Oakton (Va.) security firm. A former Secret Service agent assigned to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan, Vance now provides executive protection and consulting for more than 1,300 companies in 50 countries. Among his clients are Revlon, Toyota, Nomura Securities, Henry Kissinger, Salman Rushdie, and retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Terrorists often single out high-profile executives even before they set foot in another country. But any business officials can be targets simply because they look foreign and rich. So leave the Rolex watch and the corporate jet at home. Fly commercial, don't wear conspicuous clothing, and rent a car common in your locality.

"Know before you go," says Christopher Marquet, president of Kroll's Travel Security Service in New York. For example, jeans are normal business attire in Moscow, while a suit would look out of place. If visiting Lima, Peru, realize beforehand that glasses are a sign of wealth. Instead, wear contact lenses.

Identify trouble spots ahead of time. As a matter of course, Vance's agents will travel to a country in advance, scouting the airport, the route to the hotel, and places an executive will visit. You can do your own homework by calling the regional security officer at the U.S. Embassy in the country you're visiting, or call the Commerce Dept. at 800 USA-TRAD for referrals.

Once you've landed, stay alert. And vary your routine. "Think like the terrorist," says Vance. "If I were going to knock me on the head, where would I do it? When would I strike?" That means not dining at the same time in the same place every evening or always jogging at 7 a.m. Give out little information about your travel plans. And tell your staff not to tell callers where you are.

EASY EXIT. Marquet advises execs to stay in internationally known hotels, which usually offer better security. The best rooms are above the first floor but below the eighth. They're least prone to break-ins and the easiest to exit in the event of trouble. "Don't wander into unfamiliar areas," says Marquet. "You're liable to end up with excitement you don't want."

Of course, not every export deal will put your life in danger. But it's prudent to take precautions. The most dangerous countries? Security experts cite Colombia and Peru in South America, which are plagued by the violence of drug cartels and terrorists. In Europe, Russia's organized crime poses a threat to business visitors. Watch out in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria, where street crime can be a peril. And in Asia, use utmost caution in Pakistan and the Philippines, especially in rural areas where kidnappings and political violence have occurred. History shows that where pioneers go, bandits are sure to follow. So be careful out there.

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