Weighed up and found wanting

Marc Sidwell
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WHEN I interviewed Mark Hamilton, G4S’s managing director of security services for London 2012, this January, he admitted that becoming the official security provider to this summer’s Olympics blended risk with reward. The consequences for failure, even for something that wasn’t the firm’s fault, were very high, and had been weighed carefully by G4S against the rewards of being seen to succeed.

The world’s largest security solutions provider must be wishing right now that it had weighed things up rather differently.

That said, the risks that G4S had to weigh up have proved not to be exactly what it anticipated. Rather than the danger of a security breach, it was the tendency of Olympic requirements to swell beyond initial estimates that has damaged its reputation. Fulfilling its initial 2010 contract to provide 2,000 security guards would have been far easier. Meeting the organising committee’s increased request for more than 10,000 guards made in December last year was apparently not.

Yet G4S is the largest employer listed on the London Stock Exchange, with over 657,000 employees across 125 countries. If any firm had the experience, scale and resource to manage the Olympian task it should have been this one.

A public failure is also a public opportunity to make amends. The company needs to explain its inability to supply at such short notice. Being the security provider for an event that effectively paints a giant bullseye on London was never going to be an enviable task. But by winning the right to publicise its role, G4S painted a second bullseye on its brand.

Marc Sidwell is City A.M.’s managing editor.