The coronavirus does mean that unrelated news, good and bad, can get rather forgotten or lost. Just as the film Zoolander was released without trace in the wake of 9-11, so the London-based risk advisory firm Sibylline was a recent winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2020. The firm was founded in 2010 by Justin Crump. We spoke to him yesterday via Zoom.
As the double-edged proverb says, we live in ‘interesting times’, and as Justin remarked of the virus, ‘it’s been dominating my life for the last 60 days’. It struck Professional Security that – just as security management can be dangerous, exciting, and intellectually demanding and stimulating – Justin has found responding to and tracking the virus-lockdown interesting, and he agreed. Yet he made the important qualification that he and his analysts – Sibylline has bases in London, New York and Singapore – are not doing the work just because it’s interesting, but for a purpose; because the work has merit; ‘we are literally trying to make a better place by allowing companies to operate safely’.
Sibylline, like other risk analysis consultancies (and Justin once worked for one, Stirling Assynt), is there to offer advice so that customers, corporates and others, not only survive in their markets, but find opportunity. It’s striking that Sibylline has made its predictive analysis and reporting around Covid-19 free. So it’s not giving away any secrets to say that – bearing in mind that the updates are sent out daily – that Sibylline predicts roughly 50-50 that we’ll see either ‘containment’ of the virus by the end of July; or, ‘worst case’, no containment by the end of 2020. By that reckoning, the economic let alone other effects of the virus will be felt for many years.
A striking theme of Justin’s conversation is that – leaving aside the likely changes in doing business, such as restrictions on travel – the virus is only accelerating global trends that Sibylline has been tracking for years, such as the tension between the United States and China; and the break-down of global institutions.
And nationalism and terrorism and crime are not going away. Nor is the Extinction Rebellion protest movement. Despite any relief that we may feel after release from lockdown, there may be years of economic downturn, besides what social effects the virus may unleash, worldwide. Any economic forecast you see at the moment, Justin points out, is ‘probably very optimistic’, as, he recalls, such forecasts were at the 2008 financial crisis. Justin isn’t, then, one of those believers in a miraculous ‘bouncing back’. Rather, he and his firm follow trends, and offer advice, so that clients can plan and make decisions.
To give one example; business travel. Even if a corporate executive wants to travel, is it wise, not knowing what might be at the other end? That has profound implications for how multi-nationals do business. Justin’s historical comparison is with the 1800s firm Jardine Matheson, which (in the days when the fastest and only at all practical mode of inter-continental transport and of communication by letter was by sailing ship) did its trading by having agents in each port.
While Justin has a UK military background, having served in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, and is still a serving British Army Reserve officer, Professional Security found it endearing – or it could be that Professional Security is of a certain age – that Justin also quotes the fictional historical character Blackadder, the unheroic World War One officer of the fourth and final BBC TV series. He quotes Blackadder’s line – from the episode Captain Cook – at staff HQ, after Blackadder has made a painting of what’s on the other side of his trench, exaggerating the German army: “there may have been a few more armament factories and not quite as many elephants …” Justin’s point; while analysts have to consider even what may appear unlikely or unthinkable – who would have believed on September 10, 2001 that hijacked jets would crash into skyscrapers? – analysis has to stop short of the incredible.
Not that – to leave Justin – there’s not enough happening in the world lately.
Full interview in the June 2020 print issue of the Professional Security magazine.
About Justin Crump
Members of the Association of Security Consultants (ASC) will have heard Justin give a morning talk at their ever-high-powered annual conference Consec, in London in October. Justin’s on the board of the US-based Association of International Risk Intelligence Professionals, AIRIP; and the author of a 2015 book, “Corporate Security Intelligence and Strategic Decision-Making”, published by CRC Press.