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EXCLUSIVE -- Cherokee Nation plans to build a major portfolio of security-related companies

Russell Claybrook

“Our vision is big,” said Russell Claybrook, the president of the soon-to-mushroom security services firm, which is called Cherokee Nation Security and Safety, in an exclusive interview on June 21 with GSN: Government Security News.

Cherokee Nation Businesses, the commercial arm of the Cherokee Nation, whose citizens are concentrated in 14 counties in northeastern Oklahoma, is planning to develop a substantial portfolio of security firms through acquisitions and through organic internal growth.

Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB) has developed a strategic plan which envisions leveraging the capabilities it has already gained by providing security guard services and video surveillance monitoring services at the eight gambling casinos and one racetrack that CNB owns and operates.

Claybrook is planning to kickoff his business strategy by acquiring a “platform company” that has deep knowledge of IT security and software development, and already focuses on five additional aspects of security: video surveillance, access control, intrusion detection, vehicular traffic management and total system implementation.

Once that platform company has been brought into the fold, CNB anticipates acquiring (or developing organically) perhaps an additional half dozen companies that can augment the platform company’s expertise. Claybrook rattled off a list of security niches he plans to pursue:

  • Security consulting services – with the expertise to protect critical infrastructure and “high-value assets,” and which CNB would probably develop internally.
  • Live video surveillance monitoring – which would adhere to UL-2050 standards and offer remote monitoring of DoD and other federal installations. “We already have the facility and the ability to do this,” explained Claybrook, so he expects this niche would also be developed internally.
  • Armed and unarmed guards – even though CNB already employs about 300 security guards at its casinos and race track, Claybrook anticipates that this form of revenue growth will come from one or more acquisitions of regional guard companies.
  • Emergency response – likewise, CNB will probably look for acquisition candidates with expertise in such critical government services as base camp setup, incident management, training and food services, said Claybrook.

Altogether, he estimates that CNB’s total investment could develop a portfolio of companies with total annual revenues of $250 million, or more. “I don’t really want to cap it,” said Claybrook.

“We are extremely aggressive in wanting to diversify our businesses,” he explained.

By following this strategy in the security arena, CNB is emulating the pattern that it has successfully followed in the past with other industries, such as aerospace and defense, entertainment and information technology services. First, the Cherokee Nations provides specialized services for its own internal needs and develops its own knowledge; then it turns to the outside and attempts to leverage its expertise by looking for external customers.

In the case of security, said Claybrook, CNB manages eight casinos and one racetrack, employs approximately 300 guards to help safeguard those properties, provides video monitoring services, develops its own threat assessments and architectural layouts for those sites, and integrates all of the technologies at each of its facilities.

 He said his security organization is generally at the “leading edge” of technology, and sometimes finds itself even further out, at the “bleeding edge,” in its use of advanced biometrics, video analytics, identity management and other solutions.

Cherokee Nation Businesses has completed its planning phase for the commercialization of its security business, and has hired its leader, Russell Claybrook.

“Acquisitions are already in the pipeline,” Claybrook told GSN. He didn’t name any specific acquisition targets, but said his “goal” was to announce by September 2010 CNB’s first investment in a platform company. Claybrook said he prefers the term “investment” to “acquisition” because CNB does not plan to acquire a company and simply strip it of its government contracts. Instead, Claybrook intends to “invest” in the ideal company, keep it intact and grow its revenues on top of its existing contracts. “We don’t want to dissolve a company for its contracts,” he explained. “We want to build on those contracts.”

He is prepared to scrutinize any attractive security firm with the right skills and customers -- and might be willing to invest in companies with annual revenues as large as $100 million -- but expects that his more typical deal will involve smaller companies with annual revenues of $5 million to $20 million. “If it is a good opportunity business-wise, we would not pass it up,” he said.

Assuming that Cherokee Nation Security and Safety is granted 8(a) status by the Small Business Administration, which Claybrook says he hopes to receive in 90-120 days, he knows what CNB will do with its new acquisitions. “We’re going to put them in 8(a), and we’ll grow them with federal contracts,” Claybrook told GSN.

Claybrook plans to pursue contracts from federal government departments and agencies that are already doing business with other divisions of CNB, including the Departments of Defense, State and Energy, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, National Security Agency, and other “three-letter” agencies. “We will leverage our existing relationships,” said Claybrook.

A former student of architectural urban planning, Claybrook has focused much of his career on antiterrorism and force protection work, with extensive experience with Department of Defense and Department of State exterior security issues. He was formerly employed by ATG Access, a UK-based security firm, and SecureUSA.

A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Claybrook is grateful for what might well be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to help his Native-American tribe. “I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity,” he told GSN.

Even though he is keen on receiving 8(a) status from the SBA, Claybrook emphasized that the SBA’s designation is not the crucial element of his business strategy. “Our unique competitive advantage will not be our 8(a) status,” he explained. Instead, it will be the unique proprietary knowledge and specialized expertise of his entire Cherokee Nation team.

GSN: Government Security News will continue to monitor the progress CNB makes its pursuing this aggressive expansion strategy.


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