War, terrorism, kidnapping: For more than 25 years, we have been dealing with Marcel Hagens with risks, crisis management and tailored insurance solutions. The native Dutchman also benefits from his experience as a former professional volleyball player and trained insurance broker.
At the beginning of your career, you worked as a consultant for a consulting firm that specialized in insuring soldiers. In 2009, you took the step into self-employment. What gave you the idea to set up your own company?
Marcel Hagens: I was in Afghanistan for the first time in 2009. Two years earlier, the Netherlands and Australia had taken command of southern Afghanistan as part of the ISAF mission. There were 125,000 military personnel on the ground, but 250,000 civilians, including employees of NGOs and logistics companies, who were responsible for the complete supply of NATO with food, electricity, internet, etc. The military airfield in Kandahar looked like New York. The military airfield in Kandahar looked like New York: Subway, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Hut - they were all there. And few of the employees had insurance. The contract clauses in Europe excluded coverage for risks in war zones and terrorist areas. But the entrepreneur is liable. That quickly runs into hundreds of thousands of euros. I founded my own insurance company in this niche. Since then I have been advising companies working in areas affected by terrorism, war and kidnapping on risk management. At the end of the process is the development of suitable insurance solutions. There are always residual risks and you have to insure them.
Theory came with practice. In Scotland, you studied International Terrorism at the University of St. Andrews, focusing on critical infrastructure, maritime and aviation terrorism. What motivated you?
Hagens: That's part of my philosophy. When I started my career, after training as an insurance broker, working for Aon, the world's largest insurance consultant, I first took a close look at every industry I was supposed to insure. Otherwise, I can't add value to the client. And if you want to be the expert on terrorism and war, you have to be something of a understand. I have been to countries such as Afghanistan more than 30 times and spent a total of more than 365 days on the road for clients in areas affected by war and terrorism.
Compared to your work in high-risk areas, studying in tranquil St. Andrews sounds a bit boring at first. What practical benefits did your studies bring?
Hagens: It wasn't exactly boring. I did the studies partly online from Kabul alongside my job. And after that, I saw the world through different eyes. I wouldn't sit down in a Eurostar to London anymore. Compared to flights, the safety gaps are huge. You suddenly see things that you didn't even notice before and learn to recognise and assess the potential risks very precisely. You can't eliminate risks entirely, there's still an Act of God, as the Americans say, but you can contain them. The quality of consultants depends on being able to think out of the box, i.e. unconventionally and creatively.
You have lived in extremely dangerous areas where war and terror prevailed. You have been involved in risk management and tailored insurance solutions for more than 25 years. What was one of your most difficult cases?
Hagens: That was in Afghanistan. Because the country has no port, fuel for NATO vehicles and aircraft was transported into the country by private contractors from Pakistan. The challenge was to secure the valuable supplies against Taliban raids. At that time, the price per liter exceeded the regular value by a factor of about 100, because the transport was so dangerous and complicated, going, for example, into mountainous regions that were difficult to access. It took two weeks to cover 500 kilometers. Thanks to our excellent contacts, we were able to organize protection for the supplies through informal channels.
Crises are usually very complex. Without good tools, you would not be able to manage them and ideally avoid them. Therefore, you have gained many years of experience with the so-called HAZOP process.
Hagens: HAZOP stands for Hazard and Operability, i.e. danger and operational capability. As a HAZOP leader, I control processes that consist of analyzing, assessing, minimizing, or completely avoiding risks. And if an emergency does occur, I have to make sure that the effect is as small as possible. You have to trigger the engineers, who understand the technology intimately but are often operationally blind, and ask the right questions. Many emergencies are not thought through and certainly not trained for. Therefore, risks are not perceived as such because nothing has ever gone wrong. HAZOP is actually a chemical and plant engineering process, but you can apply this technology to all risks.
What motivated you to bring your years of expertise to the WB Risk Prevention Systems team as a partner?
Hagens: I find it incredibly exciting that so many different people with experience from so many different areas come together. I am convinced that we are unique in our methodology for dealing with risks. Most competitors, for example, look at risks only through the lens of the intelligence officer or the financial expert. We look across the board, including across industries. We have a theoretical basis, but above all we have practical experience of risk. With our colleagues, we can cover the entire range of risk and crisis management.
What are your first commissions?
Hagens: We advise a German company that is in India is active in a joint venture. In retrospect, it has turned out that the Operationis not certified and not insured, contrary to what is stipulated in the contract. We must now make up for the certification as quickly as possible and close the insurance gaps.
If you are constantly assessing the risk to others, how does that affect your own daily life?
HagensIn a restaurant, I prefer to sit with my back to the wall so that I can see the door. In a hotel, I rather not live above the fifth floor, because that's as far as the fire department's ladder goes. And I always check the emergency exits immediately, which are often blocked by boxes or maids' trolleys, especially abroad. When I walked the streets in Kabul, I always knew who was behind me and who was in front of me. Have I seen that car yet? Are there two or three people sitting in it? It's becoming automatic. I can still sleep peacefully, even in the military camp.
You used to play volleyball professionally. What have you learned from professional sport for your second career?
Hagens: That you have to push through and fight for success. And if you put in the work, the results will come. But I only played at the top level for two years in Belgium, before that I was in the youth national team and later in the national team in the military. The sport made enough money that I never had to work a job during that time. When I found out that I was a very good Mojorleague player but not good enough for the European top or even world-class, I knew it was time to stop, also because I wouldn't have earned enough in the long run.