21-23 Aug 2024
ICC, Sydney

Person of Interest: Neil Fergus

Oct 13, 2020

CEO at Intelligent Risks & Head of Security - Australian Olympic Committee

For many security professionals, being involved in the planning and execution of the security for an event like the Olympic Games could be seen as a crowning achievement in one’s career. However, for Neil Fergus, the Sydney 2000 Olympics was just the beginning of a long and extraordinary career.

Since 1997, Neil has been involved in developing and delivering the security arrangements for numerous Summer and Winter Olympics, as well as several Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cups and a wide array of international political summits, including APEC Leaders’ Weeks, the G20, NATO Conferences and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings.

Like so many extraordinary tales, Neil’s story arises from humble beginnings. Having finished high school in the late 1970s, Neil worked for a short period in the mineral exploration sector in the Kimberley region and Northern Territory before deciding to enrol in university. It was while completing his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Legal Studies that Neil developed a passion for politics and history; a passion which would eventually lead him into a career working for the Australian Government in International Relations and Security.

Over the next two decades, Neil served in a range of senior postings both at home and abroad including as a senior diplomat at the Australian High Commission in London and as Principal Security Operations Adviser with the Commonwealth Government.

Sydney 2000 Olympics

Shortly after returning to Australia in 1997, following a four-year posting to Europe, Neil was informed he would be posted to Sydney to take a senior management role in the planning for the Sydney 2000 Olympics on behalf of the Federal Government.

“This is the nature of Government life,” explains Neil. “One day I was working in Canberra as the Head of the Middle East and Africa branch, the next I was on my way to Sydney to begin a three-year journey working with the inspirational and talented then NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Paul McKinnon”.

Following the successful delivery of the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Neil left government service and, with a couple of colleagues, established Intelligent Risks, a market-leading security, risk, due diligence and crisis management advisory firm.

The World of Sub-Contracting

As one of the world’s leading experts on major event security, Neil is no stranger to the concept of subcontracting and the arguments both for and against the use of such arrangements.

“There can be little doubt that sub-contracting is an integral part of delivering any major event” explains Neil. “No guarding company has the number of people sitting around idle waiting for an 11-day event, in terms of Commonwealth Games, or a 14 or 15-day event in terms of an Olympics. It doesn’t happen. Their core guarding personnel are out doing other tasks, other projects, other contracts.

“You need to do a capability and needs analysis on the guarding industry in the locale where the event will be held to understand what depth there is, what capacity might or might not be available. And I say ‘might or might not’ very deliberately because you will find, in terms of any subcontracting regime that exists, a number of people are likely to be registered for guard work for more than one company.

“The key is to have as flat an arrangement as possible. Have a prime contractor, or several prime contractors, to who the subcontractors report. You cannot have subcontractors running sub-contractors.”

Advice for Upcoming Security Professionals

With so many events being postponed or even cancelled during what has to be one of the most unusual years in living memory, we asked Neil what career advice he might offer to young security professionals looking to enter the major event space.

“Australian’s are extremely lucky” explains Neil. “We have some fantastic venues, fantastic events and a well-deserved strong reputation around the world for delivering excellence. Most of the major cities in Australia host some sort of world-class event throughout the year. Any of those events or venues would be an excellent place to get involved and get a start.

“I would also strongly suggest people take a look at the Australia Event Awards, which are due to take place in the next week or two. They will help people understand who’s participating in major events, not just in security, but across the whole menu of events. There are a variety of places to get a toe in the water; whether it is at some of our world-class venues or with a production company. Of course, we have companies that put on, for example, opening and closing ceremonies all around the world such as David Atkins Enterprises. His organisation has an extraordinary record nationally and internationally”.

“Adam Lowe and his brother also produce a host of large-scale events, notably Vivid – as well as working on the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. These are highly complex shows.  So I would say, don’t necessarily think just about the sporting events, think about the whole tableau, and see where you can get a start”.

“And, of course, our foremost security providers are continually working in the event space. As you can see, there are many avenues into major events.

“Last but not least, Austrade also has put out a publication, from memory, called Australia Unlimited, which has spoken in-depth about Australian skills and capabilities, not just security, but across all the functional areas for major events. And I would say to anybody who is thinking this maybe sounds a bit hard, or a bit remote, it’s really not.

“We’ve got some people, Australian people, not just with my company, who have trailblazed across the globe in this particular space. Take, for example, the European Games in Baku, where there were a number of Australians working on different aspects of delivery, including security. We’ve had Australians working on America’s Cup, regarded by many as the pre-eminent yachting regatta in the world. We bump into them around the world.

“And I think the good news for anyone out there thinking about the industry is, generally speaking, Australians have an outstanding reputation in the event space and the event security space.

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