Erik Prince founded Blackwater, got “blowtorched by politics”, and is now chairman of Frontier Services Group, an Africa-focused “security and logistics” company — with ties to China’s largest state-owned conglomerate, Citic Group:
Beijing has titanic ambitions to tap Africa’s resources—including $1 trillion in planned spending on roads, railways and airports by 2025—and Mr. Prince wants in.
With a public listing in Hong Kong, and with Citic as its second-largest shareholder (a 15% stake) and Citic executives sitting on its board, Frontier Services Group is a long way from Blackwater’s CIA ties and $2 billion in U.S. government contracts. For that, Mr. Prince is relieved.
“I would rather deal with the vagaries of investing in Africa than in figuring out what the hell else Washington is going to do to the entrepreneur next,” says the crew-cut 44-year-old.
“This is not a patriotic endeavor of ours—we’re here to build a great business and make some money doing it,” he says. Asia, and especially China, “has the appetite to take frontier risk, that expeditionary risk of going to those less-certain, less-normal markets and figuring out how to make it happen.” Mr. Prince says “critics can throw stones all they want” but he is quick to point out that he has “a lot of experience in dealing in uncertainties in difficult places,” and says “this is a very rational decision—made, I guess, emotionless.”
Mr. Prince aims to provide “end-to-end” services to companies in the “big extractive, big infrastructure and big energy” industries. Initially focused on building a Pan-African fleet of aircraft, his firm will expand into barging, trucking and shipping, along with “remote-area construction” as needed for reliable transport. A company—Chinese, Russian, American or otherwise—may have “an extremely rich hydrocarbon or mining asset,” he explains, “but it’s worth nothing unless you can get it to where someone will pay you for it.” His investor prospectus notes that with today’s transportation infrastructure, “it costs more to ship a ton of wheat from Mombasa, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda than from Chicago to Mombasa.”
There’s little advantage to being an American citizen, Prince adds:
They tax you anywhere in the world you are, they regulate you, and they certainly don’t help you, at all.