Somali pirates as depicted in the film Captain Philips

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The film Captain Phillips, inspired by the true story of the hijacking of a container ship and the kidnapping of its captain by Somali pirates, may seem the ideal viewing choice for a long plane journey. But for Bertrand Monnet, professor of criminal risk management, it was too close to reality for comfort.

“I watched it then thought maybe that wasn’t such a good idea,” he says. The French professor was on his way to the port city of Hobyo, Somalia – a hotspot of piracy, where he would have 38 bodyguards. Three weeks earlier, two UN representatives had taken the same journey and been killed on arrival.

“No one visits now unless they are under the complete protection of the government of Galkayo,” says Prof Monnet. The trip, one of many, was conducted by the professor to give his MBA students, at France’s Edhec Business School, teaching material with substance.

Case study

“I have to provide them with real-life experiences,” he says, describing how the day he arrived he saw a ship hijacked by pirates and cargo transferred to another boat. He filmed everything and then turned the film into a case study for classroom discussion.

Piracy is not the only theme in Prof Monnet’s portfolio. “I always choose topics myself,” he says, explaining his course looks at the challenges facing multinational companies, from fraud to extortion, piracy and terrorism.

As well as going to Africa, the French professor recently visited Colombia and Italy to study the cocaine economy and money laundering. Working alone, he films wherever he goes, researching and conducting interviews with criminals as high up the chain as possible.

Research

Professors chasing criminals in the name of research is rare in business education, but for Prof Monnet it is second nature. After graduating from the French military academy Saint-Cyr, he joined the French Marine Corps and spent two years fighting in eastern Europe. It was while based in Bosnia that the idea for his teaching course emerged.

“My job was to control the air strikes from the ground,” he says. In doing this, he had to track specific targets – people – for hours on end. “I observed in daylight that they were enemies, but at night they worked together, trafficking drugs, as this was an essential part of the economy.”

Realising that this could form an exhaustive case study on the criminal risks affecting the business world, Prof Monnet left the army and completed a specialised masters in international risk management at HEC Paris.

However, he ultimately pitched his course idea to Edhec, which he understood had an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.

Criminal risk

Within a few weeks, he was offered a teaching faculty position at the school. “I was lucky,” he says. “Criminal risk is not a [core business school topic] like finance but it was considered by the dean as something that needed to be addressed.”

The course – criminal risk management – launched in 2005. Prof Monnet wants his students to understand that although the criminal activities he refers to are conducted by small minorities, they have a significant impact on the economy and will affect the students wherever they work.

“Shell, for example, issued a profit warning in January 2014 solely due to the behaviour of one small group of pirates in Nigeria. It will always impact western companies in some way.”

Once his students appreciate the problems, Prof Monnet aims to show them how businesses can best protect themselves when operating in high-risk countries. “Criminals can be easily deterred with the right strategies,” he says.

Cyber crime is his next project and he hopes to meet hackers. “Web crime is a growing issue of which everyone must be aware, not only security managers,” he says.

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