Following its nomination as a London regional finalist and Thought Exchange visit to the UAE, ES-KO International has been declared a regional winner in the HSBC Business Thinking initiative.
Ask Roger Smith how important exports are to ES-KO International and he’ll tell you that exports are the business.
Indeed, ES-KO, which has been operating for more than 50 years, exports everything it does – but not to the usual business destinations.
From Afghanistan to South Sudan, Angola, Haiti and East Timor, the ﬁrm’s exports of food, clothing and modular constructions for housing go to some of the world’s most remote and challenging territories.
With 70 staff in Surrey, Monaco and Genoa, and about 2,000 in ﬁeld operations, ES-KO provides logistics support services for organisations including the United Nations, for which it provides 4.5 million meals a month. It plans to expand with the help of its award of lending of up to £6m and a ﬁnancial reward of up to £120,000 after becoming a London regional winner of HSBC’s Business Thinking programme.
He says the money would be spent buying a ﬁnancial product to cap interest on loans it plans to take out and on promotions and marketing.
“It’s a fragmented market that we’re serving and our concept is strange,” he says. “We have a business but we’re also trying to be something adjacent; a type of outsourcing in the humanitarian non-governmental organisation and aid sector but at a proﬁt.
“Aid and proﬁt don’t go together well but we offer a professionalism and cost-competitiveness that allows us to make the requisite return but to give a product that lasts."
ES-KO has a turnover of about £150m, operates in 22 countries and is prospecting for business in Libya and Iraq.
“All our business is export to hostile and difﬁcult places, and our customers are the UN, NGOs and oil and gas companies – anyone who works in strange places,” says Mr Smith.
“We work where there’s basically no infrastructure or transport routes. Two thirds of the business is food. We don’t do medicine but I think that’s the next step: schools, dispensaries, aid centres and blood centres, I see the opportunity.
“The big agencies do it themselves but we think that we can do it in a more professional, more cost-effective and more long-lasting way at a small proﬁt.”