Sukhi Ghuman: How I beat the cowboys in the security game

When property lawyer Sukhi Ghuman saw how lax the standards in the security sector were, he set about making his fortune by offering a more professional service.

Working as a property lawyer gave Sukhi Ghuman an unexpected insight into the security business. "I handled a case against a security firm and I was shocked at the poor standards I saw. Documentation was terrible, the firm's staff were poorly trained and they didn't care about customers."

Ghuman realised that the sector was full of "cowboys and thugs" and that there was a gap for "a professional security firm that gave clients the highest standards". Aged 25, he decided to set up a small boutique security service, Octavian Security, in his spare time.

His first breakthrough came soon afterwards. In 2003 he won a tender to protect a parcel of land owned by Sainsbury's supermarket in his hometown of Nottingham. The land "had been empty while Sainsbury's was waiting for planning permission. But in the meantime drug addicts and vandals were using the site there had even been a death there."

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Ghuman hired South African security specialist, Jot Engelbrecht. His solutions included everything from using dogs to putting drug addicts in touch with rehab centres. "A strong knowledge of trespass laws" also helped.

Ghuman's next move was to buy a small local security firm that was about to go bust. "It had been a great firm in the past, but when the owner's son took over he ran it badly." Ghuman picked up the firm "for tens of thousands" and set about trying to turn it around. "My wife is a chartered accountant so she was able to go through the books and see why they were losing money."

Meanwhile, Ghuman and Engelbrecht set to work on staff training they quickly dumped anyone who wouldn't play ball. As the firm began to make money, Ghuman quit his job as a lawyer and devoted himself to Octavian full time. New British contracts trickled in, but his breakthrough came on "a lads' holiday to Dubai" in 2004.

A few days into the trip struck by the construction boom taking place he went to look for business. Ghuman was convinced that new buildings would mean a lot of extra business for security firms. "When I came back to England I tried to contact the headquarters of the firms I had seen in Dubai but they didn't want to know." So he changed tack and decided to travel back to Dubai and pitch onsite.

The gamble paid off and within a year he had signed contracts with TNT, DHL and Amex. "I worked with a local partner and together we offered these firms custom solutions. Firms out there have specific security needs." For one client he sourced trained alcohol-sniffing dogs to prevent employees smuggling contraband alcohol into the country.

Adding blue-chip companies to Octavian's client list made "a big difference" back in Britain. Ghuman began bidding for bigger tenders and eventually landed a £3m contract with property investor Regis. "They took a chance on giving it to a small firm."

Ghuman pulled off another coup when he began to hire ex-Gurkhas to work for his firm. "Gurkhas were in the news because of issues about their visas. We were the first private security firm to hire them here in Britain and it attracted a lot of media attention." Last year Ovtavian UK's revenues hit £13.2m. But Ghuman, now 34, isn't about to sell up and retire he is busy setting up an American branch of the firm.

James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.


After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the London bureau. 


James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report. 


He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.