You say Tomayto, I say Tamarto. We both understand that we are talking about that usually bright red fruit that can be used in a wealth of ways. From rich sauces over pasta, a topping for the cardboard burger from your favorite house of fast food, to the great luxury of a Bloody Mary, a tomato is a tomato. We all know a tomato when we see it! We know what it tastes like, and we could all find it in a police line-up of fruits and vegies accused of committing some awful crime.

The same is true in the world of business. Occasionally a company will re-brand themselves.  But that is all about changing their image, rather than their identity. In fact almost every major company has re-branded at some point. Car manufacturers may want to appeal to a younger clientèle, detergent makers want to woo the busy soccer mom. Soda makers need to be hip and in vogue with the younger generation. This is all well trodden pathways.

What is well less known is what happens if you just happen to own a company that essentially is Rent-A-Mercenary.  Blackwater had a nice and very lucrative deal in Iraq. Quite why the US forces seemed the need to pay Blackwater personnel much more than they were were paying their troops on the ground is still a big question in my mind. But what do I know? Maybe mercenaries are better at it than the people that fight because they care about their country?

Blackwater was happily making lots of money, but unfortunately back in 2007 they managed to insert their private parts into a ‘wood chipper’ when the guns for hire dispatched 17 Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nissour Square. Suddenly the use of mercenary forces came under the spotlight. Iraq was incensed. And yanked their ability to operate within the country. Even worse was the backlash. In the class Mercenary 101 they teach the need for not being a featured item day after day in the international press.

The solution? Change the company name. Blackwater morphed into Xe. It was a very interesting choice, Xe is the periodic table’s element Xenon. A ‘noble’ gas. And the name Xenon comes from the Greek word for stranger. It is the perfect name for a large company that needs to stay under the radar.

Alas the really cute name change did not fix the image problem. The damn press just kept hammering them. I suspect that even despot dictators were thinking twice about this bunch of mercenaries.

The solution? Well after inhaling way too much xenon, they have once again reinvented themselves, the new name is Academi. Oh I am sure that the name change does no reflect a corporate change. I am sure that they advertise on Craigslist in all of the best despot countries.

While it is difficult to get information on Blackwater, Xe, or Academi it seems that they are managing to keep the wolf from the door. While not welcome in Iraq, there are some rumors that have managed to snag a $250 million dollar deal in Afghanistan.

I keep coming back to the same issue. Why are we hiring mercenaries? Am I missing something here?

Simon Barrett

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