Adam Ainsworth: 10 years at SafeLane
This week the Staff Spotlight is shining on CEO, Adam Ainsworth, as he celebrates his 10-year work anniversary. Discover how Adam’s passion for mine action was born whilst he was in the army, and why he sees the people of SafeLane as the company’s greatest asset.
What did you do before you joined SafeLane?
Right before I joined, I was commanding a squadron of Royal Engineers – I got to play about in 80 tonne tanks with bridges on top! It’s an incredible privilege to lead soldiers; and Royal Engineer soldiers are great fun…they really keep you grounded.
Before that, I had my first introduction to mine action when working with the United Nations in Cyprus in 2007. I worked alongside the UN to broker access to new minefields for clearance between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot lines in the buffer zone, working alongside UNMAS, MAG and ArmorGroup.
Fast forward a few years and I left the army after 12 years and joined SafeLane – or what was then MineTech – as an Operations Manager.
What was life like as an Operations Manager?
It was absolutely fascinating and so rewarding. I learned from excellent people. As soon as I joined, I went to Sudan for an extended period to live in the mine fields and bush camps and to see how operations work. This was before it was 2 countries, pre the formation of South Sudan.
It was a brilliant opportunity to go out and spend time with our field teams, and learn about the details, about the machinery, about manual demining and mine detection dogs. I learned first-hand the operational processes from the experts in the minefields, but I also did a lot of studying in my tent at night!
How did you transition through the company from Operations Manager, to Operations, Director, Managing Director then CEO?
I’ve benefitted hugely from working in and amongst really good teams of people. The MD when I joined the company was an inspirational guy with a massive work ethic. He taught me a lot, as have the Technical Operations Managers at SafeLane over the years.
Also, the guys in the field are always helpful and happy to teach and share their experiences. When you’re learning from an expert who has 20 years’ experience you gain an advantage.
I’m constantly reading and learning too – and am passionately committed to understanding the perspective of those I’m speaking to. I always want to know a subject matter in depth if I can – so I can be knowledgeable when speaking to co-workers, clients, field staff. I keep learning so I can have a developing conversation with people. I think that has helped me in my career.
It became clear to me after I joined SafeLane that because you can progress based on results in business, mine action is a great business to show progress in, because you can literally illustrate the results – how many munitions cleared, how much land released.
It’s not so easy in other jobs. We are fortunate that we can show tangible results. So, my progression has been thanks to the environment in the sector and thanks to the organisation – it’s a collaborative and productive environment to work in.
How have you personally helped forge SafeLane’s advancement?
Well, people look for things they are good at and enjoy and I just enjoy business: client-customer relationships, strategic planning and so on – and how it all links together for a successful business path. It’s also easy and rewarding to see the results – happy and committed people and a growing organisation.
So, during my progression from Ops Director to MD I did a LOT of business development in the canine and security sectors in the Middle East, it is hard work but it came fairly naturally and I loved it – meeting different people, solving their problems. I am also quite driven, so I kept banging on doors until they opened.
We made a big difference in how we were working with Middle Eastern clients in oil and gas. That was a real team effort where I’d be in meetings with clients in Dubai and I’d have the team in UK feeding me data and information to help me. It was a collaborative effort.
Then in 2016 I moved to bring all parts of the group into one. We had the EOD sector with UK Land and Germany and the marine sector so there were more aspects to learn. Different people, technologies, procedures, different spaces to operate in. There was so much to learn and it was really exciting as I could help the whole organisation move into new markets.
What has been your proudest achievement at SafeLane?
Giving birth to the new brand has been really rewarding, seeing it grow and be embraced by people inside the business and out.
All the business units that merged to form SafeLane are excellent in their own right, and now it’s great to see them bonded and being one family unit and working collaboratively and with camaraderie.
Especially at the moment as we’re all living with the worries and the effects of the coronavirus, there is great strength in our unity as one company.
It’s a very difficult process trying to find the right look and feel for an entire company, and to have that new brand be embraced by everyone, I found that really rewarding. It’s become the new normal for everyone now, and the results of the process have exceeded my expectations. I may have started it – but everyone else has run with it.
From the team in Barth in Northern Germany to the staff in Maputo – from the WB+AD Morgan branch of the business and beyond – they may have previously felt like a small team or a small company working in isolation – but not anymore; every business unit knows it’s supported by the wider group. No one single part is more or less important than any other. We’re the SafeLane family now.
What are the biggest challenges you face professionally?
People – it’s always the people! The sector is not ordinary – it is extra-ordinary. It makes demands of people that can be prolonged, sustained and very challenging. Our people are put under pressure in challenging environments and some people excel, some break.
The management challenge on that path is to get the best out of the team and the individuals within it in sometimes very difficult operational circumstances or security situations, which can be a delicate balance of risk/reward.
It’s a fairly intense sector, the work we do is important, and we have to do it right every single time. A half-way house doesn’t work.
Also, I can be quite demanding, I am not the easiest person to work with! But the end result is worth it because the biggest challenges produce the best results.
People are also the best part of the business.
I thoroughly enjoy the paths that our staff take. Some come in knowing nothing about the sector, they end up marking out a journey for themselves and they grasp and create opportunities to learn and grow. Then they go to strange countries and do jobs they didn’t know existed before. And they thrive on the challenge.
Seeing people progress, if that’s what they want, is a massive reward for me.
What is it about SafeLane and the sector that you love?
I just don’t ever get tired of the fact that every single day we are lifting ordnance. I never lose that buzz. We are making a discernible and positive difference to people’s lives all over the world – that is a privilege. Although I find it a little scary that 10 years have flown by…I have a lot more grey hair than I did in 2010.
How has the current coronavirus crisis impacted SafeLane and the humanitarian and commercial sectors you operate in?
Internally, as a company, we have bonded through the unity of facing the same challenges together. I have been humbled by the staff’s commitment to the company and to each other.
Also, the hard work of all the previous years which have led to us being a responsibly governed organisation is paying off and helping us weather the storm.
I am hugely conscious that the spaces in which we operate will be changed for a long time, however. Financial pressures on our clients and even on the nation states where we do business will mean everything is changed for the foreseeable future.
SafeLane is an ‘in order to’ organisation – we do things in order to support others – if those ‘others’ are not doing what they were able to do in the past, then our raison d’être will be affected.
The clearance of ordnance exists to support something else – whether that is the delivery of humanitarian aid or commercial expansion – how others emerge will have a direct impact on our future.
And, as a global business we travel – a lot. We have to get our people in and out of challenging jurisdictions on a regular rotation. We have to travel within nations to support clients and develop business opportunities. Our organisation supports a lot of livelihoods across the world – I want to make sure we can continue to do that safely and responsibly.
Ultimately, I am increasingly confident and optimistic about the future for the SafeLane family, whilst being concerned about some of the other sectors we interface with. We will survive then thrive, and the livelihoods we directly and indirectly support will be maintained.