In 2009, the cargo ship Maersk Alabama was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. This incident is perhaps best known as the basis for the movie “Captain Phillips” starring Tom Hanks.
Incensed by the incident, former U.S. Marine Capt. Jonathan McConnell approached the owner of a shipping company in Mobile Bay and asked a simple question.
“How much would you pay to prevent something like this from happening? I’m not a fan of Americans being held captive. Surely it can’t be that hard to protect ships.”
His direct marketing plan worked. Today, McConnell, who earned a degree in Business Administration from the Harbert College of Business in 2004, founded Meridian Global Consulting – one of the first maritime security firms in the world – in 2009.
“My first business plan was written on a napkin,” McConnell recently told students in Lowder Eminent Scholar and Professor of Management Dave Ketchen’s ENFB 4180 class. “Our business has done nothing but grow.”
Headquartered in Mobile and licensed in 35 ports worldwide, Meridian provides 24-hour armed security teams aboard ships, deterring potential pirate attacks – often without firing a shot, McConnell said.
McConnell, who served as Auburn University SGA President in 2003-04, told students that establishing the business before maritime security could be internationally regulated was a major step toward building relationships with cargo-bearing clients. “We took the market share by acting early,” he said. According to Ketchen, “McConnell wisely pounced on a market need that involved very eager customers and that closely matched his skill set.”
Since the company’s beginning, McConnell announced his teams have done “more over 1,000 transit days” in the Indian Ocean/Somali Basin/Gulf of Aden without a loss of life.
Aside from talking about the dangers of unprotected travel at sea, McConnell offered students business lessons they can take into their own, personal, unchartered waters beyond graduation.
“Be that one person who instruments change,” he said. “Distinguish yourself. Never stop learning and have veracity to think of the next innovative thing and go with it. Learn to adapt on the fly and change. You’ve got to be able to do that in today’s market.”
McConnell, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, is a graduate of the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program at Oklahoma State. Ketchen serves on the teaching team for the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at Florida State University.