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VOL. 43 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 10, 2019

Does your company have a plan for your kidnapping?

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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Today’s average sedan sports approximately 15 square feet of trunk room.

It’s big enough to easily fit one oversize suitcase and two roll-ons. Or it could fit two golf bags and two overnighters, or maybe a midsize tent, sleeping bags and a cooler.

Your trunk also is big enough for you to lie bound and blindfolded inside. In “Kidnap” by Anja Shortland, you’ll see how to avoid that.

In the movies, it always happens fast: someone is snatched, and the hostage-takers call within minutes to ask for millions of dollars in ransom.

But kidnapping, Shortland says, doesn’t happen as it is portrayed in pop culture. Based on what she knows in her work as a World Bank adviser and Somali piracy expert, Shortland shows that, in most cases, kidnapping is a civilized affair that takes deep planning on both sides.

Kidnappers, for instance, often work under a main organization that considers logistics and monitors who is being snatched and who’s paying not to be snatched, through preset fees that come either from an individual or a corporation. This serves to self-monitor the situation and to discourage “rule-breaking” and rogues.

Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business

by Anja Shortland

c.2019, Oxford University Press

$24.95

249 pages

As for the kidnapped employee, you may not be informed about the steps your business has taken on your behalf. Risk managers who specialize in danger assessment might have been hired, and consultants might be involved. Almost certainly, if there’s an insurance policy, Shortland says that it’s likely to have been underwritten by Lloyds of London, and you won’t be told about it.

If the worst happens, professional negotiators might be hired, but that could be a moot point if everybody’s already agreed on the ransom fee.

Of course, things could go awry, especially if you have bodyguards involved, but that’s a whole different chapter.

The good news is that the vast majority of “insured people working, traveling and living in kidnap-prone areas” are not, statistically, in much danger. Over the last four decades, just more than 2,000 people have reportedly been kidnapped.

That’s a low number – unless one of them is you…

Generally speaking, you probably don’t think of crime in the way that Shortland portrays it here, as a business that operates eerily similar to the one where you toil. In “Kidnap,” though, she offers compelling evidence as proof. Readers can certainly expect plenty of eyebrow-raisers in this, and in learning that kidnapping is quite often manageable, much like a retail store.

And yet, this book isn’t all comparisons because there is no comparing danger and murder to your quiet office. Indeed, Shortland is quick to point out that, though 90 percent of all kidnaps end well, things can go wrong, which leads to a sobering few pages on negotiation and the price of a life.

It’s probably safe to say that you are not going to be kidnapped today. Tomorrow’s probably a good bet, too, but why take chances? “Kidnap” will open your eyes, and it could help you keep both feet square on the ground.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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