McLean, Va. The security firm once known as Blackwater on Monday changed its name for the second time in less than three years as its owners continue to reshape the company they bought from its founder a year ago.
The Arlington-based company announced it will no longer be known as Xe Services and is now called Academi. The name is inspired by Plato's Academy in ancient Greece and is designed to connote elite, highly disciplined warriors who are thinkers as well as fighters.
CEO Ted Wright said a new name was needed to reflect changes the company has undergone since a group of investors bought it in December 2010 from founder Erik Prince.
"Simply stated, we are a new company. New ownership team. New board of directors," Wright said.
Prince founded the company in 1997 in North Carolina and built it into a contractor that provided training and protection for government workers in war zones around the globe. But Blackwater guards were involved in a series of high-profile shootings, none more so than the 2007 shootings in Nisoor Square in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead. Iraq has since banned the company from working in the country. And four Blackwater guards still face federal prosecution for their actions.
Prince, though, offered aggressive defenses of his company's work and became a target for critics who said he fostered a trigger-happy culture. In 2009, the company acknowledged the Blackwater name had become tarnished and changed its name to Xe.
Asked about the name changes, Wright pointed out that the first name change occurred under the old ownership group, and he admitted he was not a fan of the Xe name.
"I think it was confusing," Wright said of the Xe name. "It didn't have any reason behind it."
Wright, who came to Academi from government contractor KBR, also said he has promised customers that he'll be taking a lower profile and that they won't be seeing negative newspaper headlines about Academi. One of his first hires after becoming CEO in June was a newly created position of compliance officer, whose job is to ensure the company's work is done ethically and legally.
One aspect of Blackwater's legacy that Wright hopes to preserve and promote: its record of conducting more than 60,000 protective security missions worldwide in the past seven years without having a single person under its protection being lost or critically injured.
Wright said the company can maintain that level of protection even as it sheds the gung-ho culture of its past. The company continues to provide security or training in more than half a dozen countries around the world, most notably in Afghanistan. And it wants to get back into Iraq, where Wright said the business opportunities are promising.
"I have every confidence we'll be operating in Iraq again," Wright said, arguing that the Iraqi and the U.S. governments will recognize his company's culture change.
As for the name change, it did not receive universal approval from experts on marketing and brands. William Lozito, chief branding officer with Strategic Name Development in Minneapolis, called the name change hard to fathom. While the Academi name —which the company spells in all capital letters in its press release — may be appropriate for the company's training business, he said it sounds out of place for the security business because it conveys a notion that its security workers are in some of training academy themselves.
"Blackwater has some bad associations. But just change the name once, not twice," he said.