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Bohemia Interactive: ‘Special Forces’ of Simulation

Bohemia Interactive Elevates Military Training from Games to Reality

Warfighters preparing for what they might encounter in battle are turning more and more to virtual reality software that takes its cues from the video gaming industry. But what makes a video game exciting is not necessarily suitable for military training.

That’s where Bohemia Interactive Simulations comes in, helping warfighters become familiar with different terrains and decision-making scenarios through “live” environments that are realistic.

“The enemies don’t bounce around and jump off roofs with ninja stars being thrown at you,” said Arthur Alexion, the Orlando-based CEO for the company known as BISim. “They’re a little bit more normal in the way they behave. Let’s say you’re in a convoy with three Humvees, and the middle Humvee gets blown up by an IED (improvised explosive device). There’s a sniper up on the hill. How do you exit the vehicle? How do you communicate with each other? We have radio simulation as well as physical visual simulation.”

Multiple users in various locations can train and communicate in real time in the same scenario, playing against each other as well as artificial intelligence (AI) units. The training can be modified for squads of 12, platoons of 30 or companies of 120. 

BISim’s collection of software products and services has grown over the company’s 15 years because of customers who say, “Hey, this software is great, but wouldn’t it be good if it could do this as well?” Today the company also provides pieces that can be integrated into other types of virtual training, such as the visuals for flight simulators, working with about 300 integrator customers around the world.

Global Growth

Since joining the company in 2013, Alexion has steered its growth from 60 team members worldwide to about 330. The company’s software trains hundreds of thousands of people every year for customers including the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marine Corps and warfighters in the U.K., France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australian, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and Canada. 

Global private equity firm The Riverside Company announced in November 2021 that its majority stake in BISim was being acquired by British multinational arms, security and aerospace group BAE Systems.

Bohemia Interactive Simulations has come a long way since its early days, when former Australian Army Captain Pete Morrison had the idea of linking his love for video games with his interest in military training. The founder served as CEO and chief technology officer in the early years and today is the company’s chief commercial officer, setting long-term strategy for new products.

Alexion describes the way the company started in a shed at the bottom of a garden in Australia. To get inside, people had to step around a menagerie of farm animals – including one that made itself known during a customer call with the U.S. Marines.

“They actually stopped the call and asked at one point, ‘Pete, is that a turkey I hear in the background?’ It was a real classic startup,” Alexion said. “Back then, they would knock off work at 5 o’clock to go surfing because that’s what you do in Australia.”

One day, Morrison reached out to a stranger in the Czech Republic who had a video game called ARMA that seemed to be a good starting point for military simulation. The inventor sent him the entire source code and then became an investor, and the company took its name from the historic Czech region. Another ARMA fan, Mark Dzulko, joined the company to write code, moving with his wife from Germany to Australia to collaborate with Morrison as co-founder of Bohemia Interactive. BISim still maintains its global headquarters in the Czech Republic.

Special Forces

Alexion, who is British, joined the company after his own entrepreneurial venture operating a Japanese digital animation company that created high returns for venture capital investors. With an MBA from the world’s top-ranking business school, INSEAD, and experience working at global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, he was well-suited to become the CEO who would take the company to the next level. For Alexion, the job matched the personality of someone whose childhood aspirations were to challenge the status quo and to obsessively learn new things. 

“There are some people who add enormous value by changing things and adding 1% of the margin on some huge number, and that’s awesome for investors,” Alexion said. “But it’s not what I want to do. I’m much more interested in highly innovative activities where there’s lots of discontinuity and lots of chaos happening and it’s unclear how to make money and how to do things the right way. I’m much more interested in that type of business.”

As an industry disruptor, Bohemia Interactive is looking for the best talent, which is one reason it chose to set up headquarters in Orlando, a hub for modeling, simulation and training. “It helps with hiring,” Alexion said. “We find that people here have deep knowledge of the industry, and we don’t have to train everybody up from scratch.”

The company tells new hires they have two obligations: One is to perform their specific job and the other is to make the business better. In exchange, the company offers them three types of compensation. One is financial, including pay and benefits. The other two are professional development and what Alexion calls enjoyment.

“That means very different things to different people,” he said. “If you can’t say to people at Thanksgiving dinner that you’ve developed professionally and you’ve enjoyed yourself, then you should go to your manager and give us a chance to fix it. We should all work at a place where we get all three types of compensation.” 

The company prides itself on being made up of elite teams of “special forces,” just like the customers it serves. For each new hire, the manager has to justify why that person is in the top 25% of people who would be qualified for that position. “Otherwise, we shouldn’t hire them,” Alexion said. “We want to be like the Army Rangers. And that creates a virtuous circle, because people are attracted to work in that type of business.”


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About the author

Diane Sears

A career journalist, author and advocate for business growth, Diane Sears is the CEO, editor and publisher of i4 Business. She is also the founder and president of DiVerse Media LLC, which has handled content marketing projects including nonfiction books, white papers, executive speeches and scripts since 2000. She is co-founder of the nonprofit Go for the Greens Foundation, which helps connect women-owned and minority-owned business owners with growth opportunities internationally.

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