There was a time when Blackwater owner Erik Prince planned to grow his fledgling private contracting company into a family empire. But that was a long time ago. Today, the controversial contracting powerhouse that now goes by the name Xe, is up for sale.
In a few short years, Prince managed to turn a start-up firing range facility aimed at special forces and law enforcement, into a billion dollar empire that the U.S. State Department insisted it needed in order to perform its mission in Iraq, providing security personnel to protect diplomats and others who were spearheading reconstruction efforts.
But the company had an uncanny ability to draw negative headlines, particularly after a deadly shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square in September 2007 in which Blackwater contractors opened fired in a traffic circle, leaving more than a dozen civilians dead.
The Blackwater guards insisted they were coming under fire when they unleashed a barrage of bullets in the crowded traffic circle but the Iraqi government believed otherwise, and eventually kicked the company out of the country altogether.
Last year, Prince changed the company's name to Xe and announced that he was stepping down from day-to-day operations amid a slew of investigations from multiple government agencies. He fired Blackwater President Gary Jackson and brought in a new CEO who set out to clean house and set the company on a new course. The company's statement confirming that it's on the block reflects that desire to convince potential buyer's that it's changed.
"Xe's new management team has made significant changes and improvements to the company over the last 15 months, which have enabled the company to better serve the U.S. government and other customers, and will deliver additional value to a purchaser."
This isn't the first time Prince has pursued the idea of selling his company.
In early 2008, just months after the Nisoor Square shooting, Blackwater began negotiations with the equity firm Cerebus Capital Management, but those negotiations fell through after news of the talks were leaked to the media. This past February, Prince sold off his aviation division for $200 million.
The 40-year-old entrepreneur has made no secret of his frustrations with the U.S. government, which is incidentally, his best paying client. He insists that his men do good work, and that many of them haven't often gotten the respect they deserve.