The executive protection industry isn’t one that has a clear path for those looking to get into it. In fact most people find themselves in the field almost by accident, usually after a career in the military or police.
In this post (and this podcast) we tap into the brain of one of the long-term players in the industry. Steve Albritton served in the military and state police in the USA before taking on a role as security manager for a high net worth individual, working out of Seattle, Washington.
Since leaving that role, Steve has established OPStructure, an industry consultancy taking on project work but focussing on executive protection recruitment and team building.
Executive Protection Industry Trends
Steve shared some insights into trends that the industry has seen in recent years and why today is an ideal time to consider a career in executive and corporate security, even if you don’t have a military or police background.
“The paradigms have changed. For many, many years in the US most of the executive protection personnel, or people beginning their careers, came from a law enforcement or police background, and that was probably up until maybe in the mid 90’s.
Then that changed a little bit in 2003 [with] Afghanistan and Iraq. Then the whole hiring executive protection field worldwide changed and those paradigms went towards more military.
Now I believe we’re at a stage where it’s combined, it’s a three-pronged attack. It’s military, police, and then just private sector guys… It’s a terrific time to start, I can tell you that.”
Meanwhile, on the client’ side things have changed dramatically in recent years also.
“At what time in history did we have 26 year old billionaires? This didn’t happen a whole lot. Your typical billionaires 10 years ago, 15 years ago, were all at a certain age and likely mid 40’s into 70’s.
These were the type of clients we were dealing with, which dictated the type of executive protection or close protection personnel it took to support them, and that’s changed.”
This has an impact beyond just a different playlist being shared in the limousine. Typically the younger individuals will want to be a bit more flexible and spontaneous with their schedules. And while executive protection agents need to be ready for anything, this adds a whole new dynamic to the role.
Preparation is Key
This shouldn’t be an excuse to not be prepared though. Steve makes the point that while most business travelers just ‘show up,’ that’s not a luxury that those in the risk mitigation field can afford. In many cases, the travel with the client only represents about 10% of the preparation work that’s gone into a particular journey. The rest of the time is taken on travel ‘advances’ and due diligence work, with the goal of pre-empting any issues that might occur when the client is due to travel.
The scope of an advance can vary significantly but almost always involves a ‘dry run’ of the trip detail where possible. Having the team familiar with the location can make a big difference to the outcomes of the journey – in some cases even the number of steps on a particular path might be critical to know. In most cases, the client will have little awareness of the details of the advance as it’s the role of the security team to manage such things. This keeps the client free to focus on what’s important to them.
Where possible, this preparation work should be done within the scope of the client corporation’s travel or security policy. More often than not though, clients don’t have such a policy or, where they do, they may not have consulted sufficiently on the security aspects. Steve works with some of his clients to put such policies in place (as do we at Panoptic Solutions).
In some cases this may require a generic advance, one that’s not for a particular journey but to check out a location for multiple visits. This will include scoping out hotels, routes, cafes and restaurants, providing transport recommendations and other points that might be relevant for a travel and security policy document. Such a document can be priceless for the business as it protects them from possible liability cases if staff deviate from the guidelines and find themselves in trouble.
Steve points this out to serve as a reality check to those looking to get into the executive protection industry. It isn’t about black cars, dark sunglasses and being surrounded by beautiful people. The Hollywood version of the bodyguard is a long way from the reality of being an executive protection agent or operative.
Having already mentioned the 26 year old billionaire client scenario, operatives also need to understand the demands of working with a family. Whether it be holiday travels, where the key client is out to relax as well, or whether it be a business trip where the family has tagged along, the level of complication and unpredictability can increase four-fold (or more).
Steve compares the difference between travelling with a single client vs a client and their family as being similar to the difference between checkers and chess. Much more is required in the way of resources and, no matter how far you look ahead, you need to be ready to change plans at a moment’s notice.
A Service Culture Makes the Difference
He also makes the point to those looking to enter the executive protection field that it’s not just about security:
“Success in covering clients in the executive protection world is not just about securing; it’s so much about customer service and people getting their money’s worth.”
Customer service and getting their money’s worth can often include running errands or other small tasks that would pose a bigger security risk if the client were to do it themselves.
Another skill of executive protection is to be readily available but not intrusive into the client’s life. This means adapting to their program rather than having them adapt to yours.
Local Knowledge Helps
Where possible, those entering the field should learn to capitalise on local knowledge, or knowledge of areas they are familiar with. Our (Panoptic Solutions) expertise in Australia and Asia has given Steve’s business and others not familiar with the area a partner who can do the legwork and save on having to learn a new territory.
“From a corporate standpoint it’s using companies like Panoptic to do the dirty work for us. I say the dirty work as in there’s no reason for me to go to Asia and try to recreate the wheel, if I can hire a company and contract services that are going to do all that for me.
Which consequently would be the same if Troy has a client that wants to travel to Florida or anywhere in the US, it would be very advantageous for him to contact our services back.”
Albritton warns clients to be cautious of security companies that claim they can take care of anyone, anywhere in the world. If they are doing it without partnering with local experts it’s unlikely that they are delivering the best service available.
“You’re only as good as your support network!”
In part two of this piece, Steve shares his expertise on how to build a security team from scratch, how to factor medical issues into a risk mitigation task, why staff sometimes need to be at more risk than the principal client, what really goes on behind the scenes of a travel task, what the options are for companies that cannot afford a full security team or to have advances done for them and more.