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 a security manager for a high-net-worth individual, working out of Seattle, Washington.

Since leaving that role, Steve established OPStructure, an industry consultancy firm taking on project work, while also focusing on executive protection recruitment and team-building initiatives.

Executive Protection and 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 law enforcement or police background, and that was probably up until maybe in the mid-’90s.

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 the ’70s.

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

The new dynamic and clientele shouldn’t be an excuse to not be prepared though. Steve makes the point that while most business travellers 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 that’s gone into a journey. The rest of the time is taken on travel ‘advances’ and due diligence work. The goal is 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).

At times, this requires a generic advance that’s not for a particular journey but to check locations for multiple visits. This will include scoping out hotels, routes, cafes, and restaurants and providing transport recommendations. There points are largely 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. These can stem from staff deviating from the guidelines and finding themselves in trouble.

Steve’s Note

Steve points this out to serve as a reality check to those looking to get into the industry. This even applies to executive protection recruitment companies. 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 an executive protection agent or operative.

Family Matters

Having already mentioned the 26-year-old billionaire client scenario, operatives need to understand demands of working with a family. Whether it be holiday travels, or a business trip where the family has tagged along. The level of complication and unpredictability can increase four-fold (or more).

Steve compares travelling with a single client, and a client with family as being checkers vs chess. Much more is required in the way of resources. 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. Those that could 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.

Executive Protection Recruitment – Value of Local Knowledge

Where possible, those entering the field and starting the executive protection recruitment process 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  dirty work as in there’s no reason 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 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 have done for them and more.

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