Executive Protection

Executive Protection

Posted November 8, 2021 by Ami Toben

Executive Protection.

I’ll start with a disclaimer-type clarification.

I do not consider myself an executive protection expert, which is why you don’t see me write all that much about EP training, strategies, tactics etc. There are many experts out there, way over my level, who produce great content about those kinds of things.

I have, nevertheless, taken part in a considerable amount of executive protection over the last fifteen years, so what I want to do here is touch on a few EP aspects that you don’t usually hear much about.

There’s No “The” in Executive Protection

There’s no one way to do executive protection, there are hardly even any unified “Best Practices” because everything is so conditional and depends on so many restrictions, budgets, personnel, goals, locations, principal desires, etc. Most rules have exceptions, and even exceptions to those exceptions.

A good way to think about this is to replace the term Executive Protection (which sounds defined and unified) with Protecting a Person, or a few people if there are family members or other individuals to protect (there we go with the exceptions again…).

It doesn’t mean that there are no common principles, just that it’s a very wide field. It’s the same as talking about the even more general field of security, which can widely vary between club security, corporate security, private wedding security, tech convention security, shareholder meeting security, etc. Just like there are many different ways to achieve many different goals for many different types of events, facilities and clients in general security, there are many ways of achieving different EP goals for many different types of principals in different environments.

“Soft Skills”

I was tempted not to include this segment because it’s such a commonly discussed topic but there are still a few aspects about it that don’t get discussed enough.

Full disclosure: I’ve never liked this term. It always sounded to me like an unnecessarily supped-up, tactical-sounding term for just being an intelligent, polite, tactful adult. But there’s an important reason why what seems as just simple, common decency is actually a skill.

This is because any decent person can be polite, respectful and tactful on their own time when things are calm and comfortable. But as soon as you’re operational, not only do you have to keep to someone else’s schedule, maintain communications and heightened alertness, assess everyone around your principal, consider the preventive and reactive measures (both the ones you can and can’t take) and notice how the operation often deviates from its original plan and schedule, but through it all, never forget that you’re responsible for an important person’s safety and security.

Now, try to see how calm and polite you are. It’s not so easy once the stakes are high, things are complex, you’re tired, hungry, frustrated about variables you can’t control, and you have to deal with your own stress. You have to be calm, tactful and polite while under pressure, despite how you actually feel. That’s why it’s a skill.

Once upon a time, I used to think that this is a teachable skill. To some extent, experience can definitely help, but my experience with others has also taught me that there are quite a few people out there that simply cannot learn a skill like this. I’m not trying to demean anyone here; I’m just trying to be honest about it. Some people are simply not wired for it—and that’s perfectly fine. This isn’t a job for everyone. Most of my personal friends aren’t wired for it, and neither are many professional friends I hold in the highest esteem. It doesn’t mean I don’t love or respect them, it just means it’s not the right fit for them. Many of them are wired for other stuff I’m not, and for which I envy them to no end. That’s just the way it goes.

Most Executives and High-Net-Worth Individuals Aren’t Protected.

Most executives, even most of the billionaires I’ve seen (and I’ve encountered a good number of them over the years), don’t usually go around with protection. Crazy, right? Nope! That’s just reality for you. It’s always been that way and your outrage over it isn’t likely to change anything.

I’m not trying to necessarily recommend it; I’m just telling you that that’s the way it is.

Most People Don’t Care

It’s often the case that the protection professionals are the only people with even a slight interest in security. This might help explain why so many people out there (including many principals themselves) don’t really care all that much about what you do unless it gets in their way.

Crazy, right? Here too, the answer is no. And all you have to do in order to understand why is ask yourself how much interest you, the protection operator, has in what your principal does for a living. How interested are you in coding, in real estate development, in investment banking? How interested are you in the minutiae of stock market trading? That’s right, I didn’t think so.

And no, those things might not seem as important as keeping people alive, but those are the very things that pay for your services; they’re the only reasons you’re even there in the first place. They’re the ones that allow you to protect people and put food on your table.

It really is OK if not everyone is super interested in what everyone else does—Including security. I’m not trying to excuse people’s lack of interest in their own protection, I’m just trying to explain it.

I’ve seen many a protector get really worked up about this but it’s worth remembering that all the outrage in the world isn’t going to change this fact. You’re not likely to outrage a client out of their complacency—you’re much more likely to just outrage yourself out of a job (again, remember what I said about Soft Skills).

Armed or Unarmed?

The majority of EP in the world is unarmed. That’s just a fact.

Having recently posted an article about Armed or Unarmed Security, it surprised me to discover how many people out there didn’t realize this fact. You can argue all day long whether it’s good or bad or awesome or ridiculous or unfortunate or whatever you want, but what you can’t refute is that it’s a fact. And it’s always important to base your feelings and ideas on the facts rather than the other way around.

How Flashy is The EP Lifestyle?

Private jets, yachts, limousines, Red Carpets, concerts, backstage passes, ballrooms, high-end restaurants, resorts, opulent bars and luxury hotels.

Sure! Protective details can indeed take you to some very fun, interesting and luxurious locations. And I won’t lie, I’ve seen and experienced some very cool stuff over the years. But it’s important to keep in mind that it’s your principal who’s actually the one that owns, rents or is invited to these locations, not you.

Executive Protection 1 Executive Protection 2 Executive Protection 3

Lots of people like posting photos of classy and exotic places they’ve gone to on EP details but since I told you in the beginning of this article that I’ll share some of the stuff you don’t hear too often, let me share a few photos I took during operations that show the other side of things (all taken during breaks or down-times, I hasten to add).

It’s not just that there’s a backside to all the glam and glitz, it’s that, from my experience, the backside is where you’re likely to spend most of your time during an operation.

There was no shortage of glamour and glitz during that specific operation, but after being on my feet for seven out of the 16-hour day I put in, the dusty emergency stairway was where I got to take a much-needed break.

Backstage passes sure seem exciting, except when you spend entire days standing there, protecting Green Rooms.

Red Carpets are great but when they eventually lead to exclusive small rooms where parties or important meetings take place, guess where you, the operator, gets to hang out? A Red Carpet is only special for those who walk on it, not for those who get to spend the next four hours standing guard on it.

Luxury hotels seem much less luxurious when you spend hours at the entrance waiting for a principal to arrive (late, as usual…).

Executive Protection 5

A photo I took during an EP advance. The old Toyota 4Runner and Nissan 240SX were parked at the designated spots for the two black SUVs we later used in the operation. Driving principals might sound exciting but keep in mind that the two drivers we had on that operation spent three 12-hour days sitting in those SUVs in that underground garage between arrival and departure.

Executive Protection 4

Difficulties Starting Out

Executive Protection 6All joking aside, this actually isn’t true. There’s no real Catch 22 here because there’s no such thing as no work. You’re just trying to work in something above your paygrade, experience level or employer level of comfort with you—and you don’t have the patience to put the time in the lower trenches before you can make your way up to where you want to be.

Look, I get it, you’ve served in the military, you’ve already done a bunch of shit, you graduated from a respectable EP training course and you’re ready to be a top-level EP operator. What’s the problem?

The problem is that one of the most important things you’ll need is to gain your employer’s trust. Many people miss this point, and I’ve gotten many emails, messages and calls over the years from people who throw their credentials and resumes at me, expecting to be immediately hired. Needless to say (or unfortunately, not so needless), this isn’t the way it usually works.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doubting anyone’s skill and experience. For all I know, you have much more than I do. But it takes more than that for an employer to bring you deep into the fold and trust you not only with their principal’s safety and security but also with having the necessary soft-skills while under pressure.

Skill and experience are necessary but not sufficient qualities on their own. You’ll have to gain a sufficient level of trust and comfort from your employer before they’ll want to put you in charge of protecting an important client.

One way to get your foot in the door is to have a trusted insider vouch for you. Another way is to spend a good amount of time working on more conventional protective operations. Then, after your employer gets to know and trust you, they might take things to the next level and put you in an EP detail. This can take quite a bit of time, which is a reason why patience is an important virtue here.

Social Media “Experts”

I definitely didn’t save the best for last on this one…

One of the sillier things to see on social media (most often in the various EP-related Facebook groups) are the ridiculous expressions of zero-tolerance for protection mistakes and accidents that occasionally get caught on camera and posted. The funniest part is that most of the people who bark (often in all caps) that “THIS COULD NEVER HAPPEN ON MY WATCH”, have little to no relevant experience in the type of environment or operation they’re barking about.

I get it, you think that by criticizing others for mistakes and accidents it showcases how much better you are. Well, I hate to break it to you, it doesn’t.

Everyone makes mistakes, accidents happen, not everything in the world can be prevented and expecting reactive perfection 100% of the time simply isn’t realistic.

To express a lack of tolerance for mistakes and failures is to express a lack of understanding and experience in EP.

A good way to tell that you’re dealing with an armchair quarterback rather than an experienced operator is to see them claim that they would have had complete control over every part of the environment, having screened and evaluated every single person within a mile of the principal, which would have been surrounded by a diamond formation of top-tier armed operators with a QRF backup just in case. Even the ones that don’t actually spell it out this way, still don’t realize (because they don’t have the relevant experience) that this is effectively what it would take to reach the outlandish level of control and response they claim they would have had.

Look, I’m not saying that such standards don’t exist, just that in civilian settings in the developed world, you’re not very likely to encounter them. And to expect nothing less is not only unrealistic; it only showcases how little knowledge and experience the “expert” in question actually has.

Learning from mistakes (also from other people’s mistakes) is important. Trying to assert prominence by laughing at other people’s accidents and mistakes or by making retroactive claims about how you would have handled things better than them, not so much.

To learn more about executive protection careers—including how to transition into this line of work—we invite you to check out some of our programs. Our flagship course is the Certified Executive Security Specialist (CESS) program which offers classroom and physical training toward employment in high-end security positions. If you would like to learn more about the course—including the course curriculum—please click here.

Ami Toben

Author, consultant, operator, security director.

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