The term executive protection has been around corporate circles since the late nineties. It’s used to encompass the services of risk management, security, and crime deterrence. We can say that executive protection is a specific security program designed around the lifestyle, environment, and family of the client – the so-called principal.
People who usually require executive protection services include VIPs, celebrities, company executives, or other individuals exposed to risk due to their profession, status, wealth, associations, or geographical location. Generally, the idea of executive protection – also called close protection, includes concepts such as:
- Analysis and planning,
- Determining of actual and potential vulnerabilities,
- Implementation of a security plan,
- Advance security measures, and,
- Complete awareness to provide a safe environment.
It means anticipating, preparing, and planning for any and every contingency that would place the principal in a vulnerable or life-threatening situation. The executive protection agent (EPA) is there to facilitate anything and everything for the overall security of the client. However, the goal is to remove harmful circumstances. This means that, confrontation is the last resort – EP agents are there to deter attacks and not expose clients to danger.
A Brief History of EP
The history of corporate, diplomatic, or VIP executive protection as a service industry is relatively short.
In the 1970s, after several corporate executive kidnappings and terrorist attacks – including assassinations and general threats against the corporate world – major companies began providing bodyguards for vital and vulnerable executives.
Soon, celebrities and public figures saw a need for personal security to protect them from the very public that they wanted to recognize and idolize them. The police could not provide this function because of obvious limitations in terms of manpower, funds, and legally-restricted authority.
However, at that time, the best that most private security companies could offer were security guards trained to sit or stand at their post, patrol a specific route, check the locks and doors, and report any unusual activity they discover.
These bodyguards were sometimes armed and may be trained in some martial art, but usually, most of their training and experience came from being bouncers in nightclubs. They played college or professional football and practiced weightlifting or bodybuilding. Mostly, they were just big, mean, and tough guys.
But, with the Iranian revolution there very significant change in the security business. A large number of wealthy and influential Iranian expats immigrated – or escaped, to the United States.
Consequently, well-trained protective individuals – coming from institutions such as the FBI, US Marshals, or the Secret Service, left their jobs and started providing very special security services – executive protection.
Some of these early EP companies survive to this day.
Why Organizations Employ Executive Protection Services
The shortest answer possible: to mitigate probable risks.
However, there are additional considerations. Organizations and institutions that decide on these services usually consider a number of factors before looking for special forms of protection. But these factors usually come down to the three basic questions of assessing and mitigating risks:
- What would be the impact if something happened to the principal?
- Can the EP detail assess the likelihood of that happening?
- What is the best and most efficient way of mitigating that risk?
Therefore, risk assessment and mitigation are the essence of every EP program.
Impact of Loss
There are many and various potential losses for an organization as a consequence of a corporate executive getting in harm’s way. The most immediate ones relate to the personal consequences to that individual and their family. Secondary consequences relate to the interests of the company and its shareholders.
For instance, there is an impact on shareholder value. A company’s reputation and competitiveness are usually related to certain high-profile company members – such as its CEO. This means that a company’s perceived value can be immediately impacted should something happen to its CEO. Share prices and productivity can go down.
The Probability of Risk
Likewise, a number of factors can affect the assessment of risk probability.
Usually, at the very top of this list are specific threats from persons of interest. They need to be perceived and analyzed. In fact, these threats are often a part of the company’s decision to adopt an EP strategy or program.
However, assessing risk probability is about more than simply recording actual threats. It also includes intelligence to identify possible persons and groups of interest.
Due to factors such as crime, income inequality or terrorism, and local driving mentality, risks are greater in some cities and countries than in others. For instance, an investment banker traveling to Lagos is at greater risk than one traveling to Brussels.
Also, one of the risks while travelling is getting hurt in a road accident while driving in a car. Because of this, secure transportation is a vital part of executive protection.
Another important indicator of risk is prominence. Simply put, the more prominent an organization and its executives, the more likely they are to be approached by persons of interest – i.e., someone who may pose a threat to the principal.
This should not be confused with risk elimination. Sadly, there are no absolutes when speaking about mitigating risk – but that is what executive protection is all about. It is all about achieving the right balance between many factors. Some of them are:
- The relative probability of threats,
- The lifestyle and travel needs of the principal,
- Corporate culture, and,
- Available resources and budget.
It is often said that the “how” of risk mitigation is the “who, what, when, where, and how” of EP. And all of these questions have to be answered in a corporate EP strategy.
The extent of the protection that a principal needs depends on and is relative to their value within the organization and their personal exposure to danger.
For instance, a field director in an African diamond company can be several steps removed from the top leadership of that organization, but he will be heavily protected since his removal or kidnapping can put business to a halt. Alternatively, a CEO of a tech company in Berlin may require no protection at all – even though he ranks higher than the field director.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for executive protection. But, sadly, this place is anything but perfect. The good news is that organizations and individuals don’t have to simply hope that danger keeps its distance.
Thanks to executive protection companies – like SCS, they can have the safety and security needed, as well as the peace of mind they deserve.