Executive protection is the best and the worst job in the world


April 5, 2017 - By Christian West & Jared Van Driessche

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We all know the situation. You meet someone new – on a plane, at a party, wherever – and the question inevitably comes up: “So what do you do?”

This is where EP professionals face the test of honesty versus convenience. Should we tell it like it is and answer “I work in executive protection,” then get ready for all the preconceived notions about brain-dead bodyguards, James Bond and the eccentricities of the rich and famous? Or should we evade the question with a slippery “I do security work, how about you?”

To be honest, we tend to default to the latter more often than not. Moving the conversation along to other topics is just plain easier than dealing with people’s prejudices about what is poorly understood niche profession.

But sometimes we run into people who are genuinely interested in learning about the job. Not because of idle curiosity but because it matters to them. These are the people who are just starting out or thinking about working in the field, and they want to know what it’s like. This blog is for you guys.

So here’s the short answer: This is the best job and the worst job in the world.

The long answer? Well, it’s kind of complicated. Even though a popular misconception about EP is that any tough guy can do the job, the hard parts aren’t the things you learn to deal with in tough guy school. If you’re really interested in learning about working in EP, read on.

There are a lot of things to love about working in executive protection…

It’s important work that matters: You’re a providing a service that means a lot to and clearly helps the people who need it. Many of our clients have legitimate threats against their lives and need protection. All of them are busy people who need to make the most of their time and stay as productive as possible. None of them wants anything less than the best service.

It feels good to provide clients with safety and comfort. These needs are about as basic as they come, and fulfilling them is, well, fulfilling. Your wins are BIG wins, and there’s no better professional reward than the feeling of saving a client in a time of crisis. Even the smaller wins are satisfying. Getting the client through a rough day of back-to-back meetings in an unfamiliar foreign capital without a hitch or a hiccup also brings distinct satisfaction. 

The work is heads-and-hands-on, independent and varied: We’ve got nothing but respect (OK, a little bit of pity, too) for people who sit behind a desk all day, but it’s not for us.

Every day of EP work is different. Yes, there are recurring tasks. But every day calls for solving new problems, thinking on your feet, and improvising on the fly.

The independent nature of the work is exciting and challenging. You’re the one making things happen. You’re the one on the ground making the calls, conducting and directing. And you’re the one people look to when situations get dicey or perplexing, and purposeful action is needed to clear things up.

“What time is it? The time is now.”

You learn a lot on the job – and the skills are transferrable: We promise you an education unlike anything you’ll find in a classroom or MBA program.  It’s real, it’s rugged and it’s occasionally gritty. Most of your learning is based on experience. And it’s stuff that’ll make the rest of your life easier when you’re not on the job. 

For one thing, get ready for a crash course in “nothing is normal”. To thrive in EP you have to learn how to roll with the punches and figure things out no matter what the day brings. One moment you’re a wall flower; the next you’re commanding the room. You do what it takes to get the job done, then you move on. Once you learn it, it sticks with you.

Experienced EP practitioners can handle whatever difficult people and logistical SNAFUs life throws at them. They become master negotiators and diplomats. Problem solving becomes second nature. People working in this industry get things done in situations that make others want to turn the other way and run. Instead of fretting over decisions they take action – and make the magic happen now instead of later.

“We have to do the best with what we have today!”

You learn a lot about the cultures you travel in and solve problems in, of course, but you also learn a lot from the people you protect. After all, these are typically people who have achieved extraordinary success in their fields. They’re talented and driven, usually wicked smart, and they surround themselves with folks who are the best and brightest. If you’re observant and motivated, you can pick up some truly helpful insights – almost through osmosis – that you can apply in other work and life situations.

You get to see the world and meet all kinds of great people: Globetrotting alongside our clients lets us see the world and experience things most folks will never see. An expansive worldview and global perspective are always a plus as far as we’re concerned.

EP agents have great friends and acquaintances all over the globe – in all kinds of cultures and socio-economic groups.

Since you’ll be spending more time with some of your team members than you do with your own family, you’ll be happy to know that you’re going to collaborate with a lot of great people and develop great comradery. Yes, there are a few idiots working in the industry, but the harsh reality is that Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory works extremely well in the executive protection field. Because your personality is one of your most important tools, jerks get weeded out quickly (and faster than in other parts of the corporate world according to what we hear).

And yes, it is pretty cool: There is a certain cool factor to working in executive protection. At least if you ask the two of us.

For one thing, you have a completely legitimate reason to try out all kinds of seriously clever gadgets.  (Hey, this rocket-launched drone interceptor is for work!)

For another, who (except your significant other) isn’t totally impressed by your magical MacGyver skills?

“This is my favourite kind of food. The free kind.”

…but there are also plenty of things NOT to love about EP 

It’s never about you. Repeat. It’s never about you: You’re always on someone else’s schedule, the principal’s, and there’s a lot of travel and time away from home. Yes, if you’ve got a good team of colleagues you’ll be able to finagle some flexibility. And yes, you will still miss out on plenty of family moments that don’t come back just because you do. 

Don’t plan on unperturbed sleep or being around for every birthday, anniversary, holiday, vacation or kid’s first day of school. Client needs always come first – not yours.

You just learned of the death of a family member or that your house burned down? Ouch. But you show up for work, and when the client asks you how you’re doing, you always answer “Good, and you?” no matter what craziness is going on in your life. You’re there to provide a service for the client, not buddy up with him or her. Sure, they probably do care about what’s happening in your life; but if you want to keep up the professional relationship (i.e., keep your job), you keep things professional and never make them about you.

EP can be one of the loneliest jobs in the world. You go to some amazing places with remarkable people, but you’re not part of the group. You’re working.

If you need a lot of acknowledgement from others that you’re doing a great job, you need to find another profession. There are a lot of things that we do for clients and their staff that aren’t seen by the outside world, and they aren’t always appreciated.

Finally, protecting someone you don’t like or respect can be tough. You’ll learn that prominent high net worth individuals are people like everyone else. You’re on the exact same wavelength with some of them; others turn you off. But at the end of the day your personal opinions don’t matter. If you’re a pro, and you need to be to survive and thrive in this industry, you deliver the same level of high service regardless of your feelings.

You’re in a service industry, and people like to blame someone (anyone) when things go wrong: Ever notice how the service desk guy gets a lot of grief because executives of the company he’s working for downsized the quality assurance department, decided to launch a lousy product, then scrimped on service?

“Shit always rolls downhill.

Especially in a service profession.”

EP agents should be ready to be blamed for – and take the rap for – problems they had no influence on creating or preventing. Providing security and keeping principals productive is a service, and service people can become scapegoats for other people’s mistakes.

Things get personal, but you can’t take them personally. You might be treated like a lower-class citizen by the client’s staff, friends or business acquaintances. They forget about what your role is, and try to task you with duties that take away from your primary responsibility. Live with it.

Job security? You’re only as good as your last detail, and you can get fired for wearing the wrong pair of shoes: We mentioned above that your wins are BIG wins. Welcome to the flip side of the coin: Your failures are BIG failures. They matter because what we do matters: protecting people’s lives, privacy and productivity. If we make mistakes, they may have serious consequences for the principal. They probably will have serious consequences for us.

Making mistakes feels bad, not least if you’re the high-achieving alpha type like a lot of us are.  But they can also be career game changers. One mess-up destroys all your credibility, and your career can self-destruct in a minute.

“Perception is reality.”

But in a field where personalities matter, “mistakes” can get personal, too. Maybe you and the principal just don’t mesh personally. Why? How? It doesn’t matter. It’s not about being right, wrong or even fair. If clients decide you’re not their kind of guy, you’re not. And you’re the one looking for a new gig, not them.

Even if you’re the most knowledgeable person in EP, if you wear the wrong shoes on the wrong day you can get fired for looking like a dork. Reasonable? No. Realistic? Yes.

The industry isn’t as professional as we’d like it to be: The executive protection industry is fragmented across generic security firms, specialist partner companies, and plenty of mom-and-pop operations. Some of the people and companies we run into are frankly not very professional.

There are a lot of people who think they know all about protection, but actually don’t. And they certainly understand very little about providing protective security in corporate and high net worth environments.

You’ll run into people who focus on all the wrong things. They can talk for hours about how to carry which calibre gun where, or what kung fu grip is best. But they know nada about effective SOPs and even less about dealing with people. These people give EP a bad name.

It’s not always cool and sometimes it’s downright awkward: EP isn’t always glamorous. You’re not always driving Bentleys or attending black-tie events. Sometimes you’re on your feet for 16 hours guarding a door with limited bathroom breaks or food. Sometimes you’re the guy who cleans the bathroom because housekeeping forgot to.

There’s rarely a normal day rhythm you can count on. There’s plenty of hurrying up and waiting. And sometimes your job gets downright awkward.

Maybe the client is going through a contentious court case and has a public image that’s gone from bad to worse. You’re the one paving the way for the client through the crowd, so you get all the derision, threats and spit wads people have for the principal, too.

Or let’s say the client wants you to book a high-end restaurant and has to be able to smoke in it. But nobody can smoke in the restaurant because it’s California and it’s uncool, asocial and illegal. However, the client’s adamant about it.

“We’re really lucky to be able to solve this problem today.”

​So you go in there, use every ounce of available charm to sweet talk the manager and get a table in the back with private entry. The restaurant folks are willing to do whatever they can because the client is of utmost importance. You bend over backwards, you get the entire restaurant to bend over backwards, and then at the last minute the client changes his mind and cancels the reservation. You look and feel like an idiot. But wait, there’s more.

The next day the client changes his mind again and asks you to figure the whole thing out one more time. It’s up to you to make it happen.​

Normal life can be a comedown: It’s easy to get spoiled sharing your client’s life style. Travel on the corporate jet? Check. Stay in five-star hotels? Check out those amenities. Eat in Michelin restaurants? Check, please.

Such luxury is nice when you’re on the clock. And then you’re back home and things are different.

When you take your own vacation you travel economy, stay in a budget hotel and eat at P.F Chang’s. Because you aren’t rich and famous, you’re you. It’s a strange Yin and Yang. You get a taste of the nice life and realize how much harder you have to work to get even a small piece of that for you and your family.

And then there’s the excitement factor. At work you deal with death threats, hostile encounters and high-risk environments. At the end of the week you come home and listen to your friends and family get worked up because the garbage guys came a day late. Regular life just isn’t as interesting, but you are a regular Joe who also works in EP.

Get used to it. Learn how to do the best you possibly can whether you’re on a detail or at home.

And enjoy it all. Because even though the job has it’s tough moments, it’s still got so many great things going for it that we wouldn’t change professions for the world.

 

Christian West

Founder and CEO

Christian has been active in the executive protection industry since the late 1980s, when he worked for Danish musicians who relocated to Hollywood. Upon returning to Denmark, he founded his own EP company, which he quickly grew into Scandinavia’s largest, before it was acquired by Securitas.

Christian founded AS Solution in 2003, and again in 2009 followed his international clients to the US, where he is now based. An active member of ASIS and a leader in the corporate executive protection industry, Christian has personally planned and led high-profile engagements in over 76 countries for a wide variety of corporate and high net worth individual clients, including the international roadshow for the biggest IPO in history.

Jared Van Driessche

Director of Operations

As Director of Operations, Jared Van Driessche is responsible for strategic leadership and oversight of all full-time embedded AS Solution operations worldwide. His role entails the cultivation, development and quality control of executive protection programs that adds value directly to the client.

Over the course of his long and diverse career, Jared has planned, executed and led close protection details for CEOs, dignitaries, heads of state, boards of directors, celebrities, media, and various public figures on more than 300 international trips to over 70 different countries. He has extensive international exposure, including the provision of close protection and threat assessment to clients in high-risk environments throughout Africa, Asia, Central America, South America, Europe, and the Middle East.