From the insurance industry to a career in executive protection: It’s all about customer service


October 15, 2018 - By Max Montoya

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Hey, Max, tell us about your career. What did you do before you got started in security?

I guess the story actually starts back in 2010. I was in my junior year at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, majoring in psychology and starting as middle linebacker on the football team. All of a sudden, my family began to go through some financial hardships, so both my college and football careers ended abruptly. I left school to go back home to California to help my family get through a very difficult time.

I needed a job and applied for a lot of things before I finally received a call back from a health insurance company. I was hired in January 2011 and began what I thought would be a temporary job in their call center. Before long, I was handling between 50-70 calls per day, answering whatever questions customers had regarding their health benefits.

This job was the first where I got the chance to train some empathy and people skills.  I dealt with emotional and irate people daily – folks trying to sort out important issues around their health and money. Excellent customer service was written into the company’s mission statement, and management provided a lot of training to build empathy, sympathy and interpersonal relationship skills. These courses helped me grow personally and also gave me some excellent tools to help members in my day-to-day work. As my skills in empathy grew, so did my relationships with members. When you’re in health insurance, the folks you talk to are usually going through tough and traumatic times and need as much help as possible. Believe it or not, some of us working in customer service for insurance companies really do want to do anything and everything for the people on the other end of the phone.

Before long, I was moved out of the call center into a special projects unit that was working to make the company more efficient and streamlined. This helped me understand our business and computer systems way better, and also made me comfortable working in Word and Excel, which paved the way to the next job as a risk analyst with the grievances and appeals department. That position entailed researching and making determinations on complex cases and involved a lot of cooperation with other departments and managers. It was a great job that sharpened my communication, administrative and customer service skills, and gave me sense of pride.

That all sounds pretty good, like you were on an excellent career trajectory. So, what made you change?

Once again, just when I thought everything was heading my way, life went in a different direction. This time it wasn’t my family, but politics and some big business decisions made way above my pay scale.

In late 2016 my company decided to pull out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California, meaning that it would be a matter of time before my entire unit would no longer be sustainable and I would eventually be laid off. This not only put an end to my goal of becoming the youngest Director of Operations in my division. It got me wondering about what I really wanted to do with my career.

I started thinking about the things that really interested me and areas where I felt like I would excel. I’d remained in tremendous shape ever since college by lifting weights, doing martial arts, boxing, and focusing on my overall health. And I wanted this to be part of my work life, too. I had friends working in security and executive protection, and they always told me that they thought that I would do well in their field. But I never gave it the time of day. Mostly because I didn’t have the background they did: They were all former military and law enforcement officers who moved into the industry after their service. When unemployment is looming on the horizon, however, you start to think differently. So, I decided to go ahead put my hat in the ring and reached out to a friend of mine to find out what I would need to do to get into the security industry.

He advised me to get my California guard card and my open carry firearms permit. Once that was completed, he said, he’d refer me to his company. I took his advice and got my certifications, then began to apply for random security gigs that I would find on various websites and by word of mouth.

Of course, since I had no experience in the security industry I had to start from the bottom. I moonlighted the odd security detail when I could while still working for the health insurance company. I even worked a few for free just to get some experience. Still, in the back of my mind, I was insecure about applying for better opportunities due to my lack of experience and not having a military or law enforcement background.

That sounds like a good start, but it’s all entry-level security jobs. How did you break into executive protection?

I knew if I was going to advance my career and eventually obtain the kinds of opportunities that I wanted, I would have to go through a well-respected executive protection training course. I did my due diligence and read great reviews about Lasorsa and Associates’ Executive Protection Training Course taught by Joe Lasorsa, Jr. I did my first course there.

During this course, Joe opened my eyes. He made it extremely clear that despite me not having a military or law enforcement background, I could still go for a good career in the executive protection and security industries. He showed us that the hard skills still play a huge role in executive protection and that these can always be learned and improved upon.  But he also advised me that customer service, soft skills, and personability are much more important than all the hard skills.

The course made me realize that executive protection is so much more than escorting a client. I learned that it also requires great attention to the nitty-gritty and sharp analytical skills to plan security details.  I learned that it takes quite a bit of intelligence to be an executive protection agent and that what we do is so much more than the stereotypes that portray us goons with guns and a combat-ready mentality, with zero preparedness and no plan.

At the beginning of the course I was nervous about my lack of experience and felt that the other classmates were somehow better than me; by the end of the course, I was one of the leaders and others were looking to me for answers when it came to working with apps and computers and planning advances.

Joe’s training program was realistic, relevant and valuable. It prepared me for the real-life situations that I now face every day, including how to boost productivity for the client and proactively tackle common, everyday tasks such as planning trips with advances and logistics, setting up electronics, answering phones, sending emails, and sometimes acting as a property manager, etc. This course is where I realized that my background in the health insurance industry could actually be a plus and help set me apart.

So where did you go from there? What was your first taste of executive protection?

My first break was getting a job as a security officer for a private security company that did work for a high-end restaurant. I mean really high-end. This place had plenty of A-list celebrities, corporate VIPs, and even former presidents coming in. I was responsible for escorting all the VIPs into the restaurant and ensuring that they were not bothered by other patrons or paparazzi. Depending on the profile of the guest, we sometimes had to coordinate and work closely with their own security teams and make arrangements for the patrons to feel as comfortable as possible. I had to deal with plenty of paparazzi to keep them from bothering the guests, escort guests to their vehicles, and stay with them until they were off property.

By doing well with my tasks, I was offered several jobs from the VIP guests. They said they liked my look and how I carried myself and asked me to do private security driving, which eventually allowed me to get my foot in the door doing executive protection part-time. For one client I did security driving and advances for accommodations, business meetings, and dinners.  For another client, who was more of a party animal, I did security driving and stayed close by whenever he attended clubs and large social events. This proved to a much more difficult task: the crowds could get rowdy, and there were some tense situations. Something I learned from these part-time gigs is that it all came down to being personable, knowing your client, and providing the best customer service possible.

It was fun, and I was learning, but I knew I wanted more for myself. I also knew that my time at the insurance company was coming to an end, so I continued reading blogs on security and executive protection, joined executive protection groups on Facebook, and tried to keep an open mind to learn as much as I could from anyone.

So, what brought you to AS Solution?

I have a very good friend, a guy I grew up playing basketball with, that works for AS Solution. He knew what kind of progress I was making with my security gigs, and he knew my customer service and analytical background. He approached me about a possible job opportunity because he thought I might be a good fit. He knew that I was not former military or law enforcement, and that didn’t matter to him.

The next day I applied for an opening at AS Solution. The whole process was extremely smooth, and I was working as an RST/EP agent within two weeks.

And how has it been since you joined AS Solution?

I am lucky to serve on a security team that is very motivated and proactive. I have never been part of team of people so willing to help train a new hire and treat him like a brother from day one. I truly have never been happier working in my life.

The company has even sent me to do a five-day paid training course, held by the AS Solution Global Training Academy, taught by Ivor Terret. Ivor taught us some very hands-on Krav Maga techniques and also covered a range of theoretical and practical security topics and some relevant emergency medical training. I came away from the course with a greater sense of awareness and understanding of day-to-day issues that we come across working in the industry. The course was also a great opportunity to work and learn with other team members from around AS. Although we all share the same approach and face a lot of the same issues, it’s also clear that everyone’s account is different and that we handle a great variety of situations. Everything was relatable and gave plenty of ideas to bring back to my own team to tweak some of our SOPs.

What would you like to do next? What are your ambitions?

I want to keep improving myself every day, among other things by reading as much about executive protection as possible. I look forward to more offers from the AS Solution Global Training Academy and hope my next courses will be within executive protection and medical training.

I’d also really like to challenge some of the stereotypes about security personnel. I want people to see how intelligent we are, how hard we work, and to understand the constant planning that it takes to secure a client.

My next goal is to become a full-time executive protection agent on a travel team. I feel that it is certainly a realistic and achievable goal, and until that day comes I will continue to learn all I can to be as prepared and proactive as possible. 

What kind of advice would you give to other people who want to break into the executive protection industry?

I would say that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, how much muscle you have, or if you can shoot a target from 100 yards. Executive protection comes down to being smart, savvy, personable and prepared. You will always be able to improve yourself in areas that you lack strength.

Do not get discouraged if you do not have military or law enforcement background. If you see a job opportunity requiring military or LEO, apply anyway. Show them all the reasons why they should hire you. Always continue learning, and never be satisfied with what you know. You can learn something new every day.

Photo by Alessio Lin on Unsplash

Max Montoya

Agent

Max Montoya is a focused, results-driven professional who transitioned into security after a successful stint in the insurance industry, where his responsibilities included customer service and risk analysis. Max began his career in protective security by providing close protection and secure driving for a number of high net worth clients, with an emphasis in effective procedures, efficient operations, and productive team management. A strategic leader who excels in security program development, implementation, and management, Max has strong communication skills and is adept in building relationships with clients, partners, supervisors, and team members. In addition to his college education, Max has successfully completed a number of executive protection and medical training courses.