Like people in any other profession, executive protection agents like nothing better than a good story. Some of our favorites are about the agents who go above and beyond the call of duty and demonstrate exceptional qualities to achieve the extraordinary. Others are more down to earth, but reveal some of the quirkier sides of what is already a quirky profession. After all, who but an EP agent can get excited about a story in which practically everything goes wrong behind the scenes, but what everyone sees is a boring non-event?
Stories are fun, but let’s be straight about a few things, first. For one thing, even though a story might appear to make an EP agent sound like a selfless hero or a complete idiot, unless you were there and have all the facts (and Monday-morning quarterbacks never do), judging another agent’s actions in a given context is tricky at best – and downright dumb at worst. For another, every agent has his or her own limits, and only the individual agent can draw the line between business as usual and going the extra mile in an extraordinary situation.
Some of these stories happened to the two of us, others we’ve heard from good colleagues. We’ve changed a few details to keep things anonymous, but we know the stories are true. We also know that you guys in the industry have a ton of other stories. So here are a few of ours.
Keep calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath
OK, this isn’t much of a story – it’s more of a way of life. It’s inspired by one of our favorite animals, and it demonstrates some of the things we keep telling new agents: It’s not about you, so don’t take upsets personally. Just do your job and get used to doing a lot of things that no one will ever notice. Or practically never notice.
Once we were eating dinner with a client’s executive admin in the middle of a trip when we got word that the principal had to change the itinerary. Again. Now, this happens all the time and is nothing unusual in and of itself. But this was the third time in as many days that the trip was completely revised. This particular trip involved a lot of people, a lot of places, and had a lot of moving parts. Every time this happened we had to throw out hours and even weeks’ worth of preparation and re-do everything. When one of the trip’s legs changed, it pulled the rug out from underneath everything else that followed and we had to hustle like crazy to keep up.
Our agent took the changes in stride and discretely began working two phones underneath the table, out of the view of everyone else seated. Heaven and hell would need to be moved in short order in order to keep the trip on track, and the text messages were flying. But that’s no reason to act like one of those idiots who keeps his nose in his phone while eating dinner with other people. Between bites and conversation, you can get a lot done.
The executive admin knew what was going on, however, and let the agent know that she knew in an equally discrete way. “You guys never seem to lose it,” she commented, “no matter how much we throw at you. You’re like ducks that keep calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath the water.”
That pretty much sums up what we try to teach our younger colleagues: Do your job without making the client aware of all the details, hustle, and then things go way easier.
Shortcut to the Great Wall? Take the Subway (and grab a sandwich while you’re there)
A trip to the Great Wall is on practically every foreign visitor’s list of “things to do” when in Beijing. While it might not be true that you can see the Wall from outer space, this amazing attraction can definitely be seen on a day trip if you’re in the Chinese capital. A lot of our principals try to make time for it at some point in their travels, and we always try to facilitate the trip as smoothly as possible.
The only problem is, the Great Wall is on practically every domestic tourist’s bucket list, too. The crowds vary from crazy on a calm day to absolutely intimidating on a bad day. Local authorities do their best to keep up by restricting private traffic to the wall entrances and making everyone take a bus for the last leg of the journey. In addition to slowing down what are always packed schedules, travel on these cramped buses is a far cry from business class and opens a number of security vulnerabilities.
So we were pretty happy when one of our agents discovered what we now refer to as “the Subway trick”. Local police won’t allow private vehicles to make the last leg of the journey to the Great Wall entrance. But they will allow private vehicles to drive to the Subway up the road to buy a sandwich, and that Subway happens to be right next to the entrance. Ever since, a stop at Subway on the way to the Wall is standard practice – and one of our better-kept secrets (until now).
We recently ran into a seasoned security pro who had worked in China dozens of times for government dignitaries and other VIPs. Somehow the conversation turned to the Great Wall, and the guy was complaining about that last bus ride. We asked him, “Haven’t you ever tried the Subway trick?” and were surprised that he’d never heard of it. In fact, he refused to believe it would work. No worry, we don’t want everybody headed for a Buffalo Chicken at our favorite place anyway. And by the way, there is more than one entrance to the Great Wall near Beijing. Not sure all of them have a Subway…
Jimmy Choo SNAFU? Nothing a little duct tape can’t fix
Things always get a little hectic for celebs around awards shows, especially for women. There’s a lot of focus on dresses in particular, but the concentration on all wardrobe details, hair, nails and whatever is just relentless. Schedules are jammed, too, with A-Listers squeezing in appointments before, during and after the show. Time is at a premium and smooth logistics are essential.
We were taking care of one of our principals during the Golden Globe Awards in LA a few years ago when the fashion fiasco happened. On the way from her last appointment to the red carpet and dozens of eagle-eyed photographers, she broke a heel. Now, the principal is a pro who has been around the block plenty of times and has been in and out of worse jams. Still, she was bummed: there was no time to pick up another pair of shoes. Going barefoot was not a good alternative, but looked like the only option. Then there was that dress length alteration that had to happen in about 10 minutes, in traffic.
While she was fuming in the back seat and making calls left and right, all in vain, our agent sat up front with the broken shoe and his trusty bag. Of course, he had a small roll of duct tape and a scissors, so he got to work and got the heel back on. Not suitable for a hike across town, but good enough to make it through the next hour or so until some replacements could be sent to the venue.
He then asked the principal for the other shoe – the unbroken one. She nearly hit him in the head with it when she threw it from the back to the front seat. The agent wanted to give both heels that silver textured look and feel that only the finest duct tape imparts – otherwise the principal’s look would be limping.
As they pulled into the line of cars waiting to discharge their VIPs, our agent handed the principal both shoes and suggested she go easy on the after-party dancing, but they should hold for a while. The heels looked great – now with a subtle contrast to the rest of the shoe – and no one was the wiser.
To us, this agent deserves better than a stiletto to the back of his head – and to be fair to the principal, she did thank him profusely. But the agent saved the day only because of a little forward thinking that included duct tape. Lesson learned? Forward thinking should always include duct tape.
Good to the last drop: Going the extra pint for the principal
Our agent was on a detail escorting a critically ill patient for an operation abroad.
While the principal was in the operating room, an urgent call went out from the intensive unit’s secretary: The patient needed blood immediately, and the blood type was relatively rare. Just our agent’s type, in fact.
30 seconds later, the agent had a needle in his arm to commence the obligatory screenings prior to drawing a unit of blood.
The chief surgeon stopped by the lab to chat. After exchanging a few pleasantries, the real reason for his visit became clear. “You know,” he smiled, “when I was your age I always gave a double portion.” The agent got the message. Not to be outdone by a surgeon in his 70s who wouldn’t ask for it if he didn’t need it, the agent gladly offered to double up.
Never fly after donating blood. Unless you have to.
Less than an hour after his two-portion-tap, the agent got another urgent appeal. The patient was in critical need of an experimental medication that could save his life, but was not available in the hospital or anywhere else in the country. The clinic had miraculously arranged for the meds to be flown to a nearby capital about an hour away by jet.
Could the agent fly to that airport on the principal’s jet, pick up the package, get it back as soon as possible?
Now, ensuring the principal’s security and wellbeing often involves tradeoffs, and this was one of those cases. Our agent had to weigh the pros and cons of leaving the principal with local agents against the option of sending someone else for the meds. In this case, he decided that getting the meds back safely had the highest priority, and decided to go. The pilot of the private jet understood the decision but was still in doubt. Most doctors recommend against flying right after donating a single blood unit. The agent had just been tapped for two. The pilot promised to adjust cabin pressure to as low an altitude as he could, and they were on their way.
“It was an unusual sensation,” the agent recalls, “and proof that our bodies are incredibly resilient. The nervous and circulatory systems prioritize the brain when necessary, so as soon as we gained altitude, my fingers and toes went cold as all available blood was shunted to my brain. My extremities went numb, and I was out like a light in minutes, waking up only when we touched ground.”
With a ticking clock as his biggest challenge, the agent made his way from the general aviation area across two terminals. The package was waiting for him. He immediately turned around and headed back to the private jet.
A great EP agent in a great industry
We’ve known this agent for many years, and feel very confident in his extraordinary abilities to get things done for the sake of his principals. He embodies what makes this industry a great place to work – and is an example to anyone who wants to work in executive protection.
We could go on. There are lots of similar stories of our guys and gals going the extra mile for clients. We hope to share more in the future!