Spending a lot of time with billionaires doesn’t make you a billionaire – and other hard lessons for up-and-coming EP agents

July 29, 2020 - By Martin Nielsen & Mac Segal

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A career in executive protection has a lot of perks. We get to see the world without joining the Navy. We get to do what we love and put a unique set of hard and soft skills into practice every day. And we even get paid for it.  

But while a career in EP can pay the bills and much more, it’s never going to make any of us as rich as most of the people we protect. Many private sector principals are what economists call “ultra-high net worth” (UHNW) individuals, folks who have at least $30 M sitting around and ready to use. More than a few are billionaires. None of these principals needs to worry about where to find milk on sale.

The sweet intoxication of living like a high roller

There’s steak, and then there’s Kobe beef. There’s wine, and then there’s Château Lafitte. There’s your old Kia, and then there’s that new Bugatti. As many young agents discover, until you try the really good stuff, you have no idea of what you’re missing. And once they try the new stuff, some young agents start missing it when they have to go back to the old stuff, and even pretend they can afford all the good stuff that their principals can.  They can’t. Yeah, life’s not fair.

Experienced EP agents who work closely with UHNW individuals know that there’s life on the clock and off it. One day, you’re deciding between mains at a restaurant that doesn’t put prices in the menu. The next, you’re weighing the relative advantages of cornflake brands at the Dollar Store. One day, you’re hanging out in the kitchen with a couple of Michelin-grade chefs, trying out things you can’t even pronounce. The next, you’re eating grilled cheeses with your family, and your kids get ketchup in their hair.

Money won’t buy you happiness, but it will buy you the lifestyle of a high roller. And when you’re starting out as an EP agent, being treated like a high roller (even if it’s just because you’re working for the real high roller) is fun, flattering, and even intoxicating. The first time you were in Vegas, it was Southwest Airlines and the all-you-can-eat buffet. The last time, you flew into the FBO and ate only at the best places. Guess what you’d prefer to do next time?

Although it’s like living on another planet for 99% of us, it’s surprisingly easy to get used to having the best of practically anything that money can buy. Thing is, young agents, it’s not your money that’s buying it, and those things are only at your disposal because you’re on the job. If you get a taste for the really good single malts and drop a few hundred bucks for a duty-free bottle on your way home, that’s on your card, not the client’s. Ditto for the nice watches, cool clothes and fast cars that are easily affordable for principals but might be out of your league. We’re not saying EP agents can’t afford the good life. We can. But we’ve seen too many young agents spend all the good money they made on a trip even before they made it home.

Power by proxy. Working stiff by bank account.

When an EP agent needs to get an extremely prominent UHNW principal into a fully booked and very exclusive restaurant, it usually works. Why? Because it’s our job to be clever problem solvers who are good with people and all of that, right?  Yes, that does matter. To be honest, however, it’s primarily because we’re acting on behalf of our principals.

When doors open like magic for us, it’s not because we’re wizards. It’s because we’re proxies for principals. They’re the ones who have money, power and prominence – not us. As we do our jobs keeping the principal safe, happy and productive, we sometimes represent the principal and get to wield, for a vicarious moment, the magic wand of prominence. Restaurant tables appear out of nowhere. Heads of state and A-list celebs treat us with charmed respect. Hermetically sealed buildings open as if enchanted.

Then we get home. Our significant others think we’re anything but clever, and we still have to wait in line to get a table. No doors open magically, we have to push and pull our way through life just like all the other working people.

Embrace it all – and let the lessons you learn in one environment help you in others

We think a lot of EP agents can relate to the sometimes-jarring contrasts we outline above. And as our careers progress, we know that most of us get through this, too. Because you have to if you don’t want to go crazy, broke, or both. Experience teaches us to take all the different environments in which we work and live in turn. Chateau Lafitte is great, but so is water when you’re thirsty. Embrace it all, because it’s all as good as you make it.

While there’s no sense in imitation, principals can be huge source of inspiration. Working alongside these successful people can motivate you and remind you what hard work can bring. But don’t let wishful thinking be your guide. It’s okay to say to yourself, “One day, I want to be able to buy that $10,000 bottle of scotch at duty-free like my client did.” But it’s not okay to try to impress your friends by maxing out five credit cards to buy something you can’t afford.  

We can learn to transfer some of the good things we do in one environment into the others. Agents with super-organized go-bags can apply some of that organizational talent to their mess of a garage. Pros who successfully negotiate their way through armed roadblocks in the African bush can also figure out how to get through dinner with their three-year-olds, ketchup in their hair and all.

One important lesson learned is that rich or poor, time is our most valuable resource. A lot of what we do as EP agents is about maximizing the productivity of our principals. Watching how many of our super-successful principals use their time – and helping them make the best use of their time – whether it’s to do more meetings, calls, emails or a quick nap – is an education in itself. Lines can be avoided. Instead of waiting to eat in one place, eating in the place next door with no line, whether it’s Kobe beef or a burger, frees up time and reduces stress.

What do you think, fellow EP agents? Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Photo by Dylan de Jonge on Unsplash

Martin Nielsen

Martin Nielsen

Executive Protection Operations & Executive Projects Director

With over 18 years of worldwide experience in executive protection, physical security, and security operations management worldwide, Martin has participated in, led, planned, managed and executed security details in more than 65 countries. He has held positions from team member to detail leader, SAIC, operations manager and assistant director. Martin’s experience with security for ultra-high net worth individuals and corporations also includes program design, recruiting and training agents, technology sourcing, system and GSOC design, SOP and TTP development, and creating training programs for EP agents and other security professionals.

Martin believes in being on the forefront of technology, and keeps up on the latest developments within everything from access control to drone and counter-drone technology.

Passionate about developing both hard and soft skills for himself and others, Martin has consistently sought the best training ever since he started in the industry. He is a graduate of more than 35 courses.

Martin’s current role at AS Solution supports senior management in a variety of ways, including protection program data analysis, handling client information requests, organizing and coordinating outreach and external relations efforts, improving EP training programs, and overseeing special projects from conception to completion.

Mac Segal

Vice President, Business Development and Consulting, EMEA

With over 25 years of operational, training and consulting experience in the security industry, specializing in mitigating and responding to terror and criminal threats, Mac brings real-world knowledge and expertise to all facets of his job.

As a hospitality and fixed asset SME, Mac conducts security assessments, training and designs security master plans for hotels, business facilities, event & conference centers, and critical infrastructure the world over. Working extensively with owners and operators in the private and government sectors worldwide he possesses an in-depth understanding of the challenges facing businesses and infrastructure in today’s world. Mac has published many articles on hotel and general security and is a regular speaker at security conferences the world over as well as SME to major television and print news outlets.

Mac leads training programs in security awareness & suspicious indicator identification, event security, emergency response procedures, counter-terrorism, covert close protection, and surveillance detection. Mac has taught security professionals, hotel and event facility guards and employees, government units and C-suite executives, working together with them to customize the training to their specific requirements.

Merging his operational, training and consulting skills, and partnering with our clients, Mac carries out Operational Audits of government and private facilities and protective units to constructively identify, assess and rectify real-world vulnerabilities.

Born in South Africa, Mac has served in two militaries and government service, living in Europe and the Middle East whilst operating around the globe. This facilitates him with an excellent multi-cultural understanding which allows him to provide tailor-made, relevant and practical security and safety solutions.