Company Culture and the Executive Protection Ecosystem


June 24, 2015 - By Christian West & Brian Jantzen

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The difference between corporate executive protection and EP in other contexts is, well, corporate. When EP takes place in the context of the modern corporation it must play by a very different set of rules than close protection of political or military VIPs and celebrities. Corporate EP managers need to navigate between many interests – often conflicting. The single most important thing is getting the culture right.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Executive protection managers at major corporations would do well to remember the words of management guru Peter Drucker: “Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.”

Because no matter what an EP manager may have learned in the military or law enforcement, working in a modern corporation is different in so many ways. Let’s examine a few of them:

  • Structure: Vertical hierarchies are replaced by the matrix organization, where one person may have multiple reporting lines and loyalties, and conflicts of interest are common.
  • Rules of conduct: Proper behaviour is more implied or understood than defined by explicit rules.
  • Rank and status: While rank is clearly marked and understood in the military, those with influence in corporations are not always identifiable by their titles.
  • Career progression: Unlike the military’s clear career ladder, corporate employees have a more varied career flow. Lateral job changes in a matrix organization can bring significant changes to one’s career.

If a corporate EP manager and agents are going to have success, then they need to understand that corporate cultures all vary, and that no two corporations are alike.

For one thing, there are significant differences between industries. Just look at how cultures in tech start-ups differ from pharmaceutical or oil and gas companies. But there are significant differences within the same industries, too. To thrive, EP professionals must have an excellent understanding of the corporation’s mission, values, beliefs, power structures, stories… and everything else that underpins corporate culture.

Navigating the organizational chart: know your stakeholders

Corporate EP managers are typically tasked with protecting one or more C-level principals. But this does not mean that the principal is the only individual with whom they need to develop working relationships.

To the contrary, successful EP managers need to know all of the many stakeholders in corporate EP, and establish strong collaborative relationships throughout the ecosystem. Most stakeholder analyses will include the following persons and departments – or their equivalents.

Executive administrative assistants to the principal

The executive administrative assistant (EAA) to the principal is your most important stakeholder in the entire organization. Bar none. They are your gateway to the principal – and they are also gatekeepers that stand between you and the principal.

The EAA has all the information on the principal’s meeting and travel schedules. This is the bread and butter information that enables the EP team to do advance, operative and team planning and get their job done. As schedules often change – sometimes at the last minute – having an open line to the EAA is essential.

The EAA is the main communication channel between the EP manager and the principal. Not only do they keep you informed of the principal’s comings and goings. They are also the ones who are most likely to get direct feedback from the principal about the EP team, and then send it on to you. For example, the EAA might know that the principle was unhappy with an agent’s behaviour before the EP manager or the agent does. You want to be the next one to know – not the last – so you can take action.

But the EAA also plays another important role in corporate EP. She or he can be your greatest ally in having the principal understand what the EP team does and why it needs to do what it does. It also enables him or her to let others in the organization comprehend how EP agents do their jobs For example, knowing that the EP team needs to conduct advance work for trips allows the EAA to plan trip itineraries accordingly. Sometimes a little understanding goes a long way in smoothing out the inevitable frictions that arise in a fast-paced corporate environment.

Partnership between the EP team and the EAA is essential given the many interdependencies between the two. It allows both parties to do their jobs well, and it is a two-way street.

For example, the EP team often functions as an extension of the EAA’s office when the principal is on the road. Let’s say the principal is traveling abroad, and needs a presentation that a team back at HQ is working on up until the last minute before an important meeting in a hotel. The EAA can depend on the EP team to get the file by secure email, get it printed and get it into the principal’s hands within minutes; after all, the EP knows the layout of the hotel and can make arrangements with the business center – all while maintaining security and confidentiality.

Never make the EAA say “I don’t know” to the principal. Keep her or him informed of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, who’s on the team – and who’s got the ball on all the important tasks.

Corporate Communications/PR

EP teams need to understand what corporate communication and PR teams do, and vice versa. And they need an open and on-going dialogue. Because both parties have an interest in many of the same things, albeit often for different reasons.

To some extent, we’re both concerned with prominence. PR professionals are tasked with building and maintaining corporate reputations as well as those of their key principals. Media prominence for the right things is an important goal for, and result of, their work.

For EP professionals, however, “increased prominence” often translates into “increased risk”.

We need to know about corporate communication’s plans and activities that can predictably increase our principal’s prominence. Controversial topics can quickly turn into hot buttons for everyone from activists to anarchists. Rightly or wrongly, the principal immediately becomes the lightning rod for all kinds of people with all kinds of grief, and folks with an axe to grind might end up wielding the axe. EP needs to know what might bump up a principal’s prominence prior to any major announcement so that they can plan accordingly.

The EP team needs to learn from corporate communications how to handle the press. We never want to be part of the story, but we should be able to help journalists get theirs when possible and in accordance with a coordinated plan developed by the PR and EP teams together.

Proper training and coordination enables frontline EP agents to redirect press away from a principal and toward the appropriate contact. The result enhances security for the principal and gives journalists access to someone who can provide the information they’re looking for.

Corporate Travel

EP managers should maintain good relationships with the corporate travel department.

We have to move with the principal, frequently at short notice, and corporate travel are often the people who help us with air travel, short-notice visa applications, hotels and many other practicalities.

Travel departments may have to bend corporate procedures to enable EP agents to do their jobs. If the principal is staying at the Four Seasons, then some of the EP team will also have to stay at the Four Seasons, even though the price exceeds normal guidelines.

EP agents who maintain good relationships with their counterparts in corporate travel are happy EP agents. It’s not hard to do if you remember some of the things your mother tried to teach you: be nice, treat people with respect, say please and thank you. And remember to apologize when you have to make them jump through hoops for you.

Legal

The EP team needs to consult with the legal department for a number of reasons.

Use of force policies and practices must always be cleared with legal in order to mitigate the risk of litigation.

People of interest must be handled in a coordinated partnership, so that the EP team (with the possible support of intelligence analysts) takes care of personal security, and legal takes care of relations with law enforcement if restraining orders are needed. If such a threat goes public, then corporate communications will also be part of the picture.

Finance

While EP may be a way of life for us in the industry, it’s just another cost center for the bean counters. And a highly unpredictable one at that.

Fixed EP costs are not difficult to budget, but many variable costs are activity-driven. Unplanned trips happen all the time, and unexpected turns of events can easily add costs fast. We want EP teams to act responsibly and keep their budgets, of course, but when the security of the principal is at stake we also want them to think fast and have their priorities in order. Sticking to the budget no matter what might be responsible behaviour for a marketing department, but this is not necessarily the case for corporate EP.

Does this mean that finance departments give EP teams carte blanche to run up expenses? Of course not. It does mean that EP managers need to keep finance informed about expenses as they develop.

HR

Depending on how the corporate EP effort is organized, corporate HR may or may not be an important interface.

If the entire EP is contracted, even if some of the team are embedded within the corporation, then all HR responsibility rests on the EP company, not on the principal’s corporation.

If, on the other hand, some or more of the EP team are full-time employees (FTEs) of the corporation, then the EP Manager has an important reason to talk to HR: corporate HR departments rarely have any experience with the special career paths of an EP manager or agent, and they need help in recruiting, understanding how to evaluate performance, establish job ladders and career planning, and all of the other things HR operations typically handle for other departments.

If a FTE professional doesn’t get any assistance or understanding from the corporation when it comes to a career path, the professional will have to find his/her own path. Unfortunately for the corporation, this path might lead the EP professional to another job in another company where career advancement opportunities are more clearly defined.

Other security-related departments and vendors

EP teams will have direct liaison with a number of other corporate functions and external vendors that also form part of corporate security efforts.

In some cases, these teams will be under the same management as the EP team. In others, reporting lines will be different. In any case, it is important that corporate EP teams build and maintain close partnerships with all of the following:

  • Physical security: As the protectors of the corporate grounds and all of its buildings, assets and staff, security officers and the rest of the physical security team play a vital role in the overall, day-to-day protection of corporation. In terms of protecting the principal, they also play a key role. They keep persons of interest (POI) outside of the corporate campus and far away from the principal while he or she is within the corporate perimeter. Clear communication between the EP and physical security teams is crucial. The physical protection team doesn’t necessarily know where the principal is; the EP team does. Good communication between the two teams can prevent and/or mitigate situations in which a breach of overall physical security can affect that of the principal.
    • Security operations center: Both the physical protection teams and the EP teams might share the same hub through which they coordinate corporate and personal security.
    • Security technology resources: Similarly, both teams will ideally have access to the same technology (e.g., video feeds, building entrance and exit data, etc.) that enable them to do their jobs.
  • Intelligence analysts: Analysts may or may not be an integrated part of the EP team. In any case, regular communication between EP and analysts is an important part of keeping the principal secure. EP relies on intelligence to discern emerging threats and POIs. We also depend in intelligence for updates on countries and cities where we will be travelling with the principal, so that we can prepare and plan accordingly.
  • Family offices: A principal will often maintain a family office to manage the family’s personal financial, philanthropic or other affairs. Spouses or other family members of the principal are often involved. The EP team must also keep communication lines to the family office open and clear; travel and social commitments that originate within the family office must be coordinated with those of the corporation so that the EP team can provide seamless protection of the principal and his/her family as required.
  • Estate management: The EP manager must also coordinate closely with estate managers and staff on things like background checks for nannies and other staff, check-in processes for guests and service personnel.
  • External vendors and contractors: Corporate EP managers depend on external suppliers to supplement their own teams as needs arise. For example, few corporations have the need or capacity to maintain their own vetted drivers in capitals in Latin America, even though their principals might need to travel there occasionally. The EP manager relies instead on external, secure transportation providers. By working with a lead supplier for secure transportation or embedded EP agents, an EP manager can increase responsiveness and scale up or down rapidly as needs change

Communication is key

Consistent, effective communication between the EP team and other parts of the corporate EP ecosystem is what sets successful programs apart from failures.

Put simply, it’s all about doing your job and helping other people in the organization to do theirs. A good understanding of the organization helps you to engage the proper cross-organizational resources proactively rather than creating extra work and frustration. A good understanding of the EP effort enables others in the organization to contribute to it. Good communication helps the rest of the corporation understand the “why” of the EP program – keeping the principal safe, happy and productive – and motivates others to help the EP team.

It is the responsibility of the EP manager to communicate openly and clearly to other corporate stakeholders about a number of issues, including

  • The purpose of the EP program
  • The importance of an on-going Risk, Threat and Evaluation Assessment (RTVA) mind-set as the foundation of protecting the principal
  • Mutual understanding and shared views of standard EP operating procedures
  • Operational follow up and reporting

Regular, face-to-face meeting with key stakeholders is important. With some, such as the EAA, these meetings may be weekly. With others, they may be monthly or quarterly. Whatever the frequency, the EP manager needs to address all relevant issues openly.

Documentation of activities and recommendations is crucial to enable others to understand how EP works. Make sure that it goes upward within your chain of command and to other key stakeholders.

In a corporate setup that is not familiar with EP, the EP manager will often have to explain the value and importance of specific EP activities. You should back up recommendations with data and rational arguments. Rather than using military jargon or processes that you may be familiar with, frame recommendations in a way that is familiar to the corporation.

In addition to explaining EP to corporate stakeholders who may not be familiar with its thinking and procedures, good documentation leaves a trail that we can revisit in case something goes wrong, allowing us to learn from mistakes and continually improve on our corporate EP programs.

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.

Brian Jantzen

Executive Vice President

After leaving the US Marine Corps as a captain in the early 1990s, Brian has pioneered corporate executive protection services internationally for Fortune 500 companies, high net worth families and NGOs.

Brian has provided protection at the highest levels of corporate and philanthropic environments in over 35 countries. With his demonstrated ability to align security operations with both the client’s organizational goals and personal preferences, Brian uses his strong relationship building, collaboration and project and vendor management expertise to create security solutions that deliver program efficiencies and customer satisfaction. Brian graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in Sociology and is the subject matter expert chair for the ASIS Executive Protection Council.