The executive protection industry lives in a glass house. Let’s improve standardization instead of throwing stones.


November 7, 2018 - By Christian West & Jared Van Driessche

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One of the frustrating things about the executive protection industry is how EP practitioners tear each other down instead of building each other up. As soon as something negative about an EP practitioner makes the news, we’re quick to point fingers and play Monday morning quarterback even though we don’t know all the facts.

This tendency has been eminently clear in the case of Pascal Duvier, the executive protection professional who was working with Kim Kardashian when she was robbed at gunpoint for millions worth of jewelry in Paris in 2016. We’ve had dozens of conversations with colleagues in the industry about the event, and Pascal got torn to shreds by practically everyone – even though none of them were there, have all the details, or have any clue about the context in which the robbery took place or the scope of work agreement between the protector and the protectees.

Once the information about the robbery went public, the Monday morning quarterbacks crawled out of their La-Z-Boys to crow about how Pascal was an ill-prepared amateur and a disgrace to our profession. Social media groups (with more members than there are active agents in the industry) lit up with how things would have been different if they had been the ones covering Kim and her family. They would have armed guards on the street.  They would have halls and walls folks outside Kim’s door. They would have separate teams for Kim’s sister. They would have taught the concierge krav maga.

Deservedly or not, Pascal’s standing has taken a massive hit. But before the Paris robbery, Pascal had a great reputation in the EP industry. Many would have even argued that he was one of the industry standard bearers. You don’t need to believe us, just look at his LinkedIn profile, where eleven different colleagues, clients, and other industry peers were quite happy to put their names on letters of recommendation and endorse his company’s services to others. One doesn’t get this type of recognition overnight, which tells us he provided service that clients enjoyed. So, let’s not throw stones at this man without knowing all the facts.

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they can

Two years to the day after the heist, Pascal was sued by Kim Kardashian’s insurance company for more than $6 million dollars.

The insurance company that had to pay out for the stolen jewels is trying to recoup at least part of their losses by having Pascal foot the bill. Their arguments? That Pascal was “negligent”, in “breach of contract” and displayed “gross negligence, recklessness and/or willful and wanton misconduct” for his role during the robbery at the hotel.

We include just a snippet of the insurance company’s case against Pascal below. You can read the whole legal complaint here, including the insurance company’s claim that it was Pascal’s duty to ensure that the concierge of the exclusive hotel had security training.

What’s your standard for “reasonable care”? What are the executive protection industry’s standards? 

Now, we’re not legal experts, and some might say our knowledge of the law is limited to a handful of lawyer jokes. But we do often work with legal counsel, and we know that “reasonable care” is a thing. It’s something lawyers often refer to when talking about negligence. According to TheLaw.com, reasonable care is defined as

“A measure or a standard of caution and awareness for the safety of self and others that the average prudent person would use under the circumstances. The reasonable care test is a subjective test to determine whether a person committed negligence in their actions, not exercising reasonable care.”

Let’s unpack that just a bit:

  1. In this context “the average prudent person” doesn’t refer to your smart Aunt Sally or what she would do. It refers to what the average executive protection professional, or company, would do.
  2. As any EP professional knows, the “circumstances” relevant for evaluating EP work include a wide variety of things, from the quality of RTVAs to agent readiness, to scope of work agreements, and not least to what the client has agreed to pay for.
  3. Let’s remember that “subjective” is the opposite of “objective”. In other words, we’re on a slippery slope here, folks, one that slides more towards opinions and feelings than to verifiable facts or specific standards.

In light of this, the insurance company’s claim begs a lot of questions that even a lot of us with decades of experience in the EP industry would have a hard time answering. How the Monday morning quarterbacks and an insurance company have all the answers is beyond us.

What would the average, prudent executive protection company have done in the circumstances? What is the average EP company, anyway? Something like Pascal’s ProtectSecurity Inc. and other more or less one-man shows? Something like AS Solution or Gavin de Becker? Somewhere in between?

What are all the relevant circumstances? How do we come up with a balanced way of understanding them? What happens when circumstances such as perceived risk point a detail leader in one direction, risk mitigation resources subject to budget constraints point in another, and the whims of a principal point in a third?

But the lawsuit against Pascal  also raises more general – and important – questions about the standards that should be applied to the evaluation of executive protection work:

  • What are the industry standards that we can benchmark against?
  • Are we talking the U.S. Secret Service’s or the mom-and-pop EP company’s standards?
  • How do EP professionals learn these standards? From competing, for-profit EP schools?
  • How do you control whether practitioners follow any standards at all?
  • What’s the executive protection industry’s equivalent of the “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” that auditors and the SEC rely on?
  • What do these non-existent standards even mean when the principal is the boss with the right not only to tell vendors what they want and don’t want in terms of protection strategy, tactics, and operational detail, regardless of any RTVA, but of course also decide what they’re willing to pay for, and when?

EP professionals live in a glass house. Let’s be careful about throwing stones.

Let’s be real with each other: Any EP company in the world would jump at the opportunity to protect Kim and her family, some of the highest-profile A-listers on the planet. That was true before the robbery, it was true the day after the robbery, and it’s true today. Like Pascal, we’d take on the work so we could make money to provide for our own families, and we’d be thrilled at the opportunity to grow the operation and show the principal and others the right way to do security.

Whether you’re a fledgling EP startup that is starving for work or an established multi-million-dollar company, the rules of the game are similar. You can give the principal all of your best security recommendations, and they might be very good indeed, but at the end of the day, you only get to do what the client agrees to do. In other words, you only provide clients with what they’re willing to pay for.

If you’re covering a client who’s returned to her hotel for the night and wants you to provide coverage for her family while they’re out clubbing, you’re going to do what the boss asks you to do. You can say that you’d be the one to convince her that you need to stay with her the whole time for her protection, and the others should just hit the hay instead of going out, but if she asked you to go, you’d go. We don’t know how many times we’ve heard principals say something like, “I’m comfortable here at the hotel, please check on my family (sisters, kids, parents, etc.).” This is common practice in our industry: the principals want you for what they want you for, and the moment they feel comfortable and safe, you’re dismissed. Unlike the kind of security heads of state and other government officials receive, or corporate executives with board-mandated coverage, celebrities’ protection is elective, after all, not obligatory.

It might be right, according to your standards, that counter-surveillance teams, more team members, and ninjas hiding in the trees are what’s necessary to get the job done.  But if the client isn’t willing to go along with and pay for it, you aren’t able to dictate your standards and you wouldn’t have any job at all. We have no idea about the circumstances surrounding Pascal’s scope of work with the Kardashians, but we do know that there are plenty of minimalist security operations heading up the creek without a paddle or a compass and that there are plenty of EP practitioners willing to hop on board and go for the ride, doing the best they can under the circumstances. It’s all any of us can do, really: provide the absolute best security we can with the resources we have available.

You can say that you would have talked to the client beforehand about the security consequences of not having a full-blown team, but honestly, how far would you press the point? Would you really decide not to protect the principal if she dismissed some of your recommendations? Almost all of the clients we’ve worked in our decades-long careers have elected to go against recommendations made by us and other team members. We didn’t fire any of them. It doesn’t make sense – in terms security or business – to pack it all in if things don’t go our way. Like any other relationship, there will always be plenty of give-and-take between principals and their EP team.

Where is the drive towards standardization in the executive protection industry?

We look at all of this as an issue of industry standardization. Or, more precisely, lack thereof.

The executive protection industry sometimes feels like the wild west. While different territories do have some (wildly disparate) legislation concerning basic security training and firearms, the EP industry has no public, unambiguous standards that are commonly shared or widely ascribed to. There is practically no regulation or oversight. The sheriff in Dodge sets the standards for what’s acceptable in Dodge, and those apply only as long as he’s in charge and you don’t leave town.

Every EP school has its own take on what comprises essential training. Every EP company has its own version of good SOPs and quality control. This is not to say that there are no standards or more or less accepted versions of best practice. There are. But industry-wide, they are not explicitly articulated, objectively verifiable, or easily benchmarked against.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying the lawsuit against Pascal is frivolous – that’s not for us to decide. We do believe, however, that he and other EP practitioners, our principals, their and our insurers, and all other stakeholders would be better off if we had better, agreed ways of determining how well we do what we do. Standardization would help in many ways.

Although the security industry does have the Certified Protection Professional (CPP) certification, and this does have high standards, you don’t need to be a CPP to hang your EP shingle up or work in the security business. The CPP covers a broad range of qualifications, and that’s great. But we need something more specific.

The EP industry needs to develop its own standards. We could all learn something from the accountants and their Generally Accepted Accounting Principles without turning into bean counters.

Standardized training curricula, evaluations, and certifications would all be steps in the right direction. Standardized quality assurance methods would help both protector and protectees know who’s on the ball and who isn’t. If we sat down as an industry to determine how and where standardization would make the most sense, we’re sure we would make a much longer list that would have helped determine what’s up and down in Pascal’s case – and the others that are sure to come.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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

Guest blogger, CEO, Asgard Technology Group, Inc

As CEO of Asgard Technology Group, Jared Van Driessche is responsible for strategic leadership and oversight of the company and its first app, ProtectionManager. 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, and various public figures on more than 300 international trips to over 70 different countries. He has extensive international experience, 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.