What executive protection and secure travel teams can learn from a Diet Coke

September 26, 2019 - By Christian West & Brian Jantzen


People who don’t travel much often have romanticized ideas of how great it must be to be always on the road. The exotic sights! The delicious food!

People who travel a lot for their work, on the other hand, including most of our principals, aren’t always convinced the perks of travel outweigh the downsides. Instead of yet another meal in a high-end restaurant, it’s a burger and a Diet Coke that would really hit the spot.

In this blog, we’d like to raise our ice-filled glass to all the road warriors out there – and take a closer look at what executive protection and secure travel teams can learn from the humble Diet Coke.

Cultural differences, chilled Coke, and cold cash

When Americans ask for a Diet Coke, it’s not only the sugar-free fizzy drink they’re looking for. In a restaurant, they expect a big glass filled with ice and all the refills they want. In a hot car, they crave a can so cold that the little drops of condensation shine in the sun. And practically anywhere in America, they get what they want. Who would ever serve a warm Diet Coke in the land of the (sugar) free?

Well, lots of people in other countries serve warm Diet Coke – if they serve it at all.

In France and most of Europe, many restaurants wouldn’t even think of including Diet Coke on the menu. You might be able to get one of those cute little antique bottles of regular Coke, but Diet? And, if you do manage to rustle up a Coke in a cafe don’t expect the ice machine or the wait staff to be working overtime to duplicate the American experience. Consider yourself lucky if you get a cube or two, but don’t push it. Free refills in the land of liberté, égalité & fraternité? Mon dieu!

If an American goes farther afield to developing countries where electricity is spotty and sugar-free-anything is rare, finding that picture-perfect chilled Diet Coke is even harder. Roadside shops in Liberia and Laos might have a few faded bottles of Coke and Fanta waiting for you in the sun, but don’t go looking for an ice-cold 20-ounce Big Gulp outside America.

The cold Diet Coke as a metaphor that helps us keep clients safe, happy and productive

As anyone who has traveled a lot or lived in other countries knows, it’s not that Americans are right and the French or Laotians are wrong about what and how to eat and drink. It’s just different cultures and economics. Brands like Coke are global, but the way people around the world consume and relate to them is local. Comfort food in one culture makes people in other cultures uncomfortable or even nauseous. The infrastructures and distribution chains of rich countries don’t exist in poor countries.

Still, maybe our principal really likes cold Diet Coke. Does it matter? Yes – both figuratively and literally.

For executive protection and secure travel teams, “the cold Diet coke” is a useful metaphor for understanding cultural differences. But it also casts light on the importance of the many things large and small that influence what we do and how we do it. A soft drink and many other seemingly insignificant things can have a meaningful impact on the principal, the success of a trip, the principal’s business – and our own.

So, how does a Diet Coke help us to accomplish our mission of keeping people safe, happy and productive? There are several ways.

A cold Diet Coke keeps clients safe

With a little forward thinking, the concierge aspect of executive protection services – ensuring the amenities and other things principals want and like without having to ask for them – reduces the principal’s exposure to risks that are avoidable:

  • If you’re driving and the principal has to ask to stop at a store in order to get a Diet Coke, you’re exposing the principal to unknown circumstances:  a location that has not been advanced by the protection team.
  • If you’re at a venue where the principal can’t find a Diet Coke, an unknown person might be directed to get it and interact with your principal.

When the executive protection team predicts or intuits what principals need, they mitigate risk.

A cold Diet Coke keeps clients happy

Imagine that you had to put up with a close protection detail most of your waking hours, every day, every week. Who would you want on the job, a couple of coldblooded cyborgs who are constantly in battle mode, or protective experts who also pay attention to your personal preferences? Over the long haul, we’re convinced you’d prefer the latter. In fact, we’re so sure that we’d stake our business on it.

Effective protectors add value when they meet the principal’s predictable or discoverable personal needs. And principals notice. They don’t have to ask for the things that make them comfortable on the road, and they feel that their team is paying attention to more than just “snipers on the roof” – which they think is a preposterous idea, anyway.

When clients gain insight into how teams prepare and implement the kind of executive protection that remembers things like Diet Cokes, the comments that come back are typically “I didn’t know you guys did all that.”  Seeing and feeling the consistent value add to their comfort while traveling demonstrates program value-add to the principal in a very personal way.

A cold Diet Coke keeps clients productive

Maybe you have a significant other that requires morning coffee before significant conversation? Then you might catch our drift: Some people really do need specific things, or have particular protocols, that keep them at the top of their game. Even our principals.

The clients we serve are typically impactful people who play extremely important roles in their organizations, communities, and even societies. A lot of people count on them all day, every day.

When our principals don’t need to go out of their way for a Diet Coke (or a coffee, or a newspaper, or the dry cleaning, or whatever it is), they can focus on other things that matter far more and for many more people. They don’t spend time looking for the Coke. They don’t spend bandwidth worrying about it. They do more of what they do best because we did our best to enable their productivity.

How does your principal spell Diet Coke?

Before anyone thinks that all you need to perform world-class executive protection is a six-pack of cold Diet Cokes on hand at all times, please remember that this is a metaphor.  It’s not about the soda, it’s about the intent.

As executive protection professionals, it’s our job to discover what makes our clients tick – and what ticks them off. We do this by observing and asking. You can learn a lot from simple observation, and sometimes even more from a principal’s executive admin assistant and other colleagues. You can ask Google. You can even ask the principal. Maybe you should do all of the above?

Depending on the client, the itinerary, and the circumstances, sometimes quite a bit of forward thinking will be necessary to make sure the principal’s needs are met. Often, you have to improvise. That’s what makes our jobs interesting!

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.