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Illustration by Michael Waraksa

Protection Gets Promoted

​In 2013, Amazon spent $1.6 million for security-related perks for CEO Jeff Bezos, according to a recent benefits and perquisites analysis of Fortune 100 company executives conducted by Equilar, an executive compensation and corporate governance data firm. While Amazon does not detail what was included in that spending, company officials said in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing that the money went toward various security arrangements for Bezos, including security for business travel and at business facilities. “We believe that all Company-incurred security costs are reasonable and necessary and for the Company’s benefit,” Amazon said in the filing.

Right behind Amazon was Oracle, which spent $1.5 million in 2013 on security for then-CEO Larry Ellison, according to the analysis. Next on Equilar’s list was Disney, which spent $584,075 in security services for CEO Bob Iger; followed by Berkshire Hathaway, which spent $385,606 to protect CEO Warren Buffett; and FedEx, which spent $320,428 in security services for CEO Fred Smith.

Clearly, the idea of executive protection as a gray-haired CEO surrounded by a phalanx of muscle-bound guards with earpieces has long been passé. However, the close-protection field is evolving again as the service becomes part of the corporate business strategy.

It is now more accurate to think of executive protection service as one type of business professional helping another. Protection and detail work are still part and parcel of the profession, but there is also increasing emphasis on adding value in other ways, such as in facilitating the executive’s work and mission during travel.

“More protection professionals are coming from business backgrounds. They understand business,” says George Taylor, vice president of global operations for iJet, a company that specializes in operational risk management solutions.

This knowledge allows the contemporary protection professional to more effectively mesh and integrate with the executive’s team, Taylor adds. For example, in the assignment planning stage, the business-savvy protection professional understands corporate concerns such as return on investment and keeping practices cost effective. This makes for a better relationship between the two parties, and can make everyone’s job easier.

Executives from Fortune 100 corporations are not the only ones in need of protection. More companies, both large and small, are looking overseas to find new markets and expand existing ones. For the executives leading those companies, this may mean more business travel abroad, sometimes to countries that are experiencing instability, which drives up demand for protective services. “The world has changed. Things are getting worse,” Taylor says.

One of the main drivers of change has been technology, which practitioners say has been a double-edged sword for the profession. For example, a simple Google search can serve as a “data dump” on a principal, giving potential adversaries information that could help in planning an attack. Cyberstalking of companies and the individuals who run them has become more common, so more protection professionals are becoming adept with analytical tools that monitor online information. “You do need to be tech-savvy,” Taylor says. “You can’t be one dimensional.”

Electronic communications also mean potential vulnerabilities. An executive may use a firewalled and secure internal network to communicate with staff. But many are also communicating through other channels, most of which can be compromised. “When you go outside of that [secure] network, you have to realize that none of that is in any way privileged,” says W. Douglas Fitzgerald, CPP, president and CEO of Fitzgerald Technology Group and senior council vice president for the ASIS Executive Protection Ad Hoc Council.

The proliferation of devices has also transformed the playing field, Fitzgerald explains. Traditionally, team members could be quickly identified—they were the ones with the earpieces. “Now, everyone out there has got earpieces—they’ve got their iPhones and iPods and iPads,” he says.

And anyone who is simply looking at their smartphone could actually be recording surveillance video of the team’s operations in the field. “For the adversary, it’s a lot easier today. Now it’s not a matter of them standing there with a long telephoto lens,” Fitzgerald says.

Training has also become more sophisticated, and more of a two-way street. Protection professionals often brief executives on the protection process and personal safety. “What you’re trying to do is impress on them some street smarts and best practice survival skills,” Fitzgerald says. At the same time, the protection professionals themselves are learning more information about the executives—such as their medical situations and other health and social needs—that may come into play on a day-to-day basis.

Training sessions may also assist in developing the relationship between the protector and the principal, which is a crucial component of a successful operation. In the best cases, a respect and rapport develops between the two parties, which can enhance the service. Yet, protection professionals must take care not to become overly comfortable with the principal to the point where they might let their guard down.

Moreover, some protection professionals are forming working relationships with other company staff, not just the CEO. With executive protection viewed more and more as a strategic business function, some protection professionals are coordinating more with staff from departments like facilities management, human resources, and corporate communications.

And in today’s business climate, it has become a truism that most companies are pushing for maximum shareholder value and thus, maximum productivity from their CEO. As a result, an executive protection service that facilitates smooth and safe travel and public appearances so that the executive has sufficient time to capitalize on new market opportunities and business deals is valuable in and of itself.

“Security is a facilitator. Security is a value added,” Taylor says. “You’re helping them become more efficient.”

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