This is an update/repost from Filippo Marino’s ‘Protective Intelligence 2.0’ 2010 e-book.
The evolution of the Executive Protection (EP) profession can be linked to three distinct phases or generations, each characterized by specific professional philosophies, priorities and competencies. The first transition or generational shift occurred during the 1980’s with the introduction of the executive protection agent or specialist by industry trailblazers like Richard Kobetz and Chuck Vance. By adopting and transferring lessons and protocols developed by the US Secret Service and other government agencies with a protective security mandate, these second-generation EP professionals distanced themselves from the traditional image of brawny bodyguards. Physical and reactive skills gave way to increasingly sophisticated and diverse competencies and experiences like risk assessments, advance planning, defensive driving and a growing emphasis on protective protocols, target hardening, as well as travel facilitation.
However, few of the circumstances that drove the profession and the related skills for EP agents twenty or more years ago exist today. In spite of public perception about the dangers of the world we live in, and a media increasingly driven by sensationalism and fear, crime in the US declined dramatically in the past 20 to 25 years; Europe – with few exceptions – experienced a similar decline since the late 1990’s…Phenomena like kidnapping for ransom (particularly of high-net-worth individuals) and terrorism (specifically of the Marxist/Leninist vein with direct targeting of business interests) which represented real and measurable threats against executives based in the US and Europe, are today both exceptionally rare and not squarely targeted at business.* (in most highly-developed nations and many of the world’s emerging economies.)
Additional factors contributing to a dramatic shift in the protective security mission in the twenty-first century include:
- The global data explosion and the associated growth of information and communication technology (ICT). Which produced a vast number of new (and a massive shift of existing) risks, opportunities and threats.
- The Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the the US Government’s privatization and contracting of security and intelligence operations in hostile or combat environments. Which created one of the largest and most lucrative security markets in modern history – including that of Protective Security Details (PSD).
- The increasingly symbiotic relationship between corporate leadership and brand reputation risks. Directly correlated to the explosion of social media platform and domains, this phenomenon creates mutual vulnerabilities during incidents or crises, regardless of whether the origin was a reputation challenge for the CEO, or a man-made disaster caused by the company (i.e. the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and threats to Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO at the time.)
- The emergence of specialized personal/protective security ‘camps’. As it is expected of maturing professional domains, increasing depth and specificity of expertise is today needed whether working for business executive in a highly-industrialized country, versus protecting celebrities, or diplomats and government representatives in a developing nation.
Third-generation EP professionals and protective details are still emerging albeit more gradually (with most still operating in 20th-century paradigms) but with as much distinction from their predecessors – the 2nd generation, elegantly captured by books like Kobetz’s Providing Executive Protection, or Oatman’s The Art of Executive Protection – who wanted to distance themselves from the image of the unsophisticated bouncer. As for most professional evolutions, new generations preserve and utilize many of the skills, practices and experiences of earlier SMEs, yet adding new competencies and realigning priorities.
The typology and incidence of accidents and attacks against today’s Western business executives demand revised EP mission objectives along new and expanded competencies, training and education. Addressing executive risks by hiring a recently retired special forces operator, and focusing the conversation on vehicle armoring or weapons handling, would make the same business sense today as consumer product company hiring a marketing director with no training or experience in Social Media.
The new corporate EP leader is fundamentally the enterprise’s subject matter expert on personal risk and its mitigation, specifically as it pertains to senior leadership and at-risk personnel, across the spectrum of physical, information-based, logistical, and reputational risks. The fulcrum of this expertise is no longer the physical ability to quickly react to and deflect a violent attack (although these remain highly desirable skills) but rather the ability to interpret personal risk, its likelihood and impact without bias and across multiple spheres and dimensions, and the ability to measurably mitigate such exposure by adapting to constantly changing circumstances, compete for organizational resources, and influence multiple stakeholders.
To this end, the modern Protection Professional develops deep knowledge of the field of Judgment and Decision Making (JDM), is a highly-effective communicator and global traveler, an avid Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tinkerer, and a disciplined critical thinker and problem-solver with enough reach and stature across organizational stakeholders and protectees alike to influence risk perception, judgment and plans. Ideally serving at the pleasure of the Board of Directors (BOD), the executive protection professional establishes clear objectives directed at the ongoing assessment of leadership and brand risks, threats and vulnerabilities, along with strategies and tactics to thwart or contain them. He/she does not sell fear, or parrot anecdotal victimization scenarios, but rather researches and analyzes risk-data sources and leverages talent across the organizational spectrum to protect the clients; relies not on fixed protocols, solutions or rules, but rather adapts and morphs strategies and tactics based on rational thought, critical information and the circumstances on hand – frequently on more occasion during the course of one business day.
Ultimately, the third-generation Executive Protection agent also happens to be the first Protective Security professional to figure among the modern enterprise’s risk mitigation leaders.