BGC: How did you start working in the Executive Protection field?
BA: My background is in the military. I was stationed in Germany. There was a lot of terrorist activity being carried out by the Red Army Faction against U.S. military and executives overseas. I was selected to begin specialized training to protect these high-risk individuals, and worked my way up to Protective Security Detail Leader. I was the supervising Close Protection for two General officers at both their residences and offices at military Head Quarters.
BGC: How has Executive Protection evolved over the past 25 years?
BA: In my opinion, the biggest changes are due to two specific events:
The 9-11 attacks and the entry of the U.S. into the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let me explain. Before 9/11, there was always an understanding that top U.S. executives in the private sector and government officials were at some risk. Kidnapping was the primary threat, and it was most risky for these individuals outside of the U.S. – particularly in Latin American countries. After 9/11, with the attacks on U.S. soil, we all realized, tragically, that Americans are vulnerable at home as well as outside the country’s borders. The need for protection against terrorists educated the general public as to the notion of executive protection.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan created a transition from more “traditional” executive protection, to more “tactical” executive protection. So in the past 8 years or so, there has been an expectation that an EPS will have a strong military background and experience with weapons. However, that is changing. Blackwater, the largest provider of personal security details to U.S. diplomats in the Middle-East and high-conflict areas, is transitioning out of that business, as the need seems to have diminished significantly.
While tactical skills are important, the trend is now swinging back, and more traditional skills are needed-particularly to meet the needs of corporate executives, celebrities and professional athletes. By the way, I’d really like to give kudos to Harlan and Bodyguard Careers for educating the general public, and bringing attention to the subject of the dire need to protect these pro athletes, who I think have always been extremely vulnerable.
Once the U.S. pulls out of Iraq the “tactical” EP opportunities will be diminished and I think we can expect a proliferation of individuals trying to transition into more of the mainstream protective services. The pool of talent will be much larger, and I think there will be a greater acceptance and understanding of those “tactically-skilled” EPS. That being said, it is really important for those with military training and experience to understand that OTHER skills that are needed to land the contracts should not be overlooked. Clients and employers are going to be able to be extremely selective, and will be looking for the top resumes. I think we’re going to see a drop in earnings, too. It won’t be like it was in the period after 9/11 when the pay was incredibly high for this type of work.
BGC: What was the worst mistake you’ve ever made on a security detail? (Be honest, our readers learn a lot from the missteps of the professionals!)
BA: (Laughing) I know this will sound ridiculous-but it’s SO basic and so important, I want to share it. I’ll just come out and say it: One time I lost sight of my protectee. (Big sigh) I know, it sounds awful, but it was the single most important lesson I ever learned and I never forgot it.
My protectee was at a private event, it wasn’t an official event, so only a few people were working the detail. There was one other special agent on hand. Well, I was distracted for what I think was a few seconds, and when I looked over, my protectee was nowhere in sight. I can tell you that my heart was in my throat and my stomach dropped. This was a public space without the usual “bells and whistles” in terms of his protection. I was absolutely beside myself….it felt like an eternity before I saw him, but in fact, it was only maybe 30 seconds…the longest 30 seconds of my life!!
The protectee never knew, but the special agent did. He reminded me of the Cardinal Rule in this business: “Always know the whereabouts of the protectee.” That incident pointed up the seriousness of what we do, and reminded me to never take my eye off the ball, no matter what other distractions are taking place. (Laughs) I know, it seems so obvious, and I’m sharing this because it can be so easy to make that mistake!
BGC: What advice do you have for the new people who are trying to get into this business?
BA: Market yourself – it is as important, if not more so, than the skills you possess. Skills are ongoing, you should always be working on developing them. No matter how qualified you may be, without knowing how to package yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere. By “marketing” and “packaging” I mean you need a resume that is well put together, professional and that will capture someone’s attention. You need a great cover letter. You need to figure out ways to be seen, to get exposure. Your materials are the first impression you make. I have seen so many resumes, and they’re not at all good. I think ours is not the kind of field where (as opposed to say, sales or advertising) where candidates inherently understand or recognize the need to properly package themselves. They’ll tell you they can drive, shoot, and bench press X amount of pounds, but they don’t know how to present a complete professional package.
BGC: What are the biggest misconceptions about the industry?
BA: I think a lot of people are attracted to what they think is the “glamour” of this field. They have the idea that they’re going to be in a high-profile job, hanging with some rap-singer’s posse, and that all they have to be is BIG. The True pros approach this business with some degree of seriousness. They bother to invest money in those things they can, to be more marketable. The media and movies have added to the misconceptions. Here’s a story for you. I had posted a job alert for a contracted job. I received an email from a candidate who wrote “I’m interested in the position, but I’m too busy to send my resume. Here’s my telephone number. Call me.”
BGC: You’ve got to be kidding.
BA: (Laughing) I’m not…The thing is, there doesn’t seem to be information or conversations about how to get the work; the appropriate ways to land an interview.
BGC: That’s why we started Bodyguard Careers! So tell us about the WORST detail you’ve ever worked.
BA: (Long pause) Hmmm, honestly, I’ve never had a really bad detail. Now, there are some aspects of this career that are better than others…
BGC: Okay, what is the Best aspect of Executive Protection work?
BA: The sense that what you’re doing is necessary, important. It’s not about the profile, the attention or the money you derive. A lot of people can’t distinguish between themselves and their protectee…somehow by association they feel good. It’s never been about that for me. I think this is vitally important work-the threat is out there, whether it’s an athlete, government official, or corporate executive. I like the strong sense of purpose in this work.
BGC: And the Worst aspect?
BA: I never realized how physically demanding it can be. It is very hard work. It’s a serious business. It’s exhausting also because it is mentally demanding. You have to be “on game” ALL the time. Both your mind and body have to be ready to be put to use at the maximum potential. It’s like you have to be two steps ahead mentally, and one step ahead with your body! There is scant room for error.
BGC: Isn’t there’s a “third” level to this, besides the physical and the mental-aren’t your intuitive skills on constant alert also?
BA: Yes. You’re always dealing with the periphery, and anticipating. You are constantly assessing for potential threat. It’s “my eyes are seeing X, but what’s REALLY going on?”
BGC: I’m going to play a Word-Association game with you. Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind:
Key to a successful EPS detail. The success of the advance is directly proportional to how well the mission will go.
Really important. It is an ongoing effort, and most people don’t know how to do it. They’ll go to an event and be thinking the entire time, “what’s in it for me?” Well, I want to suggest that you go and change your attitude to “what can I contribute to this group?” Networking means you must GIVE as much as you TAKE. This means offering to volunteer for something, imparting knowledge, sharing a job lead, it really has to be a 2-way street to be effective. Sending a resume is a formal way of letting someone get to know you. Networking can be both formal and informal, and it is a great way to forge friendships. I can tell you that one of my most lucrative contracts was due to networking. I met a man at a networking function, we really hit it off and had a great conversation. He didn’t have anything to offer me in the way of work, but we became good friends. Later, down the road, he was in a position to make referrals for my services.
While professional opportunities do exist, it’s not the road paved to gold people may think it is. Dubai is much more stable than the rest of the Middle East. there is a high concentration of wealth which may lead to opportunities. I spent 3 years in the Middle East. Dubai is far more liberal, a very modern city, more so in some ways than the U.S. There is executive protection work because it is so progressive and wealthy, but it is still a volatile part of the world and I think down the road it may become more unstable. I would advise anyone who’s interested to work overseas, but for a limited amount of time. It could be a good experience. BUT, be sure that you really understand your employment package, as the terms are very different as regards labor/contract/business laws. For example, where does your check get deposited? Will taxes be paid by you, or your employer? Who exactly is hiring you-is it a U.S. or Dubai contract? What about Health insurance? When I worked a contract in Guatemala, I was paying taxes on it to the U.S. Well, the contractor wanted to take local Guatemalan labor taxes immediately out of my paychecks. I had to do some serious negotiating, because the rate I’d quoted him did not account for these taxes he intended to collect.
BGC: What accomplishments or achievements are you mot proud of?
BA: Being a dad! I’m blessed to have found a profession I’m passionate about–I get to work at something I love to do-but none of it compares to how I feel about my kids.