Executive protection: terror alerts and corporate board liability are focusing new attention on security issues for top company officers
HR Magazine,Â Oct, 2004Â by Susan Ladika
Terrorist attacks in the United States, bombings in the Middle East and kidnappings in Latin America have focused the spotlight on improving security for corporate executives when they’re at home or on the road. But threats to corporate leaders also might come from less headline-grabbing sources–animal rights activists targeting the home of a pharmaceutical firm’s CEO, or an angry former employee brandishing a handgun and trying to force his way into the COO’s office.
“After 9/11, numerous corporations and government agencies began to understand what terrorism is all about. It really jolted a lot of corporations to say, ‘We’d better take a look from the inside out,'” says Robert L. Oatman, an expert on executive protection who frequently provides training to other security professionals.
Executive protection experts are “part of the business continuity plan,” Oatman says. “We protect the No. 1 asset of the corporation.”
But that doesn’t mean every corporation needs to rush out and hire security specialists for their top executives. Much depends on such factors as the nature of the company’s business, where the executives travel, how highprofile they are and how wealthy they are, security experts say. Corporate leaders in high-tech industries, biotechnology firms, defense contractors and banks might be among those who warrant a closer look.
HR professionals in these and other firms may not be the only persons with a keen interest in executive security: Often, corporate boards determine that a risk assessment is in order, says Mark Cheviron, the vice president in charge of security at Archer Daniels Midland Co., one of the world’s largest agricultural processors, based in Decatur, Ill. Since the Enron scandal and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, “boards are very, very concerned about internal audits, safety and security,” says Cheviron. “There’s a lot more liability.”
Regardless of who decides to have a risk assessment–HR or a corporate board–the first step is to hire an outside expert to perform the work.
Outside experts can provide a fresh perspective that can help organizations spot weaknesses or potential improvements.
They also can provide tax advantages. Say a company determines that an executive requires some protective measures, such as a security-trained driver. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) might see that driver as a taxable benefit to the executive–unless an outside expert makes the recommendation.
To be eligible for a tax break, outside experts must be willing and able to defend their assessments if reviewed by the IRS, says Jerry Glazebrook, the head of protection operations for a multinational corporation that he declines to name.
Outside experts also can help bolster existing security resources. Even though most Fortune 100 companies hire former FBI deputy directors or experts with similar expertise to lead their security departments, the resources available to these departments often aren’t big enough to meet all of an organization’s needs. As a result, many firms contract with outside vendors for additional or specialized help.
What’s in an Assessment?
A safety assessment examines existing procedures in addition to factors such as how accessible the executive is to employees and visitors, where his or her office is located within the building, what mail screening measures are being used, and whether the executive has ever received threats. (Such threats, it should be noted, should be kept on file. Oatman, who heads R.L. Oatman & Associates Inc. in Towson, Md., asks for copies of threatening letters or e-mails, but often learns they’ve been thrown away.)
The assessment also needs to consider an executive’s vulnerabilities outside the office. “Executives tend to believe their home is their castle,” Oatman says. These corporate leaders, or their spouses and children, might be perplexed and at a loss as to how to respond if a disgruntled former employee or a rabid activist shows up at their front door.
“We want to look at the entire 24-hour clock,” Oatman says, including where executives spend their leisure time and where their children attend school.
Glazebrook, who once handled security for Henry Kissinger, says families often are neglected when it comes to executive protection. “The best and easiest target would be a family.” If kidnappers nab a family member, he says, the executive is likely to give them anything they want.
How Much Protection Do You Need?
A risk assessment might show that extra protection is warranted, but the type of protection required varies from case to case. Glazebrook, who has done more than 50 such assessments, says that in 20 percent to 25 percent of cases, no sophisticated security is necessary. Instead, measures such as a better home alarm system or tighter control on who has access to an executive’s schedule can do the trick.