There are some leaders who lead by example, some who motivate by coaching, and others who transform and challenge the status quo. Meredith Wilson does all three. She is Founder and CEO of Emergent Risk International, LLC, which empowers companies to understand and address the impact of geopolitical events on their business. Meredith is recognized by the Protective Intelligence Honors program — an initiative developed by Ontic’s Center for Protective Intelligence celebrating those who have advanced the physical security and protection industry.
In this interview series, we spotlight honorees who have had a lasting impact on the security world as we know it. It is our hope that their insights on leadership and the timeless practice of security and protection will inspire you in your own efforts.
1. How did you get into the security industry?
I was a David Boren Scholar and did an overseas study program in Vietnam. While abroad, I was hired to work in intelligence as part of my service commitment and it turned out to be a great career for me. All in all, my career in the security industry is a result of a series of happy and not so happy accidents, luck, some scholastic achievements, some risk taking and a chain-smoking lifelong philosophy student in Tucson whose name I can’t even remember now.
2. What is the most defining part of your career (so far)?
What’s taught me the most are the moments that I’ve been humbled by reality — like the layoff that led me to start my company. Starting a company has by far been the most demanding but rewarding experience. The ability to come to work everyday and create value and jobs, innovate and take risks, and to work with such a talented team is what drives me forward.
3. How do you motivate others?
I motivate others by listening and being honest. I encourage my team to take risks that are a little outside their comfort zone. I believe in creative problem solving and not wasting time complaining about things we can’t change. I always urge a “problem solving mindset.”
I also believe in giving back in the form of helping people see their full potential, just as many people along the way helped me. I think it’s important to be honest with people (who ask) about things holding them back, and be open about sharing my own story — and particularly the failures and the big lessons learned along the way. No one wants to fail, but it’s a necessary part of the journey. I aim to be transparent about my ups and downs, and remind people that not only are they valued, but they also have unique talents to offer and are capable of almost anything they set their mind to do.
4. What does protective intelligence mean to you?
Any type of intelligence, whether protective, tactical or strategic, has to provide forward looking insight. It sounds simple, but it requires a commitment to look deeper, reach farther and put in the work to find those things beneath the surface.
In protective intelligence, we can do so much more than just consider routes and routines. Understanding the story around the protectee — their own history, that of those around them, and the history of the brand and risk attached to the organization they are affiliated with. There are nearly endless layers of the onion to peel back when it comes to protecting people — and all of that information creates a powerful story that can be used to better anticipate threats.
5. Where do you hope to see physical security evolve in the next decade?
What I love about the security profession has been watching it become so much more than an exercise in guns, guards and gates. While that will always be a part of it, the intellectual, business-forward side of the sector is thinking smarter about security.
It’s critical to look for innovative ways to protect, but also to seek to understand. Working with communicators, sustainability experts and others, we are able to build safer operations by making them more inclusive to the communities around them. It’s not always possible, but seeking to know more about adversarial positions can allow threats to be neutralized by building understanding, rather than higher walls.
The other variable that’s changing rapidly in both positive and concerning ways, is technology. The speed at which surveillance technology, drones, and other systems are evolving is perhaps faster than we can keep up with from a training, education and regulatory perspective.
This demands a professional who understands the ethical problems and the proper application of these technologies. Importantly, it demands leadership that is willing to pay for the quality of education and individuals needed to understand the immense responsibility and power associated with utilizing these tool sets. This will help ensure they do not harm in the course of seeking to protect.
On the protective side, the changing environment is also making this job harder. Guarding against threats to individuals has never been easy, but adding autonomous threats from drones and other new technologies into the picture creates another layer of concern — and intelligence — that’s required to keep people safe.
6. What do you read to stay up-to-speed in the space?
Everything. By design, my sources of information are extremely wide to ensure that we are not getting siloed into a particular media/ political/ government narrative and missing critical pieces of the picture. I also read a lot of technology publications and business news. While much of our work is geopolitical in nature, if you aren’t following technology and business you’re likely missing two of the biggest indicators of what is to come.
7. What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve received?
Know your comfort zone, and then avoid it like the plague.
Read more about Meredith and the other honorees at the Protective Intelligence Honors