What It Means to Be an Executive Protection Agent

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The instinct to step forward and protect leaders when danger is on the horizon has been around since the beginning of mankind. It has evolved into the field of executive protection, or close protection, to keep corporate leaders and high-net-worth individuals and their families safe. In movies, we see agents wearing black suits, disrupting threats head-on, and spying on adversaries behind newspapers. While some aspects of the stereotype stand true, there is so much more beyond the surface that represents what a skilled executive protection agent encompasses in this day and age.

In an effort to highlight the evolving challenges that executive protection agents face, we captured the thoughts of three leaders in the space. Here’s what we learned:

Flex Beyond “Assigned Duties”

“To be a successful executive protection officer in today’s global environment takes the desire and ability to be adaptive and accepting of constant change, especially in a post-COVID world,” shares Michael Trott, Vice President, Global Safety and Security at Discovery Land Company. He adds that “today’s principals are younger, more active and dynamic, and often include growing families constantly on the move.”

Any professional knows that signing up for this type of role often involves being flexible beyond the bulleted list of responsibilities in the job description. This sentiment applies directly to the executive protection role.

“Being as close as we are to the client during a protective detail, it can become a ‘concierge’ type position to some degree,” said Denida Zinxhiria Grow, Managing Partner of LeMareschal LLC, and Founder & CEO of Athena Worldwide and Nannyguards. Denida shares that inexperienced or inflexible agents often push back by saying, “Those sorts of tasks are not my job,” but after years in the field, a highly experienced agent knows that there is always some give and take. Skilled agents know how to weave themselves into daily operations without affecting or negatively hindering safety and security protocols. Denida adds that “being of assistance to the client is critical, as long as we never compromise the primary reason that we’re there…safety, security, and confidentiality.”

See Beyond a Black Suit and Earpiece

When we spoke with a Senior Manager of Executive Protection at a Fortune 50 Retailer, he supported the common stereotypes associated with the role, stating that “executive protection is perceived as a world of armored vehicles and bodyguards standing two feet from their principal, wearing dark sunglasses and an earpiece.”

He emphasized that modern executive protection agents in the private sector would be better represented as selfless individuals, sacrificing their own immediate needs in pursuit of flawless planning and execution. Their ultimate goal is to provide their clients with a normal life (or “invisible bubble of normalcy” for daily activities) but with effective safety and security measures.

Today’s agents strive to be invisible, skilled professionals, while the agents of yesterday focused on being physically present and being seen. (i.e., “bodyguards”).

Leverage Tools and Skill Sets to See Ahead of Threats

An agent’s worst nightmare is reacting to a threat in the scene of the moment. While sometimes unavoidable, the most successful protective teams understand and incorporate protective intelligence at the core of their programs. This executive protection leader goes on to share that successful teams “ensure their agents have the tools needed to be aware of potential risks or threats before they ever have a chance to manifest physically.”

He goes on to state that it’s important to “develop a value proposition centered on building a program that enhances their client’s life, rather than simply offering physical safeguards.” Teams should compliment and accentuate each other’s skill sets to meet the needs of the client, rather than hiring buddies just to feel comfortable.

Trust is Currency

Those who work on protective teams understand that their value builds trust with the client. “In the executive protective world, trust is our currency. When a client knows their team/agent is religious about being flexible, honest, and meticulous in their engagement, they are more likely to trust you. When the time comes to step forward from the shadows and provide direction, it’s because it needs to be heard.” (Senior Manager of Executive Protection, Fortune 50 Retailer)

Michael Trott adds, “The soft skills of close protection might be more important to EP officers today than ever before, where the complexities between protectees and protectors require a delicate yet professional balance.”

Far too often, officers cross that invisible line. If one becomes too close and inappropriate, you both lose. If the executive protection officer is too detached and not completely focused on the mission, the principal loses. For officers, this is one area where I like to remind them to “Think twice — act once.” (Trott)

To learn more about executive protection, and specifically the role that online content plays in protecting individuals, check out our webinar on How to Assess Your Executive’s Digital Footprint to Identify Threats.