The Evolution of Executive Protection: What Will Define EP 3.0? 1024 1024 ESLNA

The Evolution of Executive Protection: What Will Define EP 3.0?

By Christian West and Joe LaSorsa

In this blog, we propose a brief history of executive protection and speculate on what might define the next era of our profession, EP 3.0.

The history of personal protection is as old as, well, history.

No one knows when the first personal protection details saw the light of day, but we’ve got a strong hunch that people have defended other people ever since we figured out how to make flint axes and began swinging them.

Did Neanderthal chiefs and other stone-age honchos have bodyguards? Probably. It’s likely that some of our early brothers and sisters were better than others at keeping the big guy out of harm’s way and that they consequently did so more than others. But we have no evidence that this was a full-time gig. They no doubt kept their day jobs as hunter-gatherers and assumed their defensive roles only when a saber tooth tiger threatened the boss or that pesky neighbor tribe attacked them for the umpteenth time.

If we fast-forward to what we now call civilization, it seems bodyguarding has been a profession throughout recorded history—although the distinctions between bodyguards, conscripts, and mercenaries were no doubt rather blurry. Egyptian pharaohs had personal security at least 3000 years ago. Roman emperors had their Praetorian Guards, and Byzantine emperors employed Varangian Guards from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries, which included plenty of hired-axe Vikings. Of course, the Japanese had their Samurai, the Chinese their “Forbidden Troops,” and the list could go on.

For the purposes of this blog, however, we’re lumping all the above into pre-history. The profession and industry that we now call “executive protection” in the United States, and “close protection” in the UK, began much more recently. But before that came the bodyguards.

What’s in a name? Bodyguards or executive protection agents?

“Bodyguard” has long been the term given to the protectors of the wealthy and prominent. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word first appeared in 1701. Since then, its usage was relatively low for many years, then trended up in the late 1800s and jumped even more beginning in the 1990s, as can be seen in the graph below.

Source: https://www.etymonline.com/word/bodyguard

This increased usage could correspond with the rising wealth and prominence of some individuals, on the one hand, and the growth of mass media and, much later, the internet.  As the number of wealthy industrialists, household-name celebrities, and even the heads of organized crime organizations began to get more and more attention and press, so did the mention of—and no doubt the use of—bodyguards to protect them.

Some of these early protectors were undoubtedly great people that modern firms would happily hire (once they got proper training). Others were likely not. Often, they were friends and family of the principal: people who were trusted personally for their loyalty, physical strength, and motivation to protect the principal more than for their professional expertise and training. Check out this interesting Wikipedia article about what was referred to as “the Memphis Mafia” to learn about the folks who protected one of the biggest celebrities of the 1950s and 1960s, the king himself, Elvis Presley.

Of course, for the popular press and most people outside of our industry, what we executive protection professionals now do is still called bodyguarding. The term “executive protection” only came into broader usage in the U.S. context when the White House Police,  a division of the U.S. Secret Service, was tasked in 1970  to protect foreign dignitaries in and around Washington, D.C., under the name of “the Executive Protection Service (EPS).” About the same time, what we now call the executive protection industry came into existence as private firms began offering close, personal protection as a paid service.

Since then, much ink has been spilled to differentiate “executive protection agents” from “bodyguards.” Admittedly, we’re guilty of spilling some of that ink ourselves. Without going too far into the weeds on this one, here’s how we split these particular semantic hairs: “Bodyguard” still refers to anyone tasked with protecting another person, regardless of how professionally they do it (and even if we don’t like to get thrown into the same basket as the folks you read about in the more sensationalist media channels). Conversely, “executive protection” refers to a (more or less) professionalized version of bodyguarding and the growing industry that has developed around it.

EP 1.0, 1970 – 2000: The beginning of contemporary executive protection services

In our version of history, the first era of the executive protection industry, what we refer to as EP 1.0, began around 1970 when the U.S. Secret Service launched its “Executive Protection Service.”

Although a U.S. government agency did this for embassy and other foreign mission principals working for other governments, these practices eventually laid the basis of the services delivered by companies for other private sector companies and individuals.

Drivers

As was the case for our public sector counterparts, the early days of our industry were in part driven by the perceived risks of international terrorism. As politically motivated violence in the form of hijackings, bombings, and murders grew in the 1970s, so did personal security concerns for some business leaders. Some of these people began to receive personal protection provided by private firms.

Similarly, it became clear to many that prominence also had its risks. John Lennon’s murder in 1980 by a mentally ill person was a wake-up call for celebrities worldwide. If a peaceful Beatle could be murdered outside his home by a disturbed fan, who couldn’t?

Finally, internationalization and the new wave of globalization that took off in the early 1990s also played a role. Businesspeople traveled more to more places than ever before, including developing countries and other locations that were associated with greater risk. Demand for what we now call secure travel services drove the proliferation of vendors worldwide that provided temporary protection for visiting execs.

Client security need focus

During EP 1.0, the focus was almost exclusively on physical security. Compared to later stages of industry development, the job was primarily about keeping the client alive and out of the way of physical harm and not so much about delivering personal security that had the added benefits that we now consider common in the industry.

  • Physical security: High – this was the primary focus
  • Reputational security: Low – while not in focus, this was not wholly neglected
  • Productive security: Low/none – personal productivity was not yet prioritized
  • Lifestyle security: Low/none – personalization and customization of security services were not yet prioritized

People, processes, and technology

  • People: Former Secret Service, military, and law enforcement personnel, almost all of whom were men, dominated the industry; specialized executive protection training was not widely available or considered mandatory for the private sector.
  • Processes: Some standard operating procedures (SOPs) were borrowed or adapted from the U.S. Secret Service. Gavin de Becker developed the MOSAIC method, which is still used for personal threat assessments today.
  • Technology: Pre-internet and mostly non-digital

Competitive landscape

The executive protection market during EP 1.0 was highly fragmented. Like now, some principals and their organizations ran their own programs with only limited use of third-party providers. Others outsourced these tasks to dedicated executive protection companies, which were far fewer and much smaller than now. There were many small providers with limited reach and resources.

Some companies that then played a leading role industry include Vance, Pinkerton, Gavin de Becker and Associates, and Control Risk Group. Other providers that grew into big players during EP 2.0 were not yet in business or focused on other security offerings, such as guarding services.

EP 2.0, 2000 – 2020: The rise of full-service EP companies, digital tools, increased differentiation and competition, and the beginnings of market consolidation

The second phase of modern executive protection, what we refer to as EP 2.0, began in about 2000. Of course, there is no exact cut-off date between EP 1.0 and 2.0, and both share many of the same characteristics. Looking back from our present perspective, however, it’s clear that the industry shifted into a new gear sometime around then. In fact, we believe it could be said that it was during this time that executive protection became an industry of its own.

Corporate executive protection programs expanded in number and scale during EP 2.0. More provider companies started up, innovated their service offerings, and grew, thereby diversifying the choices available to customers and increasing competition. As we’ll see, these increases in scale and competition eventually led to the first steps of industry consolidation.

Professionalization became a topic of discussion and a goal in some segments of the industry. The lack of industry standardization was increasingly addressed, but little real progress was made in this direction. The International Protective Security Board (IPSB) held its first conference in 2016.

Drivers

The same kinds of risks that kicked off EP 1.0 continued to impact EP 2.0, and new ones emerged. Business leaders traveled even more as markets and supply chains further globalized, even after 9/11 made clear that international terrorism was also evolving with leaps and bounds. The rapid proliferation of the internet and the emergence of social media not only upended the media landscape and how people got their news and views, but also introduced new dimensions of risk.

At the same time, entirely new industries and skyrocketing valuations created more ultra-high net-worth individuals and family offices than ever before. Board-mandated protection programs became more common as corporate directors and investors increasingly came to terms with the fact that share prices depended on the wellbeing of individual founder/leaders in addition to many other factors.

Many of these newly prominent and ultra-high net-worth business leaders were still in their 20s and 30s and had a different idea of the good life than their parents and grandparents. Some began to prioritize productivity on the road and more personalized protection that did not look like that of heads of state and flashy celebrities. As a new generation of prominent leaders began to require different kinds of executive protection—and new technology, innovation, and intensified rivalry for share of a growing market changed the competitive landscape—so did the industry evolve.

Client security need focus

  • Physical security: The focus on physical security was and is still high for all programs.
  • Reputational security: With the advent of smartphones and social media, everyone (and not only journalists) had the potential to break a story that could go viral within hours; accordingly, many principals and programs put increased importance on reputational security.
  • Productive security: As business leaders traveled even more, it became clear to some providers and clients that executive protection advances and secure travel services could not only keep principals safe while on the road but could also significantly boost their productivity while traveling, for example, by increasing the number of meetings per day and location. Enabling more productive hours for the highest-paid person in the room, also during commutes, led to new calculations of the value of executive protection.
  • Lifestyle security: The personal and lifestyle preferences of the principal came into much greater focus during EP 2.0. Some providers began to customize their services more proactively and professionally so that they not only protected their clients’ physical, reputational, and productive wellbeing but did so in ways that aligned more closely with individual and family preferences.

People, processes, and technology

  • People: Although the industry still had (and has) many agents and managers with Secret Service, military, and law enforcement experience on their CVs, people from other backgrounds increasingly found jobs in a growing market. The protective workforce also became much more diverse: we hired more women and people of color than ever before. The importance of training also became much clearer during this period. Whereas training in EP 1.0 was widely considered to be the responsibility of first, individual agents, and second, the provider, during 2.0, training began to be an issue of shared client-provider interest in RFP responses, staffing plans, contracts, and budgets. The number of people who completed executive protection training courses worldwide also increased significantly during this period.
  • Procedures: Covert protection details became more common, especially in high-end programs for principals who needed protection in public places but wanted something other than the beefy-men-in-black look. The lack of national and international standardization became a talking point in some contexts, although the conversation did not lead to any significant changes.
  • Technology: Protection professionals embraced a wide variety of new digital tools, not least for communication but also for less common protective measures such as mail screening and TSCM. Digital threat assessment tools gained wider adoption in protective intelligence. Better, cheaper, and more readily available sensors and alarms became more integrated into residential security programs.

Competitive landscape

This was a period of rapid industry expansion. As demand increased and many existing and new companies jostled for bigger pieces of the growing pie, scale became important in new ways. Some providers added related security services to their product portfolios, and the bigger players grew even bigger through a combination of organic growth and, increasingly, mergers and acquisitions.

My own company, AS Solution, was to some extent emblematic of the period. I founded the company in 2003 and we grew rapidly and consistently for many years through a combination of quality protection, innovation, great colleagues, and fantastic clients. In 2017, we sold to SOS Security, a mid-size guard company, which was eventually again sold to what is now the world’s largest guard company (along with many other security-related services), Allied Universal.

Surely, the executive protection industry will see more mergers as the market continues to grow. But it will also continue to feature many small and medium-sized companies, some of whom will disrupt what we now venture to call EP 3.0.

EP 3.0, 2020 – ?: The coming wave of focus and industry segmentation

What will be the next wave of executive protection? Of course, no one really knows. As the old line goes, it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. Nonetheless, we will offer some educated guesses here based on our reading of past trends, where we think they’ll be heading, and some much bigger trends that will affect everyone in every industry.

As we’ll see below, we expect several dominant features of EP 2.0 to continue. A broader understanding of our clients’ very personal security needs will continue to evolve, especially at the high end of the market. Digital tools will become increasingly integrated in everything we do, and training will become even more critical.

In terms of market dynamics, it’s very likely that some of the big guys will get bigger through organic growth and more mergers and acquisitions. At the same time, everything has its season and its limits, and new ways of doing old things could point parts of the industry in some exciting directions.

Drivers

What will drive the transition to EP 3.0? There are many contributing factors, but we’ll here take a stab at what we think will be the top three:

  • New climates of global, national, and local risk and growing affluence (for some) will increase overall demand for protection: If the next ten years are anything like the last ten, the ride ahead could get bumpy. New world order (and disorder), geopolitical and local conflicts, political partisanship and dysfunction, uneven wealth and income distribution, and things we have not even thought about could all contribute to more insecurity and increased demand for protective services. As we note below, growing demand could likely lead to greater calls for regulation and standardization and increased segmentation of the executive protection market.
  • AI and other smart tech will change how protection happens: New tech and innovative ways of using it will likely change the game in ways we cannot now predict. Tech-driven innovation and new (or newly affordable) tools will likely change the ways people and processes intersect to provide protection. It could make some forms of executive protection better and more accessible to more customer segments. It will likely also be used by bad actors in ways that increase personal security risks.
  • The maturing protection market will increase provider specialization and price-value segmentation: Just as more mature markets for things like cars, watches, and many other products and services have clear distinctions between high-end, mid-range, and low-end offerings, the executive protection market will likely become more clearly segmented. Those less sensitive to price tags will look for best-in-class protection customized to their very specific needs, while other customer segments will be able to opt for less personalized solutions.

Client security need focus

We expect elevated focus on all four security needs at the high end of the market. We also predict the most demanding customers’ tolerance for compromising the balance between these sometimes-conflicting priorities will be low. Mid- and lower-end offerings will likely continue limiting their focus to physical security.

  • Physical security: High
  • Reputational security: High
  • Productive security: High
  • Lifestyle security: High

Comprehensive protection will likely be more in focus. For example, we expect to see 24/7 protection in more cases and greater demand for integrating services such as TSCM and mail/parcel screening. As the range of services considered necessary for comprehensive protection grows, so will the demand for seamless integration between them. For example, protective intel, including travel intel, will be expected to become even more integrated into more and more programs.

People, processes, and technology

  • People: Although new tech will take on further protective tasks, well-trained and motivated people will be more important than ever to program success, especially at the high end of the market. We believe training will be increasingly prioritized in EP 3.0 and that training offers will likely also become more specialized and segmented.
  • Procedures: Innovative providers will pioneer hybrid procedures that integrate people and tech in new ways. As compliance demands grow and the industry becomes too big to run like the Wild West, the much-discussed issue of standardization will, at some point, most likely be resolved – although probably not to everyone’s satisfaction. If the lowest common denominator becomes “good enough,” high-end programs will probably look for something and someone better.
  • Technology: We won’t speculate too much about this in this blog, which is already long enough, but we would be very surprised if the executive protection industry is the only one that AI does not change in significant ways.

Competitive landscape

Considering the competitive landscape, it’s quite likely that some of EP 2.0’s biggest providers will get even bigger in EP 3.0. By leveraging their strengths and focusing on continual improvement across the board, they’ll maintain and might even grow their share of an expanding market. Moreover, they’ll have the cash (and the backing of venture funds) to make more acquisitions, both in EP and related services. This will add millions to their top lines and further increase their ability to maximize their advantages of scale.

At the same time, it’s also likely that some smaller players will find competitive advantages that differentiate them from EP 2.0’s biggest incumbents. Some customers will look for more personalized protective approaches than those provided by security corporations with (tens or hundreds of) thousands of employees. Others will opt for more nimble companies that are early (but not too early) adaptors of emerging tech that enables new ways of doing things.

Regardless of provider company size, in EP 3.0 anyone who wants to sell protective services to Fortune 500 and other large organizations will increasingly have to face the realities of corporate procurement processes. These issues may be more about doing business with the big boys than the nuts and bolts (or quality) of executive protection, but they already matter now and will matter even more:

  1. Compliance: Vendors will be expected to, and, increasingly, required to reliably demonstrate compliance with a growing range of external and internal demands regarding legislation, regulations, governance, and other guidelines.
  2. Business continuity: As executive protection services are increasingly seen as “mission critical” for companies and family offices, only vendors who can ensure the ability to deliver those services effectively and reliably over time will pass muster.
  3. IT system security and practices: When even mega-companies’ cybersecurity can be breached with devastating consequences, vendors (with potentially sensitive information on corporate principals) who cannot demonstrate acceptable levels of cyber defenses will not be considered.
  4. Insurance: Suitable insurance is becoming more expensive for all vendors. For some smaller service providers, this could become problematic.
  5. Human resources: Large corporations under scrutiny from investors and other stakeholders concerning diversity/equity/inclusion issues will in turn scrutinize vendors for the same. Executive protection providers that do not demonstrate acceptable track records, policies, and results regarding everything from staff turnover and benefits to the makeup of individual teams will face challenges.

During EP 2.0 executive protection providers who did not earn high scores on all the above could still get invited to RFP rounds—and win them—as long as they could convince buyers that they had a plan to catch up fast. As EP 3.0 develops, only providers that meet minimum requirements in these five areas will make it to the starting line of the biggest races.

The Uber of executive protection is revving up in some garage, somewhere

When I was at AS Solution, one of the things that kept me up at night was wondering who would be the “Uber” of executive protection. Where was the little startup that does to our industry what Uber did to the taxi industry in many countries?

Until now, technology has not really shaken up EP. Sure, we have smarter phones and way more digital tools, but we haven’t yet seen a tech-driven paradigm shift. Will AI drive this? Could AI and other digital tech significantly disrupt the classic mix of people, processes, and technology our industry has relied on for years? How? When? Where? We don’t know. But it will definitely change things.

If AIs are better than experienced medical experts at spotting growing tumors, could AIs also become better than humans at spotting emerging threats? Would we need to have the same number of agents doing residential security, for example, if some new combination of digitally enhanced protective intel, smart sensors, real-time remote surveillance, and who-knows-what-else did it better and cheaper? We don’t know. But we imagine that someone is trying hard to find out already now, and that answers to these questions will look rather different two, five, and ten years from now.

What might also change with technological development is the value perception of the services we provide and the prices clients are willing to pay for them. Why should clients use budgets for people to do things if AIs and hybrid combinations of AI, digital technology, and people can do it better and cheaper?

During EP 3.0, we will get answers to some of these questions, and new ones will emerge. Buckle up!

What’s your take on the evolution of our industry? What do you think EP 3.0 will mean for us and our clients? Ping us on social media to join the conversation.