Executive Protection Specialists, aka bodyguards (a term they typically hate, by the way), are responsible for protecting the lives, reputations, brands and often the families of their principals — plain and simple. They are professionals who have undergone extensive training and vetting. They pride themselves on their professionalism and discretion. They’re highly skilled and experienced in conducting ongoing threat assessments, identifying safety and security hazards, handling the entourage (sometimes referred to as strap-hanger management) and delicately advising their principals not to do stupid stuff.
Consider this dilemma. It’s around 10:00 p.m. in Brussels and the principal and his family are in their suite. I’m going over the next day’s schedule when there’s a knock on the door. It’s my principal, the easily recognizable Mr. Dignitary.
“Hey,” he says. “Let’s go out.”
I accept the last-minute request because, well, that’s how this works. The schedule is the principal’s, not mine.
“All right, sir. I’ll get a driver and one more agent and we can go. Where to?”
“No, just you and me. I want to go down to Rue d’Aerschot,” he says with a sly smile.
“Uh, that’s the red-light district, sir.” I tried to sound grim and foreboding. Besides being concerned about the high crime rate there, part of my job is to protect his reputation, remember?
“Yeah, I know,” he says more than just a little irritated. “And I don’t want my wife or the staff knowing, so have your guys make up something to tell them. I don’t care what. Just make it believable.”
This is where the difference between being a bodyguard and a “Buddyguard” comes in. I can be close to you, I can be your confidant, I’ll safeguard everything important to you, and I’ll be friendly but not familiar, but I can’t be your friend. I’m a professional, which means I live by rules and Mr. Dignitary is asking me to violate two of them. First, I’ll be your best friend until you become your own worst enemy. Second, I’ll die for you, but I won’t lie for you. My reputation is on the line too, and I try to avoid any situation that puts both me and the principal at risk of injury or embarrassment.
A principal will take advantage of Buddyguards. Suddenly, they become just another member of the entourage and wind up doing things way outside their areas of responsibility. Soon, they’re walking the principal’s dog, picking up the girlfriend and lying to the wife about it and, in extreme cases, facilitating drug dealer access. And when the personal relationship goes sour, as they sometimes do, lawsuits are filed and the Buddyguard runs out and threatens to air all the former client’s dirty laundry. The former client then claims victim status, blaming the Buddyguard for everything bad that’s ever happened. Ever been in a bad breakup? Yeah, it’s like that. Ultimately, it’s better for the clients that security personnel do not cross that professional line.
Mr. Pop Star is with his entourage. No one from the so-called security detail took the time to walk the route beforehand to see what was ahead and pick a different route or at least clear a path; the whole group wades right into a mass of fans and paparazzi. Fans are excited. They’re crowding Pop Star. Photographers are taking pictures up close and personal. Things are stressful. One photographer is determined to be particularly irksome so, at Pop Star’s behest, Buddyguard thumps the photographer a few times. Chaos ensues as the Buddyguards muscle Pop Star through the crowd. Pop Star gets bad press, the photographer gets sympathetic press, and Buddyguard gets 15 minutes of fame and a criminal charge along the way. It was a productive night for all involved. The problems that can arise from the lack of professionalism in this example are obvious.
So, you just got that recording deal and you’re headed out on your Rockstar tour. Or maybe you’re a newly promoted CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Maybe you’re a Hollywood actor who just finished your first big movie, and now everyone knows you. You need security. Here’s what to look for in a professional protection specialist:
The downside is that these folks are focused on their mission. They won’t get distracted by partying with you, arranging hookers for you, arranging drug dealer transportation or taking your spouse shopping so you can partake in extracurricular activities. They won’t lose objectivity by becoming just another part of the entourage. These things just get everyone in trouble, sooner or later.
But you don’t want the killjoy bodyguard who just wants to protect you? Okay, here’s what you want when hiring your Buddyguard:
Returning to the original dilemma, it was politely explained to Mr. Diplomat what the ramifications of his ill-advised escapade would be if he were recognized or caught in a very, shall we say, awkward situation. After some thought, he decided that maybe an evening in with the family was a better choice.
Helping the boss make good choices and avoiding a whole bunch of drama? Priceless.
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