Terrified, haggard and frostbitten, Karen McMullan refused to give police the details of her ordeal until she knew her husband Kevin was safe. Twenty–four hours earlier, men dressed as police officers had talked their way into the McMullan’s home. Once inside, they held a gun to the head of Kevin Mc Mullan, the assistant bank manager for Northern Bank in Belfast, Ireland, and explained that he would help them carry out a daring robbery. To ensure his cooperation they kidnapped his wife. At the same time just a few miles away, armed men entered the home of another bank employee, supervisor Chris Ward and conscripted him into their plan by taking his mother, father, brother and brother’s girlfriend hostage. Per the kidnappers’ instructions, the next evening Mc Mullan and Ward used their security passes to enter Northern Bank’s inner vault and packed up bags of banknotes. The cash was loaded into a white truck and driven away. Hours later, Karen McMullan staggered out of a forest into the first house she found.
In the case of Northern Bank, the use of McMullan and Ward families in that December 2004 robbery cost approximately $ 50 million – and that is just thieves’ take. Add to that that the public relations costs (worldwide headlines, inquiries by the prosecutors and British intelligence) and the tab runs considerably higher. So solid executive protection can pay for itself in the long run.
Large corporations are paying millions of dollars a year to protect their C- level executives, particularly the CEO. That personal security includes everything from computerized home systems to use of company aircraft domestically and internationally, both for business and personal matters. The threats facing an executive vary widely depending on the size of the company, the industry it belongs to and the individual executive’s profile.
Targeted sectors such as the financial services, pharmaceutical and energy industries, and those with executives based overseas, worry about kidnapping, carjacking, mail-borne explosives, biological agents and international terrorism. Threatening letters and e-mails and workplace violence fill out the list.
On the ground, one of the most important pieces in an executive’s security team can be the driver–often more of a chauffeur commando than a mere wheel jockey. After analyzing hundreds of attacks on public figures from 1970 to 2000, the majority happened while the victims were in or around their cars. A trained security driver adds an extra layer of protection. If a CEO is ever attacked while on the go, “that driver may be the only real protection the executive has at the moment”.
If a trained driver had been on the job, things might have gone differently for financier Edward Lampert in 2003. Abducted from his company parking garage, the ESL Investments Chairman was held for ransom for a little less than 2 days, until convincing his captors to release him.
What are the risks? Business executives aren’t targeted for assassination as often as other prominent individuals. Of 436 successful attacks on public figures worldwide from 1970 to 2000, 68% of the targets were politicians and government officials, and just 6% were business executives. However, when kidnapping is the aim, their proportion rises. Of 65 kidnapping incidents where a public figure was the target, 31% were executives, behind government officials at 42%.
While perks such as country club memberships have gone away as shareholders increasingly criticized executive privileges during the economic downturn, personal security is one of the few that has remained constant among Fortune 100 companies, according to Equilar, a California firm that tracks executive compensation.
Some companies spend millions safeguarding their executives according to regulatory fillings. Las Vegas Sands spent $ 3.2 million on security for CEO Sheldon Adelson and his immediate family last year. Online retailer Amazon spent $ 1.6 million to protect CEO Jeff Bezos, and Oracle spent $ 1.5 million on protection for CEO Larry Ellison’s California residence in 2013.
Like many defense contractors and large corporations, Lockheed Martin spends hundreds of thousands of dollars ensuring its top executives are safe. For example to keep Robert Stevens safe during his last year as CEO Lockheed spent $ 1.3 million then another $ 407,000 the following year while Stevens stayed on as a strategic advisor because he was named as an Al – Qaeda target.
The term “executive protection specialist” should tell you all you need to know about the evolution of executive security details. That’s the difference between a bodyguard and a protection professional: One specializes in muscles and guns and the other may be less physically imposing but is better prepared to identify threats before they materialize.
Today’s protection professional also has to be a mirror image of his client in professional dress and demeanor. You need to know how to walk, dress and talk like your executive–blending into the executive’s environment is critical to ensuring his/her safety and minimizing the impact of a security detail on his daily life. The physical skills necessary to do protection can be taught, but the dedication, discretion and integrity necessary to do the job well are often hard to find. This job is not for everyone… make a smart choice!
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