[Full Audio] Aspiring Professionals & Asset Protection, With Ilya Umanskiy

My latest conversation with Ilya Umanskiy was even more insightful than the first, especially as it relates to topics concerning aspiring security professionals. We discussed some big topics to include the following:

  • Personal branding for security professionals, social media use, and Gary Vee
  • Perspectives on certification & long term professional development
  • The role of applied psychology in client interaction and the organization
  • How Ilya and his asset protection peers evaluate talent
  • And much more!

Listen to our full interview below or control-F through the (nearly) full transcript at your leisure. Cheers!





*Prefer to listen on Youtube instead? [LISTEN HERE]


Dialogue Transcript (With Links)

*Note: This transcript covers about 70% of our dialogue


Considerations During Grad / Undergrad

Ilya: The first question that you posed to me is, what should aspiring professionals consider during undergrad and grad. And I had to pause for a little bit just to get my grips with the right answer. Because I think that there’s something about, what I call the “bias of focused curiosity” that prevents a lot of young and aspiring professionals from really flourishing in our profession, and also from getting engaged at the right level and building the right skill set. It seems that there is something to be said about the quality of their studies. They dive in, they look at very specific subject matters that are guided by their professors or their instructors.

They may concentrate on a few topics that are relevant to the core subject matter that they are studying, but what happens with that that they lose the bandwidth of visibility of other very interesting and very important areas that build their skillset. As an example, I just gave a talk at John Jay College, and a lot of people are in fraud investigations and forensic accounting disciplines. So, guess what they talk about? They talk about forensic accounting and fraud investigations. That’s their discussions, and it occupies 80% - 90% of their time. Both in college and outside. Of course, they have hobbies and things that are personal to them, but then to build their skill set, they are not looking at related disciplines such as design.

There is a lot to be said about ethical behavior in design, and it is becoming a hot topic right now. So, if they don’t look at it, they kind of lose perspective, a perspective that is going to be necessary. The more we talk about cases like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, and a few others that are coming to the fore. That’s the stuff that I had to think about, and that’s the one thing that I would like to point out to those that would listen to us: don’t just be guided by your direct area of study, your discipline, always try to look laterally at other disciplines and collect as much knowledge from those as possible because that information/knowledge will come in handy down the road.

Travis: I was thinking, there’s another way that focused curiosity fits in. I was reading a book by an entrepreneur named Ricardo Semler, and he was talking about how in his organization they have a particular program, where they let junior employees / recent graduates move around from department to department, to experiment and broaden their interests, and find out what they’re most interested in. And he made the observation, that recent graduates don’t have enough experience to decide what they’re going to do for the next 20 or 30 years. And for focused curiosity, if they become so focused on just that one area… there’s probably a 20% chance or greater that many of them studying fraud investigations now, may not even be interested in it 4 or 5 years from now. So, it helps in more ways than one to broaden that focus in our own education.

Ilya: Yeah, I totally agree. Even earlier today I was listening to an interesting talk, that I just posted on my LinkedIn feed between Yuval Noah Harari and Thomas Friedman. Where both agreed, as prolific as they are in their own right, that this “continual learning” and “wide spectrum learning” is becoming ever so prominent. I mean, if you think back to your own background, we’ve all had exposure to either sports or arts, or both. We’ve all read different types of books. We’ve interfaced with people from different walks of life. A lot of that happens in our high school years and maybe even our middle school years, until we get to college. Yes, there is definitely a place to be focused, but I fear that we’re not spending enough time to learn laterally. So, I couldn’t agree more.


Long Term Professional Development

Travis: There’s one other thing that I was thinking about, and I think this is an issue with a lot of people that are in the same position as me – junior in their careers and figuring out their long-term professional development. And that’s this: when is the right time to pursue certifications and when is the time to go out and pursue advanced degrees / master’s programs? That’s one area where people like me kind of struggle in.

Ilya: Well, I would say this: having attained some certifications myself, the younger you are, the hungrier you are, the more flexible you are with your time, that’s when you go for the toughest certifications that you can possibly attain. It’s my personal opinion, but I’m also speaking from the experience of being a family man. And when I have to say, ok here are my two children, 8 and 14 now. And when I say, “Do I spend enough time with my kids and my family, just being a human?” And the answer in most cases is “no.”

And I don’t spend enough time. As I evaluated my personal situation and I started looking back at some of the younger professionals, our peers who are going up the ranks and looking for opportunities in our field, I noticed that being a parent / being a family man certainly affects your chances of devoting a lot of time to certifications and devoting a lot of time to difficult tests.

And as I said, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) is certainly not an easy preparation in and of itself, and also it’s not an easy exam to take. So, I wish that I had more time today to be able to do it. I wish I had more opportunities, let’s say 10 or 15 years ago to have done it, and more guidance 10 or 15 years ago to have done it. So, for young and aspiring professionals, I always say, if you able to ascertain which fields you’re deeply connected with, not just to get a certification just because, but what gives you meaning, what inspires you… the earlier you get certified in those fields the better because then life changes.

And I think being a family man, having children, being devoted to your family is certainly an aspect that one will have to consider and grapple with when they have to evaluate, “what is the next step in my career development, in my education, and in my certification?” The sooner you start the better, I feel.

Travis: Those are really good considerations because in all the material that I consume, no one ever really talks about their professional development in terms of their overall life goals, such as family and stuff like that. So, that’s a really good consideration that plays a bigger role than just our careers.

One more thing that I was thinking about: are there any degree programs that particularly stand out to you and your colleagues, as you evaluate new employees?


Degree Programs?

Ilya: I couldn’t stress a degree in psychology strongly enough. Now, I just use my own experience. It took me about 10 years before I got to a point where I asked myself,

“Why can’t I motivate People? Why can’t I engage with clients and help them move forward with their recommended security solutions, or risk management solutions? Why is it that people fail to execute on certain things?”

And I must confess, there was little discussion in professional circles about the degree to which our psychological system, our behavior, is related directly to our ability to see certain things going in the right direction and execute on certain things, or decide against them. And a lot of people will decide against rational choices. So, I can’t stress at least some study in psychology strongly enough.

Another thing that comes to mind in my view, particularly because of the way that the world works today, is an understanding of design principals. A lot of organizations are starting to reassess what design means. And there are a lot of thought leaders, for example like Don Norman and Mike Monteiro, who talk about the prolific impact that design has on our everyday life. And just literally in the last hour and a half, I read a new post from McKinsey & Company that talks about how organizations that are design oriented, and where design plays a major role, outperform the S&P500 by 219%.

So, take Apple, you take the likes of Apple and just look at what they’ve done being a design oriented organization. It is a huge difference, and so we as professionals, again to my earlier point, we sometimes are a bit locked into our professional field and we don’t consider how design affects our daily routines, and sometimes strategies. So, those are the two things that I would certainly highlight.

And needless to say, we’ve always talked about degrees in political science and international affairs as being highly useful simply because of the recipient’s ability to assess things that go above and beyond just the boarders of the United States (or whatever country they come from). Having a worldly knowledge is a huge plus, being able to understand different cultures. But again, that’s something that I would find useful, but also it’s something that can enhanced when a person starts in their role, and depending which company they end up with (but also depending what kind of mentor they have at their place of employment).

Travis: Thanks, that’s a really important perspective. At least for me, my thinking is kind of narrow when I think about psychology. It’s either, I need to know about psychology to interact with people and for influence and for sales, and that kind of thing.  Or that psychology is important just to do investigations and assess the behavior of potentially violent people. But that’s (what you said) is a great way to look at it too, because for any leader in the organization they have to be familiar with all of those basic communication principals to win over their leadership or to win over their subordinates (for lack of a better word).

Ilya: Well, I’ll give you a direct example, just recently where I had an active case. and it was related to an UHNWI. And there was a visible disparity between how, let’s say one of the partners in marriage thought about their degree of savvy about security versus the other. Because I questioned both of them at the same time and each gave me a completely different scale of how savvy they are, which was startling even for them both as they looked at each other in slight disbelief.

One of the key elements that I had to introduce to them was building tiny habits, and where do you think I got it? I didn’t get it from my education with John Jay and nor did I get it anywhere through my certifications. I had to read up on the designs of human behavior and psychology. And when I stumbled upon the work of BJ Fogg, PhD and a few others, that’s what prompted me to help them build routines, rather than think in strategic global terms of their protection.

I designed what I called, proudly so, an “ugly sticker.” I gave it to them and said, “You’re going to hate it, but because you’re going to hate it, and because it’s going to be visible to you every day, guess how your thinking is going to change. And this ugly sticker, is literally in your face and you will have to think – even for 2 seconds each day, that Ilya left me with this unfortunate present, but here I am learning how to be more vigilant.” It was that little trigger that I had to plant in their environment for them to start changing their frame of mind, the way they thought about their protection. And had I not learned some aspects of psychology, I would have completely missed it and I would have been just as mundane as any other person saying “Yeah, hire more guards, lock your doors, put some cameras up, and then walk away – and then give them a thick report at the end of it.

Travis: I think that’s hilarious because it’s such a small tool but it’s going to be so helpful for them in the long run.

Ilya: These are trivialities we’re talking about, but how many times have we all, as professionals, looked at those trivialities and sometimes we say, “Shoot, I should have done it a little bit differently, maybe I should have steered the person in a different direction just by changing a few minute things.” Or on the other hand, you’ll see something like – wait a second, I just did this little thing and because of it my client thanked me, and because of it I can see a positive change. And unfortunately, there is not a formal field of study within our profession, neither through ASIS or any other sources that I’m aware of, that helps us be proficient in these things. I had to take a step outside the industry and go learn these things elsewhere.


Gary Vee's Perspective & Asset Protection

Travis: I wanted to float this idea to you. So, there was a recent book that came out last month called “Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too” by Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary’s an internet entrepreneur (basically), and this is actually the second edition of a previous book. One of his big ideas is that he’s telling his audience that all of them, no matter what they do, whether they’re a lawyer or a doctor or whether they sell hotdogs or ice-cream, it doesn’t matter. He tells everyone that they need to be creating some kind of personal brand online by leveraging social media and just networking with others.

And I wanted to get your ideas about this because this is something that I’ve applied. Actually, when I first read his book almost two years ago, that was when I first started writing my blog. I was influenced by him. So, in the way that I applied what he was talking about: just creating a blog online, creating interesting content that’s helpful, going out there and engaging with people, and just being out there. For me, it was helpful, and it opened up a lot of opportunities. And then of course there are also disadvantages. Potentially it could be something that is disqualifying or something that an employer views in a negative way. There are certainly advantages and disadvantages, but I just wanted to get your take on Gary Vaynerchuk’s view on personal branding.

Illya: That’s a hugely important topic and a hugely important personality that you bring up. Gary, while he may come across sometime as being controversial, particularly being very straight-up and blunt, I think he ultimately, if you listen to his overall core message, he is absolutely right.

If you think about just the terminology of the last 5 to 7 years, guess what’s happening with our labor market & our job market. Everyone is using this one slogan: “gig economy.” Where freelancers and individuals in general, the act of selling your brain and your smarts to someone else is becoming ever more highlighted, even if you’re working in-house for an organization. Gary seems to be saying, at least as I understand it, don’t lose a chance of creating your own impact on the environment that you’re in and also branding it as yours, leaving a mark that has your name on it.

Why is that important? Because at the end of the day, we need to stop thinking that, when we go work in-house, that we’re more than a rented brain. We still are, each one of us is literally a rented brain. You either perform well, sometimes you perform so-so, and sometimes you don’t perform well for a variety of reasons. But you are providing input that is generated through your ideas, that’s generated through your understanding and through your knowledge. So, it is therefore rational and logical I feel, to build something that identifies you as a carrier of that knowledge. And so that’s why I applaud the efforts that you, yourself Travis, have been applying, in building your own platform, creating that outreach that has your name on it.

I am trying to do the same with Sphere State, just for reasons that it’s no longer viable to just be a part of the grey matter of the organization, where everybody is … to use a term, “sheeple.” We’re not. We bring color to any organization, no matter that we do, good or bad. And so, if you create something of your own that distinguishes you as a thinker, as a carrier of useful ideas, as a person that can contribute to an organization, it is only sensible to create something that speaks and carries your ideas forward.

It can be a personal website, or a blog, whichever. Like Brian Krebs for example, he writes a lot and everybody reads it. Bruce Schneier, same thing, he has created a brand for himself and he writes very interesting pieces both on his website and he provides narrative to various other organizations, like an article today to CNN. And so, those people have established themselves on their own, whether or not they go to work for other organizations, it doesn’t matter. It could be a collateral effect, or it could be one project that they decide work on. However, having that association with “you” as the author, with “you” as the thought leader, I think is ever so important. The younger you are in the profession, as long as you feel you have the skill set necessary, and if the mentors you have guide you, I think the sooner you start branding yourself the better.

Travis: And then I also think, in terms of a wider view, just individuals doing their own branding, and creating content, and reaching out to other professionals, it’s really not selfish in only helping them. It also helps their organizations in many ways. First, the individual theirself is learning more by going out and speaking with others – for example, for one of my recent collaborations, I worked with a gentleman from Florida (Larry Friese of AISC and you can read his full article here!) and he helped me produce a 10 page PDF about drone threats and countermeasures for people in executive protection (BTW, he did 99% of the writing). There’s almost no circumstances where I would run into someone like that on the street, if I didn’t have some kind of online outlet to connect with people like that. So, really it helps individual professionals become more developed and have more human capital to contribute to their organizations.

Ilya: And I can add to that. I think people, even now, underestimate the value of LinkedIn. I cannot say more praises to this platform. Even if we understand that this feed we receive each day is a bit curated based on your past clicks & interests, nonetheless, the spectrum of information you can learn and how other thinkers introduce both articles, publications, and video content from other sources – it saves you a tremendous amount of time, rather than going and seeking that information on your own.

It also opens up an outlet for those, and sometimes myself included, who feel that some ideas that they’ve been talking about are slightly stifled, if you will. Like yesterday, I was listening to a video, prolific, very interesting stuff, from a gentleman who is in the risk management profession, he’s a proper risk manager, talking about how the field is going in the wrong direction – and giving very poignant reasons for why that is. I wouldn’t have found it anywhere else, because he chose LinkedIn as a platform, and I think it’s the easiest outlet for someone in a professional capacity to share that idea and to exchange it with others.

I’ve found great value in just listening, observing how other people think, engaging with them as much as you like, and also sharing your perspective, offering ideas that you think give voice and an outlet to your core message. It think that platforms like LinkedIn and others are quite useful. I also see that a lot of discussions are happening on platforms like Medium. And some people don’t like to write a lot, so they stick to Twitter. I find that just interaction on social media is quite useful, and in many cases it is high-quality. And as long as you’re able to curate it, as long as you’re able to navigate through some of the noise on those platforms, you can find extremely valuable content.

Travis: You’re right, that’s one big part. Just being exposed to the amount of content, and such targeted content about risk management and investigations and etc. And then I think one other area that people don’t necessarily take advantage of right now…it also gives people the opportunity to reach out to basically any experienced person in their field. They can just directly message the CEO of the company and ask for their take on a particular issue or seek advice or related information.

Ilya: Agreed. I’ve done it on a number of occasions, particularly asking a number of practitioners that I respect, to offer some ideas about the industry both in private and publicly as we exchange in that forum. And I feel that it goes above and beyond all the events that are organized, because you can only make time available for so many events that you have to show up in person for, or even attend webinars, you can only make so much time. But in these smaller bits of exchange, I think people are careful to offer the most direct ideas and the most direct feedback. I think because of the limitation of each other’s time and respect for each other’s time, people try not to waste each other’s time. Again, I find it very, very useful.


On Certification

Travis: There’s definitely a lot to be gained from LinkedIn and other social sites like Medium and others. And that leads to another thing to talk about, which was viable certifications in our industry, and I’ll talk a little bit about my recent experience earning my CPP Certification.

So, I took a very pragmatic approach to it. I just read a handful of columns on LinkedIn about how to prepare for the CPP exam and reasons for earning that certification vs others. And I basically took the required material and then read about 100 pages per day for a month and a half and then took the exam. In the grand scheme, I really didn’t learn that much. I still would not say that I’m competent in things like physical security or information security or any of that stuff. It certainly opened my eyes up to a lot of different aspects, especially physical security standards, and design and tools and that kind of thing. So, it opened up my eyes to a lot of things, but I really feel like I didn’t learn as much as I thought I would and I definitely cannot say that I’m competent in all of the domains in their certification process.

Ilya: So, that is typically the case with a lot of these certifications. And by the way congratulations on getting your CPP, regardless of the volume of knowledge you were able to receive, you are better off because you studied and you still aggregated knowledge in the end. And CPP, continues to be one of the calling cards for the vast majority of security professionals and also talent recruiters in our market. So, it is certainly of value.

Now, you raised a very important point. As I said, for a lot of certifications that’s the case, and the more people I talk to that’s kind of the case, and for the talent that I direct to go get certified, that’s the feedback I get. That there is a very concerted effort that you apply in a short period of time to get ready for the test. There is also a very concerted effort and huge mental strain to take the test. After that, people forget to take a step back and ask themselves, just as you did, “How much of that information did I actually retain?” So, if I were to retest you a month from when you passed the exam, would you pass it again, without having to touch the books?

Travis:  I think it’s unlikely.

Ilya: Well, thanks for saying that, and I’m sure the replies will be different from person to person. Some people retain more, and some don’t.

Travis: Right. But I think another aspect of that is studying to the test. And what is on the test is not necessarily what asset protection professionals are doing on a daily basis.

Ilya: And here in lies another issue. And I’m not saying it’s so detrimental, but I think it’s something that many practitioners miss. I guess the question is, “to what degree do you front the certification to everyone including recruiters, as a sign that you’re all-knowledgeable about asset protection?”

If you simply apply, again human psychology, how the human brain works, it’s not so much that focused certification gets you to be all-knowledgeable, but it is the continual learning that actually gets you to be knowledgeable.

So, my challenge to young professionals is to not stop, to never switch off their brain, to always and again this question about branding yourself and social media interaction are so interconnected with the fact that you get certified (or that you aspire to get certified). Once you get the certification, don’t ever think, or at least I will hope you never think,

“Ok, I’m done. I got my certs. I’m now a great talent. I can now get hired and get a great job/great salary, and then go to a couple of breakfasts & dinners every once in a while for drinks with friends in the industry and talk war stories.”

Every bit of information that I found, as I continued to dig for different sources of info and different opinions/ideas have opened my eyes to something new, and sometimes created a challenge for my pre-existing beliefs. For example, I don’t believe in monumental, huge strategies in security. I don’t believe in that, I believe in smaller change. I also don’t believe the same in change management, I don’t believe in grand designs in change management. I believe in small, but concerted steps toward an objective. And how to change incrementally, rather than in one shot. And so, all of that came through continual search for ideas and information. That’s the challenge that I would offer to our peers in the industry: to constantly push yourself to seek that knew knowledge.

Just take a step back and ask yourself: ok I got my certs, if I retake that test in a month, if I retake it in 6 months, if I retake it in a year (or 5 or 10), will I pass? So, I’ll leave you with that thought...



Stay connected with Ilya and learn more about his big projects below:

Ilya Umanskiy on LinkedIn

Sphere State on Facebook


About the EP Nexus Blog

The EP Nexus executive protection blog, is a comprehensive resource for security professionals involved in executive protection, protective intelligence, threat assessment, and related fields.

Launched in March of 2016 as a resource for executive protection professionals, command center gurus, and close protection know-it-alls, EP Nexus is quickly becoming a resource for those seeking to quench their thirst for executive protection reading.

The most popular section of the blog is Executive Protection HacksEP Hacks is a series in which we address complex topics (one topic per issue) in a convenient collection of tools & writings. I am actively collaborating with industry leaders to produce future issues. If you're interested in taking an active approach in moving your industry into the future, contact me below.

Outside of EP Hacks, I explore the following topics in writings, tutorials, and webinars: online tools for executive protection professionals, open source intelligence investigations (OSINT), threat assessment, protective intelligence, travel security, and more.

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