What I do as an Executive Protection Specialist

Tell us about your current position, and how long you’ve been at it.

Currently, I work as an Executive Protection Specialist, for a high net worth businessperson in Southern California. EP Specialist would be the technical name for what most people would call a “body guard [sic].” Although, most us know that this particular phrase does not do us justice, in terms of what our job entails. As most professional books about protective security will tell you, your mind is your most important resource, not your muscle.

I must state that there are different types of EP. The field ranges from high-threat protection over seas with well-armed teams, to corporate EP where a medium size team works to protect the principal, to celebrity security where only one EP specialist is enlisted to protect a principal. The flavor of EP I’m describing here, could be characterized as corporate EP.

I’ve been in my current position for 3 years. When I was hired, my security experience was somewhat limited (military, emergency medical training, political science degree, etc.). Therefore, for my first position, I worked in the “Command Center (GSOC).” As with most EP jobs, the least experienced people start by working in an operations center that supports the protective team 24-hours a day. Only after someone becomes competent in this area, do they move on to working in “the field.”

In my three years in my current position, I’ve conducted security for our principals at concerts, sporting events, speaking engagements, domestic travel, and minimal foreign travel. I've also conducted risk assessments relating to travel intelligence and threat case management. Online investigations are a significant part of this job too.

What drove you to choose your career path?

There were two primary factors that influenced my decision to take this path. First, there was a “push” factor. As a 21 year old political science major, Marine Corps Reservist, and OCS Candidate, I had a crisis. In political science, we call the presentation of information that conflicts with your preexisting beliefs, cognitive dissonance. And that was the at the center of my crisis.

After I had completed my first session of Platoon Leader’s Class (USMC Officer Candidate School), I had started to ask myself tough questions about US foreign policy. In fact, there was one statement at PLC Juniors that stuck in my head, until this day. A 20-something year old 1st Lieutenant stood in front of my PLC Company and gave a lecture in which he asked, “What purpose do wars serve?” he went on to explain “Wars are fought over political objectives.” And in this obvious and simple statement, I began losing my interest in a military career. Needless to say, when I returned to OCS for PLC Seniors a year later, I was kicked out in week 5 (of 6). The Commanding Officer of OCS, Colonel Whatever, told me that he had no doubt that I would successfully complete my training at OCS, but I did not have the right “character” (attitude) that they were looking for.

Once I had burned that bridge so to speak, I narrowed my prospects to (A) working for a research institution/think tank or (B) corporate security/Executive Protection. Then comes the pull factor. I will be completely honest. Executive protection just sounded cool, and I knew the money would be half-decent. So, I reached out to an old Marine co-worker that did EP, and he got me started in the right direction with readings and training courses.

How did you go about getting your job as an Executive Protection Specialist? What kind of education and experience did you need?

When my interest in EP was first sparked, I emailed a Marine that I had served with, that worked in EP. I asked him what I could do to become a good candidate for an EP position. He gave me a list of books to add to my Executive Protection Reading list, along with a series of courses to consider taking. After reading about 5 of the books he recommended, and dropping 2,000$ on an EMT Certification course, I had my first interview for an EP related position. I interviewed for an opportunity to work in the EP team’s operations center (GSOC), and I got the job.

My education at the time looked like this: military police in the USMCR (6 years), B.A. political science, EMT certified, junior martial arts instructor, and minimal private security experience (and of course I had a guard card, exposed firearm permit, and a CPR card).
One more thing, after working in the Command Center for about 9 months, and mastering that aspect of our work, I shelled out about $4,000 to pay my own way though a reputable 7-day EP course. After taking this course, I was given the opportunity to work in "the field," and eventually act as detail leader for events.

Did you need any licenses or certifications?

It will vary from state to state. In California, anyone employed in a security guard role, is required to have a “Guard Card.” This is a license issued by California, giving you their permission to work as a security guard (or similar role). For this license, you pay a couple hundred dollars and sit through a 3 hours course. At the end of the course, you take a short exam, then you get the license in the mail four weeks later. It is a joke, like many other licenses. That is the only legal requirement, the rest is up to your hiring manager’s discretion. However, you will need more than that to impress your a manager.

It’s not required, but I earned my Emergency Medical Technician license and I recommend others do the same. This is the required license to work in the US as an EMT. Having this training demonstrates fairly significant knowledge in assessing patients and providing pre-hospital medical care. This is one of those certifications that can make you stand out from the pack. At a minimum, most EP positions will require a CPR/AED certification from AHA.

Another license that can be important (not always) is a CCW permit. Having one may impress some employers, others it will not. Some employers won’t care if you have one, because they can always help you get one in the future, if you need it. Which is why I do not emphasize this. The hiring manager cares more about hiring someone with good judgement, than someone who thinks he or she is a cowboy.

What misconceptions do people often have about your job?

The popular misconceptions about EP Specialists, is that they are big, knuckle-dragging neanderthals. That’s not the case.

Celebrity EP might be the exception, but celebrities have their own tastes and preferences. There is a place/role in EP for protectors that are physically large and intimidating. However, this is not the same in corporate EP, which is my focus. Celebrities preference for a particular looking bodyguard could be compared to their preference for one style of handbag to show off. It’s part of the show.

There is much more to EP, than just a goon with a pulse, looking over your shoulder. I am not down playing the importance of the celebrity EP role. However, I would like to point out that no one sees the behind the scenes physical and emotional labor that it costs to support a protective team. This includes travel intelligence, protective intelligence investigations, managing threat cases, coordinating logistics for the principal, and more.

What are your average work hours?

Generally, I work 50-60 hours per week. I am off for two non-consecutive days, but I could get “asked” to come in on my day off or “asked” to come in early on other days. Hours are generally some combination of day shifts or night shifts. There are occasional 70-80 hour weeks, but these are rare with a fully staffed team.

What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?

Tip #1: Invest some of your time in reading and learning about interpersonal communication theory/application. This will come in handy when you have to inevitably work with strong personalities on your team, outside your team, and more. Until my current role, I had never had any significant conflicts with vendors, co-workers, or others. But, I managed to finally meet people that I find very difficult to work with. I have found books such as “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and related books to be helpful in navigating these waters.

Tip#2: The best way to avoid questions about your security team/practices from those outside of the program, is to play dumb. When you're approached and asked questions, the easiest route to take is to act ignorant. If some schmuck thinks you're an idiot, that’s not going to hurt you. What’s going to hurt you is playing the role of the cool-guy body guard and giving out sensitive information that an adversary can use.

What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?

The most enjoyable part is traveling to areas that I might not otherwise go to. In addition, I enjoy reading and conducting research. Open source intelligence collection and analysis is a big part of my job. And this is the aspect that I am most intrigued by. I have a knack for writing, so when I get the opportunity to present my findings, whether travel intelligence, or the conclusions of an investigation, I enjoy putting original ideas on paper and giving meaning to the jumble of data. I have my inner political science student to thank for this.

Do you have any advice for people who need to enlist your services?

My best advice is to speak with a reputable organization the provides protective services and consulting. You should get a through assessment of your specific situation before moving ahead with any kind of protective scheme. There may not even be justification for protective security in your particular case, or maybe security is not the best way to mitigate your threats. Big players in the industry are AS Solution, LaSorsa & Associates, Gavin de Becker & Associates, and others.

How do you “move up” in your field?

First, you need to put your job before your social life. This is a controversial statement, but in my experience it is completely true. Whether you’re the most senior or the most junior EP specialist, you will be asked to come in early (and stay late) on the days you’re scheduled to work, and then asked to come in on the days you’re not scheduled to work. Even EP Managers have to answer phone calls from the Principals and the GSOC in their “off time.”

Second, you must continue pursuing professional development, even if you are working long hours. If you are not learning something new, you are falling behind the rest of the pack. Professional development might be reading security literature, learning a new skill, or teaching a skill. You must be eager to learn. This holds true for those advancing from working in the GSOC, to working as an EPS in the field, and for the EPS in the field that wants to move up to managing the EP team.

What do people under or over value about what you do?

People under value the extensive research & preparation required to support a protective security program. At whatever event principals attend, detailed assessments have been conducted ahead of time. Not only are security staff present at the event, but there is also a GSOC monitoring all of the open source media relating to the event/location, in real-time. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?

I advise that aspiring EP professionals find someone that does it for a living, then go out for coffee with them, asking every question you can think of (including what they don't like about the job). If you find that you are still interested, then start building up your security IQ: read these (Executive Protection Reading list), take courses, join the military (will boost resume), join *law enforcement (will boost resume, but LE is not the same as EP, hence the asterisk), and get an education.

What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?

Starting out, working in a GSOC, one can expect to make roughly $60,000-80,000/yr (with overtime). With a couple years experience working in the field, an EP Specialist can expect to make $80,000-100,000/yr. And after significant experience, the manager of an EP program can expect to make $100,000-250,000/yr.

Thanks for reading. Never miss an update by signing up for the EP Nexus Newsletter – Click Here.


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.

Sign up for the newsletter to receive premium content and monthly updates.