At the Frontline: Executive protection expert W. Dennis Maez

Last month, the wife of an oil company executive in Houston was injured after she opened a package that turned out to be a pipe bomb. Authorities later determined that she was the intended target of the attack and not her husband.

The incident highlights the threats that executives and their families can face from external forces. Considering the ill will that the recession has generated towards the corporate world, experts say companies need to examine the security measures they have in place to protect their top executives.

According to W. Dennis Maez, president and principal consultant for Maez Security Consultants, protecting a company's top brass can also protect its bottom line, as incidents such as the kidnapping of an executive or their family can negatively influence business.

In this "At the Frontline," Maez, who has more than 20 years experience with the U.S. Secret Service and has helped protect two presidents, shares his insights on executive protection.

What are the steps companies need to take to ensure their executives' safety?

Contrary to what a lot of people think about executive protection, it is not just body guarding or putting a big burly guy next to someone and keeping the paparazzi away. Executive protection deals with advanced preparations, mitigating the risks and exposure of the individual you are charged to secure to make sure they are safe. That entails advanced preparation, whether you are talking about physical security around a residence to make sure intruders cannot get close to (the protected person) or technical security policies and procedures that would alleviate the possibility of a bomb even getting close to the person. Those are the things that are the difference between effective executive protection and just eyewash.

What needs to be done to ensure the safety of an executive's family?

A lot of times the executives are very, very well secured. So the way to get to an executive would be through his family, either his nuclear family, extended family or others he cares about. Consequently, you cannot have all sorts of elaborate protective measures for an executive and then just let the wife and children drive off in their personal vehicles and pretend that whatever threats my be directed towards your primary protectee do not filter down to their family. Again, you have to plan for mitigating measures and educate the family on basic protection philosophies such as taking different routes, not having the same routine and using different vehicles. A lot of it is intelligence driven. Intelligence is a very important part in protecting an individual, whether it is the president of the United States or the head of BP. You want to know who is angry and who is making threats, what kind or threats are being made and garner as much intelligence as you can.

What kinds of security measures need to be in place at an executive's home?

It depends on the threat level. One of the big problems is that sometimes you have an executive of a large corporation that is very low-key, very low profile and sometimes it is counter-productive to have a protective detail or drive around in a black (SUV) with blacked-out windows. Sometimes you can attract unwanted attention to your protectee. I think a lot of it has to do with the individual because there is not a one-size-fits-all (approach). For a very high-profile executive... all of the above (security strategies) may be appropriate including technical security measures such as cameras, access control, and physical security people, and setting up different levels of security to get into their offices and into their homes. It is driven by the individual's profile.

What kinds of challenges does travel present when it comes to executive protection?

Travel is kind of a double-edged sword. We have a lot of executives that travel to Latin America and fly on private aircraft. They do it because it is convenient to them. Their time is money and it is beneficial to them to be able to conduct meetings on their aircraft and not be dependent upon commercial airline schedules. But, flying into certain countries around the world in a shiny G4 attracts a lot of attention. That, in and of itself, can raise the security posture of the individual because of kidnapping issues.

In Mexico a few years back, at a general aviation airport that handled private jets, there was a group of individuals that were targeting people coming off of these jets. When they would leave the airport, (the group) would call some of their co-conspirators, give them descriptions of vehicles, how many people were in them and who the soft targets were so they could setup a roadblock and try to kidnap them or even just rob them. One of the issues that I've found is that certain companies will fly their executives around the world, spending thousands of dollars an hour to operate these private aircraft and don't take into consideration what their posture and their profile is going to be once they are on the ground and skimp on security at that point.

How has executive security changed over the years?

Security in general is a non-revenue generating part of any organization. It is a money spender, not a money maker. I think companies are now starting to see and have for probably the last 18 months, that even though security in a non-revenue generating part of any organization, it is a very important part and they are starting to realize that expenditures for security are not a luxury, they are a necessity. What a lot of organizations have come to realize is... if something happens to their senior management, it can affect the bottom line of their company. It can affect their stock value and it can affect the confidence that investors have in their company. The great of majority of companies that I've dealt with have really stepped up to the plate in terms of being very concerned about their employees and senior management's safety. Executive protection is not just about executives either. Executive protection could be protecting technicians of a company. Companies are now starting to realize they have to look out for the environment around these individuals as well.


 

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