In an interview with EP Wired, executive protection architect and entrepreneur, Christian West shares his experience and insights honed over more than two decades in the industry. Find out what the future holds for the EP industry and for anyone looking to have a successful career in this business.
How much has the executive protection landscape changed over the past 25 years? Also, what are the biggest differences in terms of services and threats now compared to two and half decades ago?
Almost everything has changed.
One small example: Back then there were very few corporate EP teams, and we figured a lot of things out as we did the job. Now, there are many corporate teams, and although we are a long way from any kind of standardization in the industry, there is more of a shared focus on the quality of EP programs. Teams used to be very isolated; now there’s much more communication between them and within the industry.
With your global experience, what are some the most challenging locations? To what extent do cultural differences impact the services you provide?
Local cultures are always a big factor, knowing how to work in them matters, and I suppose everyone has his or her preferences in that regard.
But I think understanding and adapting to our corporate clients’ cultures is even more important than thinking about foreign cultures. Everything comes down to WHO the client is and WHAT they are they trying to do. A client with unrealistic expectations going to a relatively simple destination can be much more difficult to work with than a client with realistic expectations going almost everywhere.
If you develop a deep relationship with a client, why is it such a big no-no to cross the line into personal relations?
That’s a question not enough EP professionals think about. Let’s remember three things:
- Our clients rarely need to pay for their friends.
- If a client favors a certain agent over others, it’s bad for the team. Since EP is a team sport, it’s bad for the client’s protection program, which is why we’re there in the first place.
- The person who becomes the favorite usually has a short-lived career. Being the favorite doesn’t last forever, and favorites don’t usually have an easy return to being just a “normal” agent, so it’s not a great career move, either.
I talk much more about the “favorite” syndrome and how to stay clear of it or even manage it, if necessary, in my blogs and books.
There are a lot of bad seeds when it comes to both practitioners and trainers. What advice would you have for someone who’s trying to find a course to sharpen their skills?
Anyone considering taking an EP course needs to consider seriously what they want to get out of the course. Hard skills? Soft skills? Employable skills? Skills that matter to EP managers? Certifications? Learning more about something you are already good at, or something new you need to get better at?
Then you need to research what the schools can give you – both the things I just mentioned, the things that can help you reach your goals, but also some really important intangibles like a better network that can actually lead to good jobs.
It’s rare that a school gives you the tools that you need to have to get promoted. I have yet to hear about anyone in the EP industry who got a promotion or landed a great job based on how good they shoot. Still, but plenty of agents continue to take shooting courses.
As we grow as agents and as an industry, we need to think seriously about how we train. If we want to get rid of the bad apples in the training industry, end-users need to make better choices. This starts with thinking through your goals, doing your research, and making sure you get value for your money.
What words of wisdom would you now have for a 25-year-old Christian West looking to start his executive protection career? What are your commandments of EP?
I’m not sure I’m ready to announce any commandments, but if I could give a younger version of me as someone running an EP company some advice, I think it would be something like this:
- Believe in yourself: There are always plenty of doubters around willing to slow you down, but if you have a good product and believe in yourself, go for it.
- Never forget the importance of communication: It matters in your relationships with your colleagues and your clients. It matters to how you market your company. It matters in how you turn your vision into reality and get things done.
- Build a strong base of middle managers: There aren’t a lot of great positions available for middle managers in the EP industry, but that doesn’t mean they are not important. Middle managers are the ones who become senior managers, so in order to have enough of the right kinds of people when the need for them arises, you have to build your base.
What does the future have in store for executive protection over the next ten years? What are some new trends that we can expect to see? How will the EP agent of the future look?
That’s another great question, but we don’t have time to get into everything right here. If we tighten the focus down to the next ten months rather than ten years, then a few things do pop up in my mind as the world comes back from varying forms of CORONA shutdown.
On the client side, I think we’re going to see some developments that will have significant consequences for our industry in the short term. Our principals will start traveling again, and we’ll at some point get quite busy just keeping up with them as they start visiting all over the world again. At the same time, I think we’ll see that many EP principals, just like many other people, have discovered that they can also get a lot done from home. So, the importance of residential security, which sometimes has a lower priority than protection out in public, will grow.
On the EP agent and vendor side, I think we will continue to see the importance of career planning. The industry is growing, there will be more people than ever involved in it, and if we want to attract and retain talent, we’re going to need to get better at developing talent on our own. All these well-trained agents aren’t going to fall from the sky, so training will have to get better, too.
There’s plenty to do!