For a new exclusive interview, EP Wired sits down with William Presson, Senior Manager of Global Protective Services at Oracle. Our interviewee has been active in the corporate EP sector for the past six years – after devoting over 30 years to the United States Marshals Service. He now enjoys discussing how we need more people with the title of security mentor and helping new leaders come to the forefront.
EP Wired: The latest world health crisis changed our industry considerably, thus intensifying competition for clientele and business. In this climate, how do you see new leaders emerging? What are the unique challenges they face amid fierce rivalry?
William Presson: Due to the pandemic, I’ve seen many people I know get out of the business after many years as leaders or contractors. The reasons relate to the demands of COVID protocols or restrictive lockdowns that killed their positions.
Many EP folks either went into something else or retired. However, other experienced EP people have taken on full-time work on new RST/EP details due to the rising demand for protection and are no longer available on the market.
Large security companies have bought out smaller high-performing companies that were agile in the EP business world, eliminating places where newer EP folks cut their teeth and learned the job. These small to medium-sized companies included initial training and orientation to their prospective new career. These companies fed a cadre of people who gained their experience in these smaller companies. Then, they moved on to other places taking their knowledge with them.
The challenge for people entering the business now is that many smaller companies that would bring them into the business and train them up are gone. They belong now to the larger corporations that have bought them out. Nowadays, even basic RST positions require some level of experience and qualifications. Basically, what I would call the mentorship class of people are mostly gone from EP.
Having a dedicated security mentor or any kind of mentorship opportunities in our industry seems paramount to advancing any EP company’s goals. Did you have a person who mentored you over the years, and how did this process flow?
Having a security mentor is vital to self-development and advancing the company’s goals. If new people coming into the EP business are properly coached and mentored, it will free up management from having to micromanage a person who can think for themselves and make good decisions.
I didn’t have a security mentor when I first entered this business. I was older than most of the people I worked with and knew it was OK to ask for help from those who were already doing this business. However, practicing humility helped me realize even after a long career in Law Enforcement, I needed different skills. I had hard skills, but I needed better soft skills.
Offering a personal example when at hand always seems invaluable. So, how often do you think leaders like yourself need to lend their hand to those less experienced?
When I was a United States Marshal, a federal Law Enforcement officer, I had the power and authority to tell people what to do for my job.
However, then I retired and moved on to the private industry. Thus, I had to learn to use influence, presence, soft skills and relate to others to get people to do what I needed. Fortunately for me, I was lucky enough to work with several teammates that helped me develop those skills through informal leadership on their part.
I think leaders need to constantly lend a hand and an ear to less experienced people. The idea is to develop your team so everyone can do the other person’s job. Any leader who is concerned with losing their job to another team member because they taught them the job and elevated their experience should remember this quote:
What happens if we train our people so well that they leave? And the boss responds: What happens if we don’t, and they stay?
Develop your team. Happy people make better, more motivated employees. In addition, good employees reflect on your leadership to your clients.
In the executive protection industry, it’s common knowledge that some feel “endangered” by up-and-coming EP managers and agents. How do you explain this? And what do you think we can all do to continue being transparent as an industry?
There are a lot of people I have experienced that felt they were threatened by up-and-coming EP agents. People who were legacy employees were now working with people who might be better educated. Or, might have different skill sets from the military or law enforcement.
These people stymie other individuals from holding onto their positions and power. The process must be top-down to fix this problem. Leadership must want good people and a solid team to work with. That means teaching your people how to do their job better or giving them opportunities to do it. That means disseminating relevant information everyone needs to make decisions.
Most organizations have limited mobility and promotional positions, primarily in the EP world. Being transparent about how you can be promoted to those positions and fair in your selection process will ensure happier people. In fact, they will stay longer and be more productive.
The Security Industry doesn’t view the EP industry as a profession in the United States. Most of the time, EP is a bastard child of Physical Security or Events Security rather than its own organization with a separate and distinctive leadership team. This leads to stagnation and turnover in an organization.
In other countries and Europe, industry standards exist to meet to practice this profession. There is a movement to codify professional standards in the USA through ASIS, ISO, and other recognized organizations for EP. Will it help? I can’t be sure, but professionalizing the organization will lead EP to be seen as a separate entity from security officers.
As a security mentor, what words of wisdom would you offer to aspiring managers and agents in the industry based on your experience so far?
This job isn’t for everyone. It’s part of a service industry, and a byproduct of our service is protection. But our job is to provide a service to our clients, to promote trust, confidence, and efficiency to our clients.
If you aren’t willing to serve people and be of service as the most basic tenant of this job, maybe you should investigate doing something else.
Learn your job. In fact, learn how everyone in the client’s staff is interrelated to your success. Things like what they do and how they can help you be more efficient.
Remember, the Executive Assistant may be more valuable to your client because of daily relationships with them. So, treat everyone with respect and be professional. You never know when you’ll be dependent on them.
So, I will tell you a story to reinforce this.
The Unexpected Security Mentor
I was working an RST for a client who had many high-end cars he liked to be chauffeured in, cars I’d never driven.
One morning I had to drive my client in his new Mercedes S550 armored sedan. I had never driven one before and didn’t know how to use it. Fortunately, I was friendly with the man they hired to wash and clean all the client’s cars. He knew, of course, how to drive the car as he moved all of them around for maintenance and cleaning. He gave me a quick 20-minute tutorial on how to operate the vehicle. Thus, I could pull off driving the car like I knew what I was doing.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about what a security mentor is and this subject. First, we must promote professionalism in EP. The reason is that we need to differentiate ourselves from the security guards so many big-box security companies provide at a low cost, from training to doing more specialized work and maintaining various skills and licenses.