When to Hire a Personal Security Team

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You've probably put a lot of thought into security for your expensive office equipment — locks, alarms, maybe an overnight security guard. But do you have a plan to protect yourself? Learn to assess, address and minimize the risks to your personal safety.

OVERVIEW [top]

When members of an activist organization hit Microsoft founder Bill Gates in the face with a pie a few years ago, security experts cringed. That pie could have been a knife or a gun. The incident exemplifies the risks posed to entrepreneurs. You don't need Gates' wealth to be in danger. Yet most entrepreneurs pay more attention to computer protection than their own.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • How to assess your risk and determine whether you need a security team.
  • How to hire security personnel or personal protection.
  • Ways to minimize the risk on your own.

SOLUTION [top]

A changing economic climate in this country resulting in layoffs or bankruptcies creates risk, according to Corwin Noble, founder of Portland, Ore.-based executive security firm Noble Ltd. Workplace violence is on the rise. The public's awareness, perception of wealth, even the executive's political views are liabilities, Noble says. Bodyguard protection can cost up to $1,200 a day, and a security system is also costly; but these costs are nothing compared to lost business or injury or even loss of life.

Entrepreneurs often minimize the risks facing them. Yet security considerations should be a part of your overall operations plan. A thorough evaluation of your workplace and the risks that confront you will help to determine how to respond to security needs.

Ideas for dealing with potentially violent employees can be found in Quick-Read, "Avoiding Workplace Violence," and ideas for dealing with safety threats from outside can be found in "Keeping Your Employees Safe at Work."

Six ways to assess your risk and determine whether you need a security team

  1. Evaluate your public exposure. Are you constantly speaking to civic organizations or conducting business seminars? Are you featured prominently in the business community? Do you often see your name in the news? Are you outspoken about your political views? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are in a public arena and one that poses risk to your physical safety and the safety of your family and employees.

  2. Consider your physical accessibility. How close can people get to you? What type of people do you work with? Do you conduct thorough background checks on all your employees? The closer people can get to you, the more risk you have of physical harm.

  3. Identify your financial ranking. Many emerging-growth entrepreneurs have limited cash in hand, but the public views them as instant millionaires. Perception is all that matters. If you're perceived to be wealthy, that's enough information to motivate an action against you.

  4. Evaluate the corporate climate. What's going on in your office? Have there been lay-offs? Do you have employees suffering from domestic violence? Tensions in the workplace are a significant indicator of personal risk.

  5. Consider office location. A workplace that is offset from the sidewalk and surrounded by landscaping offers greater protection that one that is located right on the street.

  6. Study your security plan. Do you have one? You need one. Look at what you are doing currently to protect yourself, your employees and the office. Is your staff trained to handle difficult clients? Do you have a closed-circuit-television monitoring system and alarms with panic buttons?

How to hire security personnel or personal protection

  1. Talk to insiders. Network with other executives to compile a list of reputable individuals or agencies.

  2. Make anonymous inquiries. Once you've come up with a list of names, have your representative request materials to be sent to a post office box or other private address. You want unbiased information, and you want to keep the process quiet.

  3. Interview. Select firms or individuals based on the material you receive, and set up a meeting. Look for a compatible personality in someone with expert technical skills. These people should be detail oriented and geared toward helping you develop proactive, preventative security strategies, whether it be an office alarm system or bodyguard protection.

  4. Ask about experience. Question them about the types of clients they've worked for and the situations they've encountered. If the interviewee is quick to name clients, this could be a warning. Make sure your confidentiality will be protected. In many cases, clients grant permission for the security firm to disclose names. The people you interview should make this clear.

  5. Ask about hypothetical situations. Create a hypothetical situation based on actual company events or occurrences, and ask the interviewee how he would handle that situation. Does his response make sense? Is it a generic approach?

  6. Consider culture. Whoever you hire whether for specific events or around-the-clock protection, the security provider needs to understand your company and culture. They must be able to adapt their experiences to your environment.

Methods of minimizing your own risk

  • Be unpredictable. Human beings like routines and patterns, and so do those intending to do you harm. Vary the route you take home, the times you leave, and the places you frequent.

  • Be aware. Look around you, when you're walking to the car. Pay attention when people approach you. Be aware of strangers and uncomfortable situations.

  • Limit access and exposure. Is your personal residence listed in the phone book? Have you trained your receptionist to handle difficult people? By controlling those with whom you are in contact and how contact is handled, you control the risk.

  • Trust your instincts. If you feel nervous or uncomfortable, pay attention to that feeling and get out of the situation. Our instincts are a natural warning system — don't ignore them.

  • Control personal information. You will minimize the risks posed to you and your family if you control the amount of information you give out, particularly to strangers or employees. Guard the information and protect yourself.

  • Develop a relationship with local law enforcement officials. Call up the chief of police, the sheriff or whoever leads your precinct. Introduce yourself, tell them about your business and ask for crime prevention materials. Check in with them periodically.

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]

Don Edwards (not his real name) didn't think of himself as at risk until it was almost too late. After spending five years working on building a solid business in graphic software, he had finally found a product and a market that clicked. Taking the company public in 1998, and then selling that company to Microsoft a year later, drew a significant amount of press about the "local boy who made good." But then soon after the article ran, he began to receive threatening letters demanding money. "You never think of yourself as being high profile enough to have something like this happen to you. The deal with Microsoft was public, so you could read about how much I was worth in the newspapers; but even so I never thought about getting extra security for myself or my family."

Edwards moved his family and hired a security team to provide 24-hour protection of his house. The FBI tried to trace the letters, but no one was caught. "It's creepy knowing that someone is out there watching you, wanting to hurt you, but I guess that's the world we live in."

Edwards suggests that any executive should give some thought to personal security as a precaution.

Interesting tidbit:
K&R industry noun, the growing number of personal-security companies that offer so-called kidnap-and-ransom insurance — costly policies that, in the event of a kidnapping, provide ransom money and the services of a professional negotiator — to high-risk clients, such as foreign-based CEOs and bankers, famous people, and the super-rich: "International kidnapping has become an emblem for the 90s.… [an American man's] kidnapping [in Colombia] … sheds light on one of the world's murkiest legitimate businesses — you can read more on Kidnapping and ransom insurance at … K&R industry (Vanity Fair). [Excerpted from "Word Watch" by Anne H. Soukhanov, The Atlantic online, Aug. 1998.]

DO IT [top]

  1. Assess your risk. List your points of public exposure, workplace issues and attitudes, and publicly shared views that could be controversial.

  2. Evaluate the physical structure of your office and home. Is your office easy for an intruder to access? Do you have a safe room in your home, a place you can gather and deadbolt the door in the event of problems? Consider what rooms pose the greatest access and risk of exposure.

  3. Develop a security plan. Write down what equipment and strategies you use to protect employees, your family and yourself.

  4. Start an anonymous inquiry. Compile a list of security firms or individuals. Have your attorney or other representative telephone several firms and ask them to send information.

  5. Choose a security consultant to come in to your office, assess your personal risk and develop a report with recommendations detailing how you should respond to that risk.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker (Dell, 1999). Chapter 9: "Occupational Hazards."


Internet Sites

Are You Being Stalked? Tips for Protection. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, revised 2001.

Security Recommendations for Stalking Victims. Los Angeles Police Department / Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, revised 2000.

Buyer's Guide: Guard Services Sub-Categories. American Society for Industrial Security.


Article Contributors

Writer: Polly Campbell

The following people were interviewed for this article:
Patrick Donaldson, Forbes & Associates, Inc. 503-460-0595
Corwin Noble, Noble LTD; noble-ltd@noble-ltd.com
Neil Solomon, vice president technical services, Guardsmark, Inc. 901-522-6000

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