The Changing Dynamics of Executive Protection in Silicon Valley and Beyond: An Interview with TorchStone SVP Mark Lex
What are your general observations of today’s security industry?
Industrial security was originally formed from military and law enforcement precepts and personnel, but many of those foundational security solutions are rapidly changing to adequately address today’s business risks. An increase in flat organizational structures is driving a demand for contracted experts because programs are typically understaffed, and Security Directors are operating as an “Army of One.” To meet clients’ ever-expanding needs and business portfolios, large global service providers continue acquiring—and consolidating—smaller, regional security companies. This is the security industry’s new way of life. Today’s security practitioners need to not only understand these changes but also understand and anticipate future business security risks.
What are the most significant changes impacting the executive protection profession today?
Contending with change is a critical element of any executive protection program, but the areas immediately coming to mind are increased agent capabilities, access to real-time intelligence, and adaptiveness. Protective agents in the past were often merely “big bodies” operating like night club bouncers, or drivers that were friendly with the protectee and who could serve as the “boss’s sounding board.” Extremism, insider threat, and workplace violence have fundamentally altered today’s risk environment; consequently, I think many chief executives have a greater awareness of their risk exposure and prefer interacting with highly trained and capable protection specialists. The arrival of new field technology also provides these protection professionals with access to real-time intelligence monitoring. A wider array of risks may now be proactively identified and addressed, which dramatically reduces a protection agent’s blind spots before a negative situation develops. Finally, the integration of technology in a manner that compliments the interpersonal skills of a strong protection officer underscores how adaptive today’s agents have become! Flexibility and adaptability are indispensable qualities that the best agents in the business now possess.
What are the most underestimated risks for high-level tech executives today?
Protection agents are required to assess every risk to their protectee and ensure customized mitigation plans are in place. One underestimated risk for high-level tech executives is medical emergencies. A comprehensive protection plan must consider access to immediate medical treatment. In most situations, high-level executives are far more likely to experience a life-threatening medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke, than to be the targeted victim of a kidnapping plot or terrorist attack. In my opinion, cyber threats and social engineering are also underestimated risks that can go unseen or undetected without strong counter-intelligence and counter-surveillance plans. Protectee education, coupled with increased awareness and constant vigilance, may help mitigate these risks.
How do the needs of tech industry leaders differ from their corporate counterparts in other industries?
There is a long running joke in Silicon Valley that working in the tech industry causes premature aging and length of employment should be calculated in dog years! The valley’s unique operating environment, with fluid business agendas and a high churn rate of human capital, requires a high degree of adaptiveness and ultimately tests the ability of anyone responsible for executive protection. There is a culture and unspoken expectation that everyone must adapt quickly to persevere and survive. It’s neither better nor worse than other industry cultures – just distinctly different.
What are examples of mistakes you see executives at the senior leadership level make too often?
I find that most senior executives want to see themselves as “normal” like the rest of us. Some do not want special attention and do not feel the need to have any additional protection prescribed to them. I quickly remove this barrier by explaining to the executive that they are not “normal” because they hold a position within the organization that comes with both increased authority and responsibility. Every organization’s investor, whether a shareholder or long-term employee, wants to have their assets and livelihood safeguarded. Executive protection is a critical component of that security plan.
Finally, how do you advise those senior executives to mitigate risk in their personal lives?
A balanced risk mitigation plan—personal or professional—begins with a realistic awareness of the executive’s position, influence, and importance. Then I advise those executives to consult with experienced and trusted physical security professionals and close protection specialists. These subject matter experts should be relied upon for advice and counsel in how best to mitigate personal risk just as accountants and lawyers would be expected to provide guidance and recommendations in their area of expertise.
* * *
A distinguished security industry veteran, Mark Lex recently joined TorchStone Global as a Senior Vice President. With over 30 years of security experience, his career highlights include serving as the senior security executive overseeing all corporate-wide risk at Abbott, W.W. Grainger, and Kraft Foods, and serving as the Director of Security for PayPal, responsible for Governance, Risk, and Administration.