I wanted to give you the reader, a chance to hear from some of the movers and shakers in our CRAFT, those that I have come to know and respect during my time in the business. What do they think about the state of our industry? Where is the field headed? What are the new emerging trends?
In this edition I’ll be speaking with Mark “SIX” James, who is the Executive Director of Panther Protection Services, based in Atlanta Georgia; his clients consist of business executives, legislators, judicial members as well as celebrities. Mark is a seasoned protection specialist, combative and firearms instructor, author and keynote speaker.
You come from the corporate world, could you briefly describe what you did in corporate America, and how that translated into what you do now as an Executive Protection Specialist?
I am a former Corporate Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Prior to starting my protection agency, I was blessed to have worked for some of the biggest brands in the world like Nike, Coca-Cola, Miller Heiman to name a few. When I traveled internationally I was fortunate to have protection assigned to me to monitor my safety. During that time I got to see what good protection looks like as well as bad. I have been fortunate to see the business from both sides, that of the principal and that of the protectors. I first got started in the security and protection world by teaching judges, business executives and legislators how to shoot for personal protection.
As campaign time would roll around one of my clients said, Mark you are good with your hands, you shoot well and you are great with people, and we often find ourselves at the same political events. I would like for you to handle my security. My family feels safe when you are around. As time went on I continued getting more and more requests. A few things I knew from my corporate days were most long-term successful careers are built on personal strengths used by people who enjoy what they do. I have always enjoyed firearms and martial arts and have always had an attention to detail. Three critical skills in protective services whether you are talking about executing an Advance or repelling an Attack On Principal. Most people rarely come to a job with 100% of the competencies. Most come with 75 – 80% and you developmental plan the rest. I had always built high performing teams throughout my career and building a protection agency was just a different type of high performing team. As an ex-sales leader, it was once again just matching the right representative (protection specialist) with the right client. As for the protection industry, business is business. It still comes down to establishing a point of differentiation in the market, setting a standard and collectively hiring and training to that standard in order to service the type of client you desire to attract.
Do you remember your first detail? Describe that day briefly if you would.
I remember getting a call from one of my legislators telling me he wanted me to go out with him in the morning. I remember the night before driving the route forward and back 3 times and founding secondary and tertiary routes. I then completed the site advance. All night I had pre-detail anxiety and couldn’t sleep. I was scared to death of oversleeping and missing my big opportunity.
What do you think of the current state of Executive Protection? Has it gotten better or worse since you entered the profession?
I think the industry is in transition. It is a good news-bad news story depending on where you sit. The world is not getting any safer which means continued growth for our industry. However, criminals, terrorists and professional predators are becoming more and more sophisticated and ruthless. It doesn’t make a difference if we are talking personal safety, compromising data or electronic piracy. These changes are going to force protectors all over the world to elevate their skills and become ongoing students of the craft. There will be a number of protectors and companies which will not be able to adapt and fall by the wayside. This is not a low cost of entry business and to stay contemporary requires ongoing investments in skill building and not just networking but truly building strategic alliances to both increase your collective competencies and further make your actions scale.
As for whether the industry has gotten better or worse I do think it has gotten better. We live in the information age and knowledge, training and skill attainment is readily available. For those who want to go get it. I also think there are more associations for industry members to network in and there is a general feeling of commitment vs. competition while still maintaining your own uniqueness.
To follow up on that question, what would be one thing you would like to see changed or added to make this industry better and why?
I would like to see one standard EP credential that is recognized throughout the US similar to a driver’s license. First, we need to establish a universal baseline level of knowledge. I think it should have a classroom component and a practical application/experience component that allows you to verify knowledge transfer and skill attainment. Second, it would allow protection specialists to not be at risk of not being in compliance with local or state laws when traveling with a client throughout the USA.
As many of us in this profession know, there are a lot of men and women from all different backgrounds trying to get into this industry. Very seldom do they have any experience in EP, and are looking for guidance. What 3 things would be the best initial steps to getting started?
There is nothing like protective services but protective services. However, there are a collection of skills that make up our craft that an individual may have developed other places even though they have never done protective services. communication, collaboration, negotiation, protective and evasive driving, basic life support training, attention to detail, de-escalation, surveillance, surveillance detection, firearms training, martial arts/defensive tactics, stress management, decision making, analysis skills, foreign language etc. While a correction officer may have never done EP, if they have done correction for any period of time they have had to learn de-escalation skills because every day they work in some of the most challenging environments with some of the most dangerous people in the world with no firearm and are consistently outnumbered so they are forced to learn both de-escalation techniques and how to establish mutual trust. Your job is to learn how to communicate your relevant specialness to a potential client or employer.
My first recommendation is to go to a reputable bodyguard training academy. Most new people don’t understand the vastness of the industry so many don’t know all the potential opportunities that may be available to them. If you are not willing to invest in yourself how can you expect someone else to? Second, take an inventory of your existing skills and ask yourself where are those skills best utilized? Is it dignitary protection, corporate, PSD, or celebrity protection? Third, you need stamina, for your growth in the industry will be an evolution and not a revolution. Even with your training from a reputable bodyguard academy, you are not going to come out as a Detail Leader to start. And it will take time to gain both experience and build a clientele. Get a professional coach to assist you in your development and advancement.
What annoys you when it comes to this industry?
What annoys me the most is there is still way too much chest thumping in the industry. Too much ego and testosterone and everyone who does protective services in their respective lane (celebrity, corporate, dignitary, PSD) think their ice is colder. The truth is they all are important and the principles of protection really are the same, regardless of the lane chosen they just are applied slightly different across the assorted disciplines. But those who don’t know how to communicate their own points of differentiation or maintain their relevance try to tear others down in an effort to position themselves or protect the status quo.
With the young people in our industry, there seems to be a sense of entitlement that people are obligated to help them. Just because you read a couple of books, may have attended an academy that doesn’t make you detail ready or qualified. And while both McDonalds and Burger King desire to see growth in the quick-serve restaurant industry they don’t share business plans with each other.
What impresses you when it comes to this industry today?
First, it is the adaptability required to produce longevity. Second, the speed of the business it is ever changing. Third, it is amazing the places this business will take you.
What’s the most gratifying for you, about what you do in EP?
When a client tells you, “My family really feels safe when you or your team are around. “ One of the most rewarding compliments I got from a client recently was when he said, “I just want to thank you for making my life easy.”
You recently wrote a post on social media about Mentor’s and Mentorship, which I thought hit the nail on the head. What was the message you were trying to convey for those who didn’t see it?
Mentorship is not a right or an entitlement. It is the result of mutual commitment by two individuals to the development of the mentee. Most of the time mentors pick their mentees it is not the other way around. The mentoring is usually free of charge but has to often be worked around the schedule of the busy mentor. That is why the mutual commitment is so critical. The mentor is not going to waste their time with a person who is not truly committed. The disappointing thing with many who seek mentors is most are not necessarily looking for the development phase, they are looking for the sponsorship. So many want to constantly call out the names of their mentors when it is convenient as a way of transferring credibility. You can’t artificially accelerate the skill development process. A mentor’s job is to help you build skills. A sponsor’s job is to help create opportunities. Mentorship often leads to sponsorship.
If you want someone to work on your schedule, then you want a professional coach. You pay them fee-for-function and they too help you build skills. But the reality is most want something for nothing and mentoring has become a euphemism for, “will you train me for free?”
What motivating factors or tips would you give to a new specialist that’s unsure of what type of client they want to work with or for? (i.e., corporate, entertainment, etc.)
Find the lane and client that best matches your skill set that is where you can add the greatest value on Day 1. Then think about your lifestyle, values or preferred work schedule. Both will require long hours however celebrities typically have late nights. Business people often have early nights but early mornings.
While the celebrity world often looks fun and exciting realize everyone is partying but you.
For those that ask, “What does it take to make it in this industry?” what would you tell them, Mark?
Patience – the clients nor the money will be there initially so understand that and don’t get discouraged. Opportunity is the function of readiness and availability. Both must be present. Sometime you will find you have readiness and there is no availability. Other times there is availability and you aren’t ready. You must remain flexible as you will find yourself constantly in different environments, i.e., cultures, religions, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. You must have physical stamina the job takes a toll on you. Because you have to always be ready and often miss your share of special days you need an understanding family. Lastly, you must be able to motivate yourself because no one is going to send a parade to the office for you. If you need the constant limelight this is not the job for you.
What motivates you, Mark, to get up every day and practice the craft?
My sense of commitment to myself. My client will never have a higher standard for my performance than I have for myself. However, I realize every morning when I get up and put my suit on I understand I am representing myself, my family, my team, my agency and client. The second thing is our business can be unforgiving. An attack on my Principal’s brand can be just as fatal as an attack on their physical well-being, so there is no time to warm up you are always on even when others may be relaxing.
Who would you rather on a detail with you, someone with a lot of training, or a lot of experience?
Both can be valuable. It is your job to determine how you maximize their ability to add value to the team or on this particular detail. As a Detail Leader or any leader, your job is to make your actions scale. You can’t always be the first and last line of defense. And while a person may be new to EP it does not mean they are new in a particular functional area or discipline. Also, we should not always equate experience with excellence because some have been doing a job poorly, but for a long time.
Lastly, Mr James, to take a question from Mr James Lipton of the Actor’s Studio, When End of Watch comes for you, what would you like to hear GOD say to you when you reach the pearly gates?
Relax now Sir, job well done. We got it from here.
By: Mark L. Roche EPS