Mike Gillette’s bio describes him as a “Speaker, Author, Inventor and Peak-Performance Coach with a life story that reads like an action-adventure novel.” This includes being an Army Paratrooper, SWAT Commander, Government Counter-Terrorism Expert, Bodyguard to Fortune 500 Executives and a Record-Breaking Motivational Strongman. He describes himself as being passionate about making people better by teaching them to be stronger; both inside and out. His mission is the sharing of his mind/body improvement methods via speaking, workshops and private coaching.
After following Mike’s informative and inspirational social media updates, we were keen to find out more about some aspects of his life and pick his mind about his thoughts on Executive Protection.
(This article was first published back in July 2013, in Issue 20)
Firstly Mike, congratulations on your Ripley’s Believe It Or Not achievement of having a 14-lb bowling ball dropped on you from 8 feet, 5 inches while lying on a bed of broken glass! What are some of your favorite feats of strength?
Well, it terms of notoriety, it’s hard to top that Ripley’s stunt for the moment. What made that stunt so ridiculous was not the bowling ball itself, but that I had an engineer come up with a way to get that bowling ball to impact my body with 6,000 pounds of force. That, plus the broken glass, is what made it “interesting.”
What prompted your interest in the feat of strength training?
It really started over 30 years ago, once I had decided to join the Army. So, knowing that I needed to physically prepare myself, I joined a local gym. And being a young guy, I did what everyone else seemed to be doing. This was a good example of not knowing what you’re doing or having a specific goal in mind. So as a result, just spending time at the gym was considered productive. Once I was “in the Army”, I developed a much clearer idea of what kind of training was relevant to a soldier and I adapted my own training accordingly. At first, I was simply concerned about getting perfect scores on the Army Physical Training Test or “PT Test”. This was a pretty simple proposition as there was only three tested activities: push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. So if you know what constitutes a perfect score in each activity, you simply work towards the appropriate number of repetitions or times. This approach could accurately be described as “training to the test”. So all I had to do was lots of push-ups, sit-ups and running. Did it work? Yes, I hit perfect scores on every single PT test I took. But what I learned from that admittedly simplistic training approach was that if you really want something and you do the work, you’ll probably get what you want.
Listen to Mike Gillette being interviewed on Conversations in Close Protection >
In 1984 you had a serious rock climbing accident where you had a broken back and were told you wouldn’t be able to run again. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you think that accident has affected your life for better or worse over the years.
It was one of those kinds of experiences that shape your life in a meaningful way. And the lesson of that kind of experience is always up to you. At the time it was devastating. It happened after I had considerable success in the Army. I had just started attending college on an ROTC scholarship and things were looking bright. But my immediate prognosis after the accident was dire. Following surgery, I was expected to be able to walk again, but not run. And certainly no more jumping out of airplanes. To be able to turn that grim forecast into something positive took me over four years. And it took everything I had. Life ultimately turned out quite well, but when I was in the middle of it, things were very difficult.
How did you end up in the field of Executive Protection?
Like many of us, it was all about relationships. I was working for a training company which primarily served military and LEO customers. We were called upon to develop a training program for an EP company which would be used as an in-house “EP agent academy”. At the time, this EP company had a contract with a very well-resourced client. And the training program we developed was so well-received that over time we began to support that EP company on details for this client. Those details went well and each success would build on the next. We eventually became a prime vendor to that client and due to the close-knit world of EP work, were able to gradually expand our list of clients. So even though EP services were never considered at the company’s inception, EP services eventually became the primary revenue source for the company. It’s a very small industry of course. If you do well, everyone knows about it. Conversely, if you’re not very good at what you do, everyone will know that too. Then you simply disappear.
As a self described “older and smaller member of the bodyguard field” did these attributes bring any advantages or disadvantages to the role?
I do use that expression but I do so more in response to what some people expect a protective agent to look like. And many of us are quite average in appearance. There are no disadvantages that I can think of which would be associated with size, but my opinion here may simply be based on the kinds of clients that I’m used to. Our company is staffed with low-visibility, low-drama agents and we prefer to serve low-drama clients. And to be good at what we do, to make our clients comfortable, we need to blend into the background. It’s very easy for someone that is my size to do that.
Age is an altogether different matter. It helps with some clients and circumstances and works against you in others. For example, there are nightclub venues where a guy my age looks really out of place. Some clients like an older agent to head up their estate team but some might prefer a younger one if there’s children. Then of course you can get into areas of special skills, such as scuba-diving, snowboarding, being good with animals and so on. It’s more about being competent in general and finding ways to make what’s unique about you work suit the needs of the client. You can be a great agent, but you won’t be great for every client. Matching personalities is a huge part of this business and I think it has played a huge role in the success of our company.
What do you think are some of the benefits of “staying in shape” for the Executive Protection professional?
Well beyond the necessity for being strong in this line of work, regular exercise helps you tolerate the aspects of this job which are so hard on the body. Consider the impact of things like jet-lag, poor sleep, no sleep, limited dining options and perpetual stress. Those things can chew some people up. Keeping yourself fit won’t make any of those things more pleasant, but it will go a long way to keeping you alert and on-point despite those variables.
I believe you have recently turned 50. What differences do you find training at this age compared to say in your 20’s?
The chief difference is how my body feels in general. When I was younger, training was more spontaneous because I could “get away” with doing more. And it was when I was young that I trained more like a bodybuilder, (not that you’d ever mistake me for one). So for years I did lots of benching, military presses behind the head, pull-ups behind the head and that sort of thing. I had been led to believe that those sorts of exercise were “hard-core” and that I was “hard-core” because I did them. In those days there was so much that I didn’t yet know about training and I didn’t realize just how much I was beating up my body. This led to a period in my early 40s where training was so painful and non-productive that I thought I might actually have to stop strength-training altogether. I think that this is something that many people experience and this is where many people give up. Thankfully, I was too obsessed to quit and through obsessive research as well as trial and error, I found ways to keep my training moving forward. Bottom line, when you’re 50, you learn not to take your strength for granted. So you do whatever you can to keep training… intelligently.
You have a strong military and police background. Have you worked with Executive Protection personnel from a civilian background and if so, have you noticed any differences?
Yes, I and I haven’t noticed significant differences qualitatively speaking. If it’s a question about who makes the best agents, then I would say it depends. I am answering the question based on having trained both experienced agents and people who wish to become agents. So I have seen ex-cops, ex-contractors as well as civilians. And among these groups I’ve seen people who were very good at this line of work and those for whom EP work was just not the right fit.
You have black belts in three martial arts. Can you tell us a little bit about this and the influence the martial arts have had on you over the years?
The martial arts were something that I gravitated towards when I was young because I thought that if you were going to be a cop or a soldier, you needed to study the martial arts. It was that simple. Later, as I became involved in law enforcement the martial arts loomed larger on my vocational landscape. It was then that I realized that all of the best-known police trainers had deep martial arts backgrounds. So I kept at it. Ultimately, instructing the martial arts played a huge role in my development as a trainer. They taught me a lot about how to teach well, regardless of what the topic was that I might be teaching.
You are aligned with the sports supplement company Triton Nutrition. How would you describe the role of nutrition in your life?
Interestingly, while I’ve been fascinated by the study of nutrition for many years, I’ve never been much of a supplement consumer. This is probably because when I was much younger I was as taken in as the next person by the wild claims of supplement companies. And when those claims failed to materialize, I just found myself thinking about supplements less and less. So other than things like protein and fish oil, I just haven’t really participated in a lot of that. But ever since Triton put me on my very first strategically-designed supplement regimen, I’ve felt fantastic and my training has gone extremely well. Verdict? I’m a late arrival to the supplement party but very happy to have finally made it here.
What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the role of Executive Protection specialist?
Favorite? For me it’s the other agents I’ve worked with. There’s nothing better than working with people who are so good you feel as though you have to have your best day, every day, just to be at that same level. There are so many layers to this job and working with talented people just accelerates your learning.
Least favorite? The clock. For anyone who has perfectionist tendencies, this is a tough job. The clock is always running and there’s never enough time to get everything perfect. And that’s a challenge because every agent wants to do their very best and every client expects the very best. But when the clock is always running and there are so many things you’re responsible for, we never get as close to perfect as we’d like to.
If you could pass on one piece of advice to people in the Executive Protection industry, what would that be?
My best advice would be to get the right training from the outset. And while I may be biased on the topic of training, it’s simply because I helped develop the curriculum for the only protective services course to be accredited by a major university. A course taught by instructors who are active in the field, right now, at the highest levels of this industry. So perhaps the way I should say it is that my best advice is contained within PFC’s Protective Services Operator Certification Course.
You have had an amazing career to date, what do you think the future holds for Mike Gillette?
The future? More speaking, more writing and finding more ways to test myself. My interests have really moved into the realm of how to make people perform better, particularly in the realm of mental capabilities. This is the work that I currently find most interesting to me.
If people want to find out more about what you are up to these days, where is the best place to look?