You don’t have to be a celebrity CEO or a world-famous billionaire to need protection.
Tangible threats against executives are on the rise, corporate security experts say, because of several factors: 1) Unprecedented levels of political fervor and tension across the country, 2) Life-altering and life-threatening stresses on workers and customers as they continue to navigate the pandemic, and 3) Greater public access to information about executives — what they say, where they live, what their travel plans are.
Among CEOs who have expressed opinions on racial and political issues (including vaccine and mask mandates in the workplace), 58% received threats of physical violence, according to an August 2021 report from the New Jersey Regional Operations & Intelligence Center, a state office facilitating the gathering and sharing of intelligence among law-enforcement agencies. And in case you need the reminder: 2022 is an election year.
“Ten years ago, we would get three to five calls a year of executives dealing with threats from angry employees,” says Timothy A. Dimoff, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services in Akron, Ohio, and a speaker on workplace security issues. “Now, we’re seeing five to seven a month. More people think responding in a violent way is appropriate versus 10, 20 years ago.”
The chatter among security teams nationwide, reports Brian Leek, managing director and head of executive protection at Crisis24 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is that the rise of outbursts on airplanes may signal similar encounters with employees when they return to the office en masse. The underlying causes of conflict these days: Pandemic fatigue, ongoing fear of the virus and frustration over mask and vaccine mandates. If an employee loses his or her job due to not complying with a vaccine mandate, expect hostility.
Larger organizations may have a chief security officer to assess potential threats and determine appropriate safeguards. Smaller companies shift this responsibility to the COO, HR or even the legal department. C-suite leaders should review their personal security measures at least once a year, not just when threats emerge. What should you and your security team be looking for?
Security Threats to Corporate Leaders
Sometimes, a threat is just a threat. Upset employees and other bad actors may practice scare tactics via phone, email, social media or mail. They may even go so far as to vandalize your home, vehicle or office.
Unfortunately, threats can escalate into physical attacks such as a public confrontation (say, a pie in the face), a home invasion, an assault or a kidnapping. For example, in 2020, a man broke into the Alabama home of the son of EBSCO Industries founder Elton Stephens Sr., kidnapped him and tried to ransom him for $250,000.
Some attacks on company leaders have been even more brutal and tragic. In 2015, Savvas Savopoulos, the CEO of Md.-based American Iron Works, a firm with about 100 employees, was tortured and murdered along with his family and housekeeper by a disgruntled former employee in their Washington, D.C. home.
Signs You Need More Personal Security
Whether you need extra personal security can depend on several factors. First, if you work in an industry that’s more controversial, chances are you’re more of a target.
And if you lead a larger company, you face greater security risks due to the sheer volume of people — employees, customers, shareholders — impacted by your decisions. This is especially true if you’re in a role where you occasionally let employees go. Likewise, a labor strike or other workplace dispute can also push up the threat level.
Executives at public companies, with thousands of individual shareholders to answer to, are at slightly greater risk. “Private companies have a better shot of flying under the radar,” says Dimoff.
You might need temporary security for high-profile events, such as conferences or annual shareholders meetings — especially if they’re not conducted on your home turf. Emotions tend to run high at shareholder meetings when companies aren’t performing well; Leek says his company has investigated hundreds of people after making threats at such meetings.
The Cost of Personal Security for Executives
The total amount your company may need to spend on executive security depends on its size. Large, Fortune 500 companies may have an annual security budget of $500,000 to $1 million per executive, when you factor in full-time security personnel, part-time needs for conferences and travel, and physical security upgrades.
At the highest end, Facebook spent $23.4 million in 2020 protecting CEO Mark Zuckerburg, according to a Protocol analysis of SEC filings. Smaller companies spend $50,000 to $200,000 a year on executive security, depending on the assessed risk (and prescribed defenses), says Dimoff.
The cost of extra security depends in part on where your business is located. A bodyguard usually runs $35 to $95 an hour, Dimoff quotes. If you are hiring security in other countries, the price can vary widely, going for as low as $100 a day in a place such as Honduras or as much as $2,000 a day in a more expensive location such as Austria, says Leek.
What Personal Security Looks Like
A security firm’s first move to protect you against threats would likely be to place at least one security guard at your workplace, Dimoff says. If you believe the person threatening you knows where you live or if your personal property has been vandalized, the firm could also assign a security guard to monitor your home and/or to be your driver.
The majority of attacks happen at or near targets’ vehicles, Leek reveals. Consider extra parking-lot security as necessary, and don’t turn down that driver who will double as a bodyguard.
Besides extra guards, a security firm could also recommend upgrades to the physical security of your workplace and home — such as adding more lights, cameras, alarms and other forms of electronic security. At Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly went so far as to install bulletproof glass in his office.