Brian Mulroney had just finished his speech at the 2003 Progressive Conservative leadership convention in Toronto, and a pack of hungry reporters was lying in wait. But the former PM's aides had determined he wouldn't be giving interviews - a decidedly unpopular decision. As Mr. Mulroney stepped off the stage, the media swarmed him.
His bodyguards, Lloyd Vaughan and Ty Watts, moved in to keep the crowd away from their client. But they were immediately surrounded by hordes of camera operators and reporters. Although Mr. Watts and Mr. Vaughan are built like a couple of Mack trucks, they struggled to clear the way for Mr. Mulroney, taking elbows in the gut and getting whacked in the face with cameras and microphones. The circle got so tight, they lost peripheral vision. Their well-pressed suits were drenched in sweat. But they kept muscling their way forward, Mr. Mulroney sandwiched between them. Finally they managed to get him to safety backstage.
Such is the job of an executive protection specialist. It's not about gunslinging, says Mr. Vaughan, who started LTD & Associates with Mr. Watts five years ago. Rather, it's about keeping the client out of harm's way. They've got the training for it: Mr. Watts spent 32 years as a sergeant with the RCMP; Mr. Vaughan was an officer with the Peel Regional police force for 26 years. Between them, they've protected prime ministers, members of the British Royal Family, Queen Noor of Jordan and a number of celebrities in town for the Toronto International Film Festival.
It's not all glamour - LTD & Associates also handles security for executives who are threatened by disgruntled employees or shareholders, or attending high-profile events. If executives are travelling to a country known for kidnapping, they'll often take along a team from LTD.
Because 70% of their work requires them to be at a client's headquarters or on the road, LTD & Associates doesn't have a permanent office. Occasionally, the team sets up a temporary shop at an executive centre in Oakville, Ontario. That's where they are today. Sitting in leather chairs around a maple boardroom table. Both men are wearing suits, but when they're on the job, they wear whatever attire will help them blend in - even if it means a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sandals. That's what Mr. Watts wore when protecting former PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the 1970s, at a Hawaiian-themed cocktail party in Toronto.
"Protection is about assessing an environment and taking measures to prevent an attack," Mr. Vaughan says. At an annual general meeting, for example, Mr. Watts will scan the audience for anyone who looks out of place. If he hones in on a suspicious character, he'll read their body language (are they reaching for a tissue or device?) and keep protected space between the individual and the client. "Physical contact is the last resort," he says.
You won't find the bulge of a gun holster beneath either man's jacket. They don't carry firearms. "You can do more with your head and your body," Mr. Watts says. "If shots are fired, your main goal is to get your protectee out of there. And if you're stopping to pull a weapon and fire back, you're leaving your protectee unprotected." If they're going into a situation where they feel weapons are required, they'll co-ordinate with local police.
Most executives listen to the advice they get from LTD, but when they don't, Messrs. Vaughan and Watts are forced to adjust their plans - sometimes on the fly. That could mean walking through a protest gathering or venturing into a dangerous area in a foreign country.
The biggest mistake most executives make in terms of security is "being an open book," according to Mr. Watts - blabbing about which airline you always fly, the route you take to work or your family life. "Somebody can create a profile on you quickly when you're an open book."
Confidentiality is key. They can't risk a break-in, so LTD keeps all its client files at a secure facility that's been inspected and approved by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General. The files are stored for three years and then destroyed. There are no files at the rented office, and the whiteboards are empty. The partners keep any mementos they've received from clients - photographs, books, plaques - at home.
Depending on what they need, clients can hire LTD & Associates for an hour or on a continuing basis.
So what's their next big job? "I wish I knew," Mr. Watts says coyly. "It could come from anywhere, at any time. We just have to be prepared."
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