Elijah Shaw Interview: Celebrity Bodyguard+

As Hollywood gears up for the Academy Awards, Elijah Shaw tells what he's learned from protecting CEOs and supermodels alike.

What do R&B artist Usher, supermodel Naomi Campbell and corporate executives from Ford and Dairy Queen have in common? They have all been clients of Elijah Shaw, president and CEO of Icon Services, a security firm specializing in VIP and executive protection.

While executive protection and celebrity security often call for different approaches, Shaw aims to build a bridge between the two areas, by using the best tactics and methods for each--all while trying to move beyond the traditional “bodyguard” image as much as possible.

In honor of the Oscars, CSOonline.com recently caught up with Shaw about security at high-profile events, the CEO as a celebrity, and his strategies for creating a security plan that’s fit for a king (or a rock star, or a CEO).

CSO: How is the level of security at a high-profile event like the Oscars different from a typical day on security detail with a celebrity?

Elijah Shaw, president and CEO of Icon Services: Celebrity security is a balancing act. They are trying to interact with their fans, so they want to be somewhat accessible. At the same time, our role with security is to keep them safe, so we have to bridge a gap between those two things. That job becomes even more challenging at an awards show like the Grammies or the Oscars, because the celebrities’ schedules are published ahead of time. People know where they will be appearing. The other piece that makes high-profile events like those more challenging has to do with the logistics. There are more paparazzi, media and potentially disruptive protests, and that can cause greater security concerns, whether or not they are directed specifically at our client.

In terms of physical security, where an artist might have two or three bodyguards on them at the Oscars, a movie premier or when they’re on location, if they’re running errands, they may just have one bodyguard. On a daily basis, different celebrities have different security needs.

CSO: How do executive protection and celebrity protection compare?

Shaw: With executives, the threat level goes from mild to high, depending on the type of interaction they have with their client base. If an executive travels overseas to high-risk areas like Iraq and Afghanistan frequently, we have to put procedures in place to counter those threats. On the celebrity side, we’re dealing mostly with threats from fans and potential stalkers. Usually our main job is to try to make the celebrity’s life a little more convenient so they can focus on their jobs.  At the end of the day, both groups are just trying to make a living, and we’re trying to make it safer and easier for them to do that.

CSO: What are some tactics you use with both groups?

Elijah Shaw
Shaw: Celebrity protection involves a lot of planning and working with their itinerary. The security is more overt in the sense that we, in part, help feed into their image. Everything is more covert on the corporate side. The security is designed to blend in. If we’re providing security at a business engagement, we’ll try to look like we are part of the meeting, perhaps posing as an assistant. Executive itineraries are not typically published, so the schedule we work with is not quite as broadcast.  

CSO: There seems to be an increase in the desire for executive protection these days. Is that because there are more executives in the spotlight, or because their jobs are more dangerous?

Shaw: It’s a combination of both. It’s definitely true that more high-profile celebrity type executives are emerging. High-level executives are engaging more and more outside of the business world as they assist their brands with their image. Executive like Bill Gates become brands within themselves. As they become more popular and more recognizable, the security threats increase. That means we have to apply some of the security measures we would apply to a celebrity client, in addition to the traditional corporate security risks.

CSO: What are some of the misconceptions or misrepresentations associated with your job?

Shaw: There is a misconception that a bodyguard is a big bruiser, a glorified bouncer or an ex-football player. I think that’s changing slowly, as a level of professionalism creeps into the industry, but it’s a hard stigma to break.

CSO: What can clients do to make your job easier?

Shaw: People intending to do harm will look for patterns and create their plans to do harm around it. So executives shouldn’t fall into a set pattern of predictability: Don’t get a cup of coffee at the same time, don’t always take the same route to and from work or eat at the same restaurant on a Friday night. They also need to make sure they have a good understanding of the associates they have around them. They need to conduct due diligence on those who are very close to them and perhaps have access to sensitive data and travel plans.

CSO: What are the most challenging and enjoyable parts of your job?

Shaw: One of the most challenging things is being able to define what security is for different people. People understand the need for security, but they don’t understand what kind of security they need. The other challenge is justifying our existence. If nothing happens, we’ve done our job, but sometimes proving the ROI of that investment is difficult. That’s difficult from our end, and it’s also difficult for the person who is in charge of security at the corporation we’re serving.

The satisfaction of a job well done is one of the most rewarding things. When all the pieces come together and the client gets to go about their day without interruptions, you feel that sense of satisfaction. We can actually see what we’ve averted, but the day is normal for the client.

Staff Writer Katherine Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@cxo.com.

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