Private Aviation Meets Private Security: 7 Questions with Gavin de Becker & Associates
As much as XOJET emphasizes its client service, convenience, and innovative charter programs, nothing is more important to us than passenger safety and security. Knowing clients trust us every day with not just their own safety, but also the safety of their loved ones, we’re always developing new standards, technologies, and relationships to help us provide the most secure flight experience possible.
One such relationship is with our partner Gavin de Becker & Associates (GDBA), the gold standard for private security and trusted protector of the world’s most influential individuals, families, and enterprises. Founded by private security pioneer Gavin de Becker, who started the company some 40 years ago, GDBA leverages the expertise of world-class security professionals and over 800 global protectors to provide a full-service approach to all facets of security. Be it protective coverage at home, work, or during travel, threat assessments, critical intelligence, investigative research, or background screenings, GDBA works individually with each client to build a peace of mind they simply can’t find anywhere else.
To find out just what makes the company such a respected name within private security, XOJET sat down with GDBA leaders Charlie Gilbert (EVP of Global Strategic Intelligence), Jeffrey Marquart (EVP of Service Design), James Hamilton (VP of Protection Strategies), and Ed Hinman (Director of Security Strategies and Communication). In the words of some of the security industry’s most seasoned experts—James is a former FBI Special Agent and Charlie a former CIA Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service—here’s why GDBA is trusted by eight of the ten private-sector Americans considered most at risk.
How is GDBA different than other private security firms?
Our firm serves the world’s most influential people and enterprises, which means they have many choices. We literally built our firm for clients with extraordinarily high expectations regarding service, sophistication, and quality. GDBA is absolutely obsessed with excellence.
As just one of many examples, we have our own 112-acre training facility where each protector receives the highest-level training, designed specifically for protecting at-risk people. No other firm invests in quality like that.
In addition to our own offices and protectors in six countries , GDBA has built a global network of vetted protectors known as Certified Service Providers (CSP). This combination of resources results in a one-stop resource for our clients’ security, virtually anywhere in the world.
The biggest differentiator is our personnel. Most security companies do not perform thorough background investigations, selection procedures, and exhaustive trainings, so oftentimes the protector that you’re getting isn’t someone who has been thoroughly vetted. GDBA invests incredible resources into selecting the right people. In fact, we hire less than 1% of the people who apply to our firm.
Once a protector is hired, GDBA also goes through extreme measures to ensure they are qualified physically, proficient in their security mission, and prepared for the most common emergencies, which are typically medical. Every single protector is CPR- and First Aid-certified, and they maintain those qualifications through quarterly evaluations.
Secondly, many other companies simply assign their clients a group of protectors without any additional resources. With us, every protector has an incredible array of resources at their disposal, to help serve their specific client mission. We have an investigative team, for instance, that provides intelligence analysis, technology expertise, and information security wherever the protector, and the protectee, may be located.
Lastly, we’re not just protectors; we’re service providers as well. GDBA uses luxury hotel concierges to train our protectors in how to communicate effectively with clients. Clients can expect a protector who provides excellent professional service, but also understands personal service.
One of the things that stands out is our culture of professionalism. It’s built around a principle we call CANI—Constant and Never-ending Improvement. It’s built into everything that we do, and it’s part of our process. GDBA doesn’t just take a protector and stick them on a shift and say, “Okay, do your job.”
There’s a process involved, a professional development scheme where a protector isn’t just there to stand a post. A protector is also there to take on a responsibility of improving him or herself, improving the situation that they’re in, improving the security site, and improving the relationship with the client. The security of the client is constantly being improved and tested, and the end result is a growth of security protection around the client.
What is it like to work with GDBA?
Our engagement philosophy is a continuous cycle of assessing clients’ unique and evolving circumstances, applying pioneering strategies to enhance safety and privacy, and adding value every day. Our firm is a one-stop resource for all matters of safety, security, and privacy.
Of course, each client’s circumstance is unique, so most importantly we really listen to them—and personalize every solution to suit their specific needs and goals.
More than anything, clients can expect privacy. GDBA fulfills its mission while doing everything possible to stay out of their way. In many ways, we make their life easier.
When someone comes to us and wants to use our service, we share with them the biographies of the team we put together to protect them. Whether we’re providing residential protection, a global operation center at a corporate location, or picking you up at an FBO and driving you to your hotel, clients can immediately get to know the protector, their backgrounds, and get assurance that they’re going to respect confidentiality.
Why do the world’s most respected security professionals work at GDBA?
Based on my experience in the FBI, I feel that most FBI agents do a lot of things pretty well, maybe not one thing perfectly. GDBA, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. They have over 40 years’ experience as the experts at protecting human life, and they don’t deviate.
While the company obviously gets involved in some other areas, GDBA’s core has remained the exact same from its inception. It’s something guys like Charlie and I gravitate toward: the specificity and obsessive drive to be the best at something.
I would echo all of that and add that what appealed to me was Gavin’s philosophy behind the company. It’s clear, it’s understandable, and there’s a singularity to the mission that I think a lot of people identify with. It has a consistency and an adherence to a philosophy that really appeals to me.
GDBA is such a cerebral and growing organization. Gavin has really been a trailblazer in this industry, protecting human life through threat assessment and close protection. It makes it a special organization to be a part of. We’re not just body guards—not even close.
What is the ideal background, personality, and character makeup of a GDBA protector?
The most important trait, without a doubt, is that they can be trusted. Everything that we do through our background investigations, selection process, drug and nicotine tests, and initial 10-day training academy, is to assess whether a person can be trusted. Do they tell the truth? When asked the same question in a variety of different ways, are their answers consistent? When you ask them about transgressions in their past, are they forthright and honest even if it doesn’t make them look great? That’s the kind of person we’re looking for.
The second thing GDBA looks for is the intangibles. Are they physically fit? Are they someone who understands that nonverbal communication is important? The way you do anything is the way you do everything. The way you walk, the way you talk, the way you stand, the way you dress—all of that is a representation of who you are and, particularly for the client, if you can inspire their confidence or deteriorate it.
Notice I haven’t even gotten to past experience yet, because we’re more interested in who someone is than what they’ve done. Having a strong background is important, but just because you have that background doesn’t automatically mean that you’re going to be a great fit for this organization.
What do your security services look like when clients fly on a private jet?
Based on extensive experience with FBOs and private aircraft, our protectors have a checklist of questions to ask pilots to ensure everything is in order from a security standpoint, from timeliness to the safety precautions to keeping our medical bags readily available. They also stay in close contact with the FBO representative, ensuring a seamless transition from the plane to our protector. Plus, any driving logistics will be strategically planned to ensure we can get our clients to their destination in the safest, fastest way possible.
As for emergency situations, our protectors have also been trained specifically for flight security. We actually have a specially-modified Falcon 50 jet that fills with smoke, allowing protectors to experience an on-board emergency and train for critical scenarios that involve evacuating the protectee.
How do you protect your clients’ confidentiality?
Coming to GDBA directly from CIA, I was immediately struck by the commitment to confidentiality. The use of code words and cryptonyms, embracing the “need to know” philosophy, the exhaustive background investigations, the strict non-disclosure agreements, and confidentiality training—all are on par with the culture at CIA. It’s rare to even hear a client’s true name spoken aloud, and almost never seen in writing. This was all familiar to me and clearly demonstrates that GDBA is filled with serious and disciplined professionals.
If you ask who are we as an organization or what is our brand, I would say quality and confidentiality. Everything GDBA does has confidentiality underlying it and supporting it. You come to our headquarters facility and immediately you’re going to feel confidentiality, you’re going to notice surveillance cameras, you’re going to observe access code uses, and you’re going to hear us speak in code words to protect against people listening.
When you’re hired here and when you continue to be employed here, there’s rigorous training set up for confidentiality. But you’re also being reminded of it emotionally through our culture. It’s central to who we are as an organization.
*All photos courtesy of Gavin de Becker & Associates.