Guarding Royal Families for $1,000 a Day: Inside Executive Protection Jobs

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Monica Duperon Rodriguez welled up with feelings of awe when she stepped off a charter flight onto the Serengeti in Africa for a job assignment.

“The thought that came to my mind was: ‘This poor girl from this police department is standing in the Serengeti,’” she said. “I would have never in my entire life imagined myself being there.”

A layperson might mistake the job that swept her across the ocean as “bodyguard.” Professionals trained to her level of diplomacy, communication and planning earn the title of “executive protection specialist,” or E.P. agent.

Ms. Rodriguez said her training started early. As the oldest child growing up in a one-bedroom apartment supported by a single mother, she felt a need to protect her three siblings from the drugs and drive-by shootings in her Chicago-area neighborhood.

She spent three years in college while working a full-time job and caring for her two small children. After taking some time off, she was sponsored by her local police department to attend the police academy because it needed female officers, especially ones who spoke Spanish. She chose the academy instead of finishing her college degree.

Ms. Rodriguez worked in law enforcement for 15 years, much of it in Florida, first as a narcotics detective and a hostage negotiator on the SWAT team, and then as a corporal detective in the burglary division.

Through work on a human-trafficking task force, protecting and interpreting for American missionaries in Guatemala, she made contacts with people who connected her to an opportunity to work for an ultra-high-net-worth individual. She was flown in for a daylong interview and was told the person’s identity only when she landed. Once she got the job, she began flying on private jets with someone from a globally known family.

Occupation: Executive Protection Specialist

Salary: Varies by assignment, but some E.P.s can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Something to Know: The job can be exciting, let you travel the world and work with prominent families and A-listers. But be prepared to spend long periods of time away from friends and family.


Ms. Rodriguez can’t say who, as one of the primary commandments of the job is discretion, which felt like second nature to her after her experience working undercover.

For several years, starting during her time in law enforcement, Ms. Rodriguez studied martial arts, practicing for four hours a day, three times a week. She took jiu-jitsu classes that cost about $100 a month, and trained in martial arts twice a week for $30 a session. This training, as well as her negotiation skills learned as a police officer, transferred to her job in protection.

In law enforcement, she was making around $42,000 annually; in executive protection, she has made as much as $200,000 a year.

“For me, education is extremely important,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “How you get it — that’s an entirely different thing. College is not always the answer, but education is paramount to personal growth and to really being able to identify potential opportunities.”

Ms. Rodriguez, who worked as the head of executive protection and global event security at LinkedIn and now runs her own business, says future E.P. agents might currently be working in the military or as E.M.T.s, with experience performing under stress. But the best people for executive protection work, she said, know how to switch off the high-intensity part of themselves to take on the etiquette, culture, and expectations of clients who are usually accustomed to the world of luxury.

“We have to learn how to be somewhat of a chameleon,” Ms. Rodriguez said. E.P.s, she said, should be able to use physical skills when necessary, but also know how to ease tensions without causing a scene.

Amber Haddock also came from a law enforcement background when, just a few days after a 14-day executive protection training program, she flew to what was supposed to be a three-month assignment: guarding, without a gun or badge, a 17-year-old Middle Eastern princess living in Washington, D.C., under the guise that she was the young royal’s American host mom.

After the trial, the princess’s family decided to keep her on as a contractor for two years. Ms. Haddock drove the princess and her friends to her college classes and social events. On trips abroad, she flew with the young client on her private jet.

Female operatives can often disappear into roles, portraying the executive assistant, the aunt or the nanny.

“We don’t exist and then, when we do exist, stuff has already hit the fan and we are evacuating the client,” Ms. Haddock said.

Much of the job involves planning in advance.

Executive protection specialists prepare contingency plans, routes and backup routes. They locate the nearest hospitals and “hard points” — their term for safe locations.

“What if you were in Hawaii and the fire started with your client?” Ms. Haddock said, referring to the Maui fire. “Do you know where you would take them?”

Ms. Haddock, who lives in Texas and is the managing partner of the Texas branch of the Private Protection Agency, had been in junior college for two years when Sept. 11 happened, and she felt called to service. She learned that the Dallas County Police would pay for part of her degree after she graduated from the police academy. She worked nights as an officer and went to college during the day, getting a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and multiculturalism studies.

For the bulk of her career, Ms. Haddock has worked for Middle Eastern royal families.

When she started 15 years ago, “that was the only job back then, for female agents,” she said. Women were required, at times, because of family religious boundaries.

With the advancement of women in the work force and more women at top jobs, she said, more female C.E.O.s are requesting female agents, creating demand.

When looking for a job in executive protection, individuals can find full-time positions at companies, or work independently, taking on details (what they call contract jobs) on teams or for clients as they arise, from dignitaries, celebrities or corporate leaders. The salary varies widely depending on location, client needs, threat level and other factors, but a full-time E.P. job can often pay in the six figures. A recent security posting from OpenAI listed the salary as $225,000. At her level, Ms. Haddock said, “I don’t get out of bed for less than $1,000 a day.”

Miranda Coppoolse, a security behavioral analyst at MC Global Security Consulting, came to work in protection from a place of resiliency, having survived kidnapping, trafficking and abuse from a criminal gang.

“I didn’t want other people to go through what I went through,” said Ms. Coppoolse, who lives outside of Amsterdam and has an associate degree in security management, as well as training in criminal psychology, human trafficking prevention, and counterterrorism. “I thought with all the experience that I had from my past, I might be able to help other people. And so I started to work out and train.”

She practices martial arts because it’s a means of self-defense that’s not as obvious as carrying a gun, and she doesn’t have to deal with different firearm laws when traveling.

“Close protection is not so much about weapons,” Ms. Coppoolse said. “I think E.P. is really about giving the sense of safety, most of all, to that client. And you can only do that when you’re confident.”

She has worked around the world, walking through mansions and A-list celebrity parties in Los Angeles.

“It’s an exciting life,” Ms. Coppoolse said. “It’s also an exhausting life, because you have to be always alert.”

Because E.P.s need to be physically present for jobs, they can go long periods without seeing their friends and family.

Ms. Haddock never had the goal of having a family of her own, “so this job allowed me to move about the world, and help other families in their lives,” she said. But she added that plenty of women who work in E.P. have successful careers and have their own families.

Contracts can be for multiple months, or much longer with a schedule that can look like three weeks on with two weeks off. Corporate contracts can have more standardized hours. Most clients use a trial period to make sure it’s a fit for both the E.P. agent and the client.

The job also provides ways to serve communities. Ms. Coppoolse runs an organization that works with victims of human trafficking. Ms. Haddock teaches self-defense through her social media accounts. Ms. Rodriguez escorts women who have to go to court to face their domestic abusers.

“When you are a natural born protector,” said Ms. Rodriguez, “that’s what you do.”

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