Many British businessmen consider the bodyguards employed by their US counterparts as unnecessary, but there are signs the safety-first attitude is taking hold. So where does HR fit in?
The British have always had an ambivalent attitude towards overtly heavy security, often viewing such ostentation as sensationalist and perhaps even suspect in its own right. When Tom Bower published his unauthorised biography of Mohamed Al Fayed, some of the more compelling passages related to his use of armed bodyguards - or "donkeys", as Al Fayed calls them - who were to be seen accompanying their boss on his daily rounds through Harrods. At one point as many as 40 donkeys were employed. They were so well paid they joked they could not fold their wallets. No doubt this private army gave Al Fayed a greater sense of personal security, but others claimed baser motives. As Bower concludes, "They were retained not as bullet-stoppers, but to reinforce his sense of power."
But despite boasting one of the oldest and most respected secret services in the world, "Brits don't like to admit they need close protection," says former Special Branch officer Phil Brown, who now runs his own security consulting firm Philip Brown Services - an independent operation affiliated to Security Consortium International. Brown claims the reason for this is that stereotype of the stiff upper-lip is still much in evidence. "But Europeans as a whole seem less paranoid, with the exception of the Italians."
Thus the staple of Brown's commercial - as opposed to diplomatic - business continues to be visiting US executives. "The Americans are very windy [ie, frightened]. They seem to think the world stops at the shores of the US. More and more business executives are getting protection just to visit Europe. We usually do a threat analysis on them, and apart from the fact they are very wealthy, there is usually no perceived threat. But they want the security anyway."
There are signs, however, that this safety-first attitude is beginning to trickle down to the ranks of non-US organisations. Perhaps this is the result of globalisation; or perhaps it is due to what might be termed the Americanisation of business culture - but figures show that UK companies are assigning a growing chunk of their budgets to personal security. This might take the form of providing "close