It is quite common to see executive leadership roles in corporate security filled by candidates from either current or former public sector roles. They are often law enforcement, intelligence or military leaders seeking a second career.
SMR regularly runs studies on statistics for these types of candidates. In the last 10 years, 68% of our U.S.-based candidates reported prior government employment. Including candidates located outside of the United States, the percentage increases to 72%. Year upon year, we have not found a significant difference in those numbers.
These statistics do not suggest that all these individuals were at once hired into the senior-most role upon leaving their public sector jobs. It does show that government background continues to be a major feed to the corporate security profession. It further illustrates that the security industry has failed to develop a maturity model that offers parallel career opportunities for those who did not have public sector experience.
This disparity is an ongoing point of contention for candidates who have spent their security careers within the private sector. We often hear questions to the effect of, “What does someone from the military or XYZ agency know about the private sector or corporate security?” We appreciate the frustration level of these private sector candidates given the relatively small number of senior level roles that become available within the profession.
Companies hiring from the public sector is not unique, nor is it unprecedented. For many years, companies have recruited military officers and placed them in corporate management programs. Military academy graduates and retiring senior level officers continue to be attractive to large private sector organizations. Many of these individuals have gone on to have exemplary careers in the world’s largest corporations.
While there are challenges articulating experience and competencies from government roles to the private sector, there are potential factors corporate executives find attractive in these candidates:
- The candidate has been successful in leading large numbers of diverse staff roles within a complex national and/or global organizational environment.
- Their scale of experience in management of large budgets and complex assets is impressive.
- They have a successful history of navigating internal and external political environments.
- They tend to execute objectives through collaboration and influence.
- Functioning effectively in high-profile, elevated-risk and high-stress circumstances where a mistake or wrong decision has extreme consequences is often second nature.
- They have high levels of professional training and continuously invest in both operational and leadership education.
- They have previously passed rigorous background checks, assessment instruments and cleared ongoing evaluations.
- Many have existing high-level clearances.
- Continuously adjusting to continued changes means they are comfortable with a fluid environment.
- They may have lived and worked in numerous national and/or international locations and successfully interacted with a wide variety of diverse cultures.
- They are very much at ease with problem solving and influencing without authority.
- It is not unusual for them to have had regular interaction with key business leaders as a part of their accountabilities.
These are all desirable competencies and skills; however, they do not diminish the challenges public sector candidates face during a transition to commercial sectors. It can sometimes be hard for them to adjust to personal and social culture differences in corporations. We have seen examples of extraordinary successes as well as failures to assimilate. But there are equal numbers of challenges the corporate security leadership community faces with a career change. No group should be painted with a broad brush, nor should they be viewed through a narrow lens without a full understanding of the nature of the roles and organizational expectations.
It is highly likely that operational security program knowledge is not a critical expectation for success in leadership. Scope of influence, global view, competencies, vision, creativity, leadership skills, culture and the executive team fit may be deciding hiring factors placed above operational or tactical security knowledge.