Interview with Eric Konohia, President–BPI Group…

port2Eric is the president of BPI which is a close protection company based out of Maryland. He is currently on assignment but was kind enough to do this interview! Thanks Eric!

 

Q.) What sets your company apart from the others and your beliefs on what EP is?

A.) Scott, I founded BPI with professionalism as the guiding light in all that we do. BPI is part on the Boanerges Group [BPI Security, Omega Investigations, and MODAD Threat Management Solutions (MTMS)] the principles of our companies are: Tenacity, Integrity, Zeal and Willingness to Sacrifice. We forge our relationships with our clients and our people under these cardinal principles. Too many of the companies in this industry do not have a foundation built upon principals that help maintain a standard and if they do, I find that they put making money above these standards causing them to stray away from professionalism. The other major ingredient is that we realize that any decision we make can adversely affect the other component and our name within the industry.

2) I would like to focus on the tactical aspect of the business. Many peoples’ impression of EP is based on the high visibility portion of your job and are unaware of the planning and training involved in working an OP.

Q.) Tell us a little about yourself and your background in EP:

A.) My core foundation is that of a Law Enforcement background. I am a former Trooperkitted out with the Maryland State Police. The crux of my career was undercover operations. I left the MSP and followed a career track in investigations as well as intelligence work with the government. I received a call from the father of my team member in the Special Services Division of the Maryland State Police after I left. He was John Simpson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, who advised me that a former USSS Agent on the President Ford detail had left the Service and started an Executive Protection company-Vance International. Mr. Simpson told me that he was looking for guys with my background. I applied and interviewed, and was accepted in their basic EP course. After completing the course, I was assigned to the residence detail of the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia. In 2001, I formed Bulldawg Protection & Investigations, LLC with the intent of possibly venturing into the EP world.

A few months after 9/11, Vance International discontinued its full time employee program and I basically absorbed the Saudi detail. It was essentially being in the right place at the right time. As I ventured into the private sector as a company owner, I had to retrain the mindsets of the guys that I had inherited. The basic and resounding teaching was Professionalism. Shortly thereafter, the Vance office allowed me to cover other protection details with my specialists outside the compound of the Saudi detail. During this early stage, I purposely manned these details with me and my business partners, Mark Fair and Brian Diggs. The whole purpose was to make sure the company was represented properly and the name BPI was associated with professionalism. The Konohia name and the brand grew roots and caught on. I then started matriculating my guys on details with us to teach them the ingredients and BPI recipe.

The clients started coming. One client in particular had a deep reach in the corporate world. He and his family harvested the BPI seed and it grew. Clients started calling and each of these new clients represented another subset of other clients. As we supplied their needs, so did their recommendations to their colleagues.

Q.) There are quite a few fly by night companies that are giving the industry a bad rap, how do you as a businessman combat that?

A.) Very interesting question. The other day I was referred to as the EP Rebel, due to my staunch stance and opposition to these individuals that have seemingly infected the craft. We have been inundated by what we call the “Catfish Network”. These bottom feeders have crept into this boutique shop of EP and have given us a bad name stealing clients, filling details with unlicensed and untrained personnel. The other reason I have been given this nom de guerre is because of my stance on “Bodyguards”. The term alone in the United States conjures the image of burly bald headed guy with a black suit, black shirt, goatee and sunglasses. It is a badge of honor worn by the very persons I have set out to call out in this industry. They are the names you hear about in the news that write books about their clients, telling of their quirks and nuances and making an easy dollar in this society that feeds on reality TV. In practice, these are the guys that follow their clients around without proper training and improper recommendations, which reverses the premise of leading a client into safety and causing the client to lead them all into danger. The core difference between an Executive Protection Specialist and a Bodyguard is the Advance and Assessment work. The basis of these principles is what the EP Specialist evolves his detail around. Without them, everyone is in the blind. Let me make a distinction however. In Europe the term bodyguard, for the most part, is the same as an Executive Protection specialist in the States.

I will say this however. There is a market for these BG’s. Many celebrities in the US will not buy into the EP craft. They are not and will not do what it is that we offer. I will have a hard time convincing a Rap artist to take a back entrance into a club, nor an actor to stay off a Red Carpet because there is a threat from an activist group against their stance on some matter. The cameras and the attention will out rule me every day. In these instances a bodyguard will not question the motivations of his client and seek the notoriety of the cameras as well and get sucked into this abyss irrespective of the outcome.

Q.) To the lay person, PMC and EP are synonymous. I know that is not the case, but could you explain the differences between PMC work and EP?

A.) In my view, the term Private Military Contractor and EP became twin brothers after the Blackwater [now XE] Fallujah incident. Prior to that you had companies like Executive Outcomes that purely worked as a private military to deploy into a country in distress and help the sitting government with stabilization. Blackwater’s business model was that of a training facility. Once they ventured into the protection sphere they employed mostly Tier 1 operators to protect high level officials. The media blitz following the Fallujah incident melded the lines between PMC’s and EP almost instantaneously. The image of an operator in a tactical vest, plate carrier with multiple magazine pouches, an M4 and thigh rig strangely correlates to military personnel to the uninitiated. To the untrained eye, there is no difference, however in the business we know there is a clear difference in mission set. What has exacerbated the matter are the reports, allegations and arrests of the cowboys on the private sector that has made it almost difficult to rebrand the image.

runQ.) People see the walk from the hotel to the car and vice-versa and don’t realize the preliminary work that goes into a mission. Could you shed a little light on this area?

A.) We spend countless hours prior to getting in and out of the car with a protectee. Some of these hours are not even billed to the client. There is so much prep work in proper staffing of a protection detail. Determining how many protection specialists are needed versus how many the client is willing to pay for. Site advances are timely and costly to a client. I have instructed countless site advances to be conducted even when I know I can’t bill the client. The reason is this; I can’t allow his pinching of a penny to ultimately put my people at a disadvantage or in harm’s way. As a business owner, I will readily make that choice. In the end the client will see how we performed and I will take that opportunity to let them know what I did. In most cases it has changed their minds about advances and billable hours. But that’s a business decision I make. Business sense to make a business decision=Business integrity and overall safety.

Vehicles and drivers are another behind the scenes strategy that is a major hurdle and sore subject. In 100 out of 100 cases, I’d always prefer and recommend a protection driver over a hired limo driver. Even if we never have to do a J-Turn or push through an ambush, a well trained security driver will take time and pride in his route planning and everything that goes along with that. The disciplinary difference between a security driver and a limo driver are dramatic. I’ve pulled my hair out trying to deal with untrained drivers. Staying with the vehicle, not talking, and etiquette are just a few issues you will face each and every time you use a non security driver. In our training courses I teach Protective Driving Operations [PDROPS] and title one section, Non Security driver “The Weakest Link”. There are other factors and processes that the untrained eye doesn’t see, but these are a couple.

Q.) Where does “Tactical” fit in with EP? Moreover, what kind of tactical training and equipment do you utilize in this profession?

A.) A tactical mindset is more important than how you’ve equipped your M4 or rig to me.group You can have the latest bells and whistles but not knowing how and when to employ and/or deploy them can mean the difference between injury or life and death of a person and your name. Ask Erik Prince about that. I encourage my guys to train as much and as often as financially feasible. I have taken high threat protection courses by the Department of State as well as SWAT, Active shooter and Counter Assault Team courses. I believe that your overall knowledge base can only help in your total package as a protection specialist. Understanding how a CAT team deploys can only assist me in a protective capacity. Conversely, having a CAT team without their knowledge of how the close-in protection will respond to an attack is like having a wide receiver playing on the offensive line and not knowing the blocking scheme. Ultimately the quarterback will get sacked, equating to a hit or attack. Spending countless hours on a range is good in a sense but not understanding sectors of fire, weapon presentation and shooting on the move will get someone hurt. Doing arrivals and departures in permissive and non permissive environments is a gorgeous thing to witness firsthand. Not understanding why each person does what and the tactics behind that is like reciting, “Invictus” word for word and not truly understanding what prompted Edgar A. Guest to write it. It’s meaningless.

Q.) Have you done any hostage rescue and raiding training? If so, is this something your team is equipped to handle?

A.) I have. We are not fully, to my comfort level, ready to roll out this on the menu yet, but we are close. I do have a deep enough reach in the industry to pull together a team to do so; however I have a core group of guys that I need to take to Texas to get trained under the CSAT model so that when we roll out with a full BPI team deployment. The core group has been trained however I won’t feel absolutely comfortable until the rest of my select guys are. This is a core premise that separates BPI from other groups. I recognize my limitations and capabilities and operate accordingly. I can easily call out another team to fall under the BPI flag but I take full responsibility for their actions. But stand by real soon for the Recovery Asset Insertion Deployment.

Q.) This question is optional and I don’t want to compromise operator safety… Understanding that it is mission specific what sort of weapons do you carry on your details? (this one’s for the wannabe’s!)

A.) On those details that are armed, I will only allow the guys to use weapons they are trained for. I do not allow guys to use 1911 model 45’s and in some states there are strict regulations on what kind of weapon can be used in protection. All of my specialists are trained to use long rifles and most carry a standard M4 with their own personal accoutrements. I personally have a Class III 10 1/2 “ SBR that I have personally kitted out specifically for protection. It allows me to deploy from the vehicle without any issues and shoots extremely well from 300 yards if need be.

Q.) What is your opinion of the so called Personal Defensive Weapons being peddled by so many companies these days? Like the HK KMP7 and the Kriss Super V…

A.) I have not shot either of these but I have dreams of shooting that MP7. I have read and seen that Kriss Super V and the thought of having an SBR that shoots a 45 with that type of precision is provoking. In PSD, these weapons are an absolute asset

Q.) When working a detail, how do you and are you ever able to “own the battle space”?

A.) In the private sector we do not have the luxury of owning terrain per se, but our actions and body positioning can give the “stay away” perception. It is a misconception that we can move people out of the way. In fact, the mere touching of a person constitutes battery. In a litigious society we live in today, this can cost your company and/or client a lot of money. What we do is bank on our positioning and demeanor and the choices we make when moving a client around. If I have the choice between walking a protectee through a crowded convention center or hotel versus the back of the house, I am going to use the back of the house most of the time. Employees are used to seeing protective details walking through those areas and will give ground for the protective team and client. In other cases, such as hotel arrivals and departures I will employ the usage of the security manager as well as the doormen to assist in securing their workspace. This allows my team to access and depart with greater ease. But I must say that for the most part, we have to feel comfortable with people walking near and within our formations because of the fact that we are not an “Official government” entity.

Q.) What type of clients do you work with?

A.) Our clients range from Fortune 5 CEO’s, high net worth individuals, current and former Heads of State, Notables, and at risk persons.

Q.) In our conversation, you mentioned that you have worked with the Secret Service and State Department. What are some of the challenges faced when working with these agencies?

A.) The biggest challenge is breaking the barrier between the blue line and private security perceptions. USSS views private security differently than the State Department. USSS guys can be perceived as “Snobby” to guys that aren’t solid in this craft. They protect the most important man in the world and there is a badge of honor that goes along with that job. State Department regulates the PSD industry and view ever private company as “undisciplined Cowboys”. In each case, after talking to us in 5 minutes they lower their guard in a sense but after seeing us work, we’ve become, in ALL cases, either a part of the team [DS] or allowed within the inner most perimeter [USSS].

Q.) Following on the previous question, how important is their perception of your team and how does professionalism come into play?

A.) Our professionalism has allowed us to put our vehicles in places that are unheard of. It’s allowed our corporate clients to be treated as a foreign head, which allowed us to be within the inner perimeter of the PPD shift. It has forged long term friendships that on its face means nothing, however the dropping of names clearly has assisted in getting us what we needed in many cases.

Q.) If you can discuss it, have you ever been in a situation with a client when the operation when hot? Meaning an attempt was made to harm the protectee and you had to go into action?

A.) Yes, and without going into details, it was our advance that allowed us to have a secondary egress point. We had the vehicles rally to that point, extracted the protectee and escaped without harm. The upside of this was that his mother was present and witnessed what we did, how we did it and why we did it that secured this as our flagship client which we still have today. That incident was the engine that put the BPI Ship in the race. There have been others but I always use that one because it was the advance work that prevailed.

Q.) To follow on that, what did you learn from that situation and how did it make you and your team better?

A.) What I learned is that we never short cut what we are trained and contracted to do even if it means doing it for free. My team knows that at any moment this can go nasty, as that situation did in CONUS and if you aren’t in the NOW, you’ll be writing a statement to the Investigators for the local PD telling them how you didn’t do your job correctly.

Q.) Hollywood has put so many ideas of EP work into our heads and what makes for a good shootout scene and what is true are wildly different. From your perspective and experience please define what it is to win a confrontation in EP and where has Hollywood gotten it wrong?

A.) I am going to tick a lot of people off here but so be it. EP is a sissy game. We are in the sissy business. We cut and RUN!!!! It goes against everything you learn growing up. We are taught to stand your ground, fight back, don’t let anyone bully you etc. When the fecal matter hits the rotary oscillator-We grab our client and MOVE! Hollywood is all about making money. We are all about saving lives and making money in the process of doing that. There is nothing appealing about showing someone doing an advance, a threat and vulnerability assessment and the like. But in this world we live in, we strive to see the good guy stand and win. Well this guy wins on how fast and effective he is on running from the fight.

Even if there is contact on a detail, the shooters on the detail are eventually going to bound back and get the hell out of there. In essence, “stay away but I’m out of here”

Q.) If there was one thing you wanted the world to know about your company, what would it be?

A.) There are a lot of guys in this business that don’t have any business in it. BPI stands for all that is RIGHT in this boutique shop in the Security Super Mall. I daily bring attention to the gaps in our craft through my blog BPISECURITY.COM/BLOG. I also feel that there are too many so called “experts’ out here that are nothing more than marketing junkies who have talking points but no substance past the sound bite. If that was the case, they would be as vocal as I am about the infection that has become prevalent in EP. In most cases they will sacrifice making a stance over making a dollar. If there is one thing you will hear about me is that I will never chase a dollar and sacrifice my integrity. I vet my specialists and I vet my clients. You heard me, I VET MY CLIENTS, because all money isn’t good money and all details are not good ones. This is a standard that will never change and I’d like to think it is the main reason our client base has never dropped but only risen.

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4 Responses to Interview with Eric Konohia, President–BPI Group…

  1. A.J. says:

    Great info. Often I find other guys in the industry like to hold their cards so close to the chest it is hard to get improvement in the business, keep up the great work.

  2. James says:

    Thanks Eric. It reassures me that true security is not sitting behind a desk ,but being in the thick of it. My hat is off to you for being a soldier and a gentleman. Keep up the great work.

  3. Tnanks A.J. and James,
    Everyday I work towards getting this industry back on course by instilling professionalism one specialist at a time. You can see what I am doing on my blog bpisecurity.com, and my announcements on http://www.youtube.com/bpisecurity

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