Meet the newest member of the C suite, the CSO

August 16, 2016
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A few years ago, when hospitality (ever so) slowly discovered technology, we created the position of “Computer Guy” or MIS administrator. He was the underpaid nerd, who was pale as a ghost for working nights only, was paid a pittance and was never invited to department head meetings. Gradually, with the advent of such information systems as Springer-Miller, Agilysys and many more, the profession began to gain respect and traction. Salaries doubled and the Director of MIS became an active participant in Executive Committee Meetings. At the corporate level, hospitality slowly but surely followed the rest of the world and soon created the position of CIO, Chief Information Officer.

For those of you who read Arthur Hailey’s cult “Hotel”, which took place way before computers made their appearance, the Chief of Security at the Hotel St. Gregory was a shifty individual who took kickbacks from thieves, tips from pimps and shared the bounty with the police. And indeed the Chief of Security was rarely an effective function. Former cops or army/navy types, they seldom understood what type of criminal activity actually takes place in a hotel. Too many focused on the guest stealing towels, they had no clue how to catch the high flyer checking out leaving a $400K unpaid tab behind him. I have memories in Hawaii of using the connections of a Chinese Chief of Security to achieve “Peace on the Beach.” The message had come to us in so many words that there could be trouble at the hotel, were we not to hire him… “Da kine of trouble.”

Those typical Chiefs of Security looked for drunks, prostitutes and noisy merrymakers, instead of spies, terrorists, assassins and destructive hackers.

Let’s never forget that a hotel is the soft target par excellence for terrorists. A massive explosion at the Ritz or the Connaught, is more likely to kill heads of states and captains of industry than a similar crime in a church. Granted, these acts of terrorism have been the exception rather than the norm: who does not remember the horrific coordinated attack on the Taj Mahal in Mumbai that left countless dead.

When a hotel is ”hit” it implies, in the mind of a terrified public, that the BRAND has done something to motivate terrorists. If a Marriott is attacked in Lahore, chances are travelers will stay in a Hilton on their next visit. Paranoia? Possibly. Better safe than sorry.

Hence the huge responsibility of corporate hoteliers to create, at the highest level, a position of Chef Security Officer, with the same access to the C suite as the other “C’”s, be them the CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CIO, CPO (forgive me if I left you out, Mr. C.)

Where will you be recruiting your CSO? Secret service organizations would be a good choice, along with existing private security firms.

Murders, destruction, sabotage, arson, chemical warfare and kidnapping are the enemies to deal with and each calls for a different skill set.

Israel has been known for having some of the world’s most effective security experts in Mossad. US agencies such as the FBI and the CIA can prove rich grounds to recruit from. Interpol, in Lyon and other world cities, train their people well. I will hold my thoughts about the KGB. In the private sector, Gavin de Becker Associates has a staff of 520 and assumes protection of US Presidents, Chiefs of States, visiting royalty and (very) high-net-worth individuals and their families. They advise Fortune 500 companies, universities and branches of the government. If you have deep pockets, this is where I would go to recruit your Chief Security Officer.

Yet, do not expect to compensate and treat the CSO the way you did the “computer guy” 30 years ago: expect to pay a base salary of $250K+ and I can guarantee you that (providing you pick the right individual) he will pay for himself in less than a year.

Do you have a fire drill? When was it last used or revised?
Do you have a plan between the hotel and the police in case of a terror attack?
How do you deal with a chemical attack (gas or water?)
How do you deal with hostage situations?
Is there a constantly updated map of all hidden corners of your hotels, for a possible counter attack?
Can you protect your VIPs from kidnapping?
What’s your liability in the case of a terrorist attack?
Does every department head have a specific duty in case of a terrorist attack or similar catastrophic event?
Can you make your security agents totally “invisible” in order to let them blend more easily with the crowd?

Not a crucial positon?
On the hotel level, a terrorist attack on a 2,000 room casino hotel running full occupancy at 100% double occupancy, with full staff on duty, can potentially result in as much as 6,000 casualties. On the corporate level, suppose someone has the lousy idea of “punishing” a given brand by simultaneously hitting their 10 top hotels worldwide, imagine the numbers.

Do not wait to hire a CSO. I will be happy to help with the job description.

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