Karen Connell sits at the helm of one of the industry’s leading personal protection companies, Hunter Protection, an organisation she hopes will help to revolutinise the security industry.
As both a security professional and a woman she works on the frontline in a world that is still largely a male-dominated one — inspiring leadership, helping to break gender stereotypes and paving the way for others to do the same. For Connell operating in a ‘man’s world’ is an everyday business; her elite protection team has protected royalty, heads of state, diplomats, celebrities, individuals and families, garnering an impeccable reputation for quality and discretion.
And it’s not just female-led businesses like Hunter Protection that are challenging the traditional idea of security – female bodyguards too are increasingly high-profile hires, with demand far outstripping supply. The trope of the ‘burly ex-forces wall of muscle’, has given way to a requirement for discretion and ‘brains before brawn’
David Cameron and Tony Blair both had female bodyguards, doubtless drawn to their broad skillset – as Connell notes, most female bodyguards have to be ‘the whole package,’ offering extensive, value-added skills such as protective driving, fluency in foreign languages, or lifestyle qualifications such as scuba diving or skiing.
Successful personal protection also relies on emotional intelligence, and as such female bodyguards often have the edge over male counterparts, particularly when it comes to picking up changes in atmosphere, sensing difference or danger. Attackers have been conditioned to look for male bodyguards, so females benefit from a distinct ‘surprise’ advantage, blending in easily and not drawing attention to clients and putting them, paradoxically, at more risk.
This discreet strength is a source of pride for Connell who chose a career in close protection after working as a management and communications expert for blue chip organisations. “I have three decades of experience working with people, understanding their problems and finding solutions,” she says. She runs her firm in the same way as she ran her business consultancy, by building a strong relationship with clients, and precisely tailoring deployment to need. “My price structure is worked out on what is required, not on the size of the budget available or how wealthy that person is,” she says.
Connell describes the response from clients discovering she’s female as ‘overwhelmingly positive’. “I find that when I walk into the room, the lady of the house will suddenly find reasons to stay and hear what I have to say. I’m also the person that she will pull to one side and ask me to call her as soon as her son/daughter gets into trouble.”
Connell’s specialty is in match-making clients and operatives and finding talent in an industry that has been accused of an increasing ‘race to the bottom’ with variable standards, poor staff engagement and high turnover.
Would-be bodyguards who have a problem with female bosses don’t make the grade for Connell, who has little time for misogyny.
“There are always a few unenlightened individuals who give us a few smiles before they’re quickly moved to the ‘do not use’ file,” she says.