An Interview with ISDA Member Scott Kempkens

scott kempkens smk riskLet’s start from the beginning. Why EP as a career, and how did your career in EP start?  Did you want it to be a career?

 When I left the military, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Within a month, I was told that a corporate security department was hiring so I applied there. The job had already been filled by the time I was called so I took another position at the company. However, after one-and-a-half years, I knew that job wasn’t what I wanted to do so I reapplied for the security department. Once I was transferred to security, there were a couple guys who had been to an EP school, and I was really fascinated by that part of security. Starting out, I had a lot of misconceptions of what executive protection was really about. I don’t know that I would say I wanted it to be a career back then, but I knew that I wanted to see if I could be successful at it. Now I can say I have been successful and glad that I took this path.

The transition from overseas high-risk Contractor to CONUS executive protection – was it easier or harder than expected? What were the challenges?

For me, the transition was pretty easy. I had already worked in the corporate and family protection side of things, and over the years I’ve learned how to switch on and off when needed. The real challenges have been trying to convince people that those of us who worked in those areas are not anything like what the media made us out to be. The only difference between us and the professionals here in the U.S. was the threat level was much higher, and we openly carried weapons. Many times, we wore a suit and tie. Still, that has been the biggest challenge, and there are those out there who will not change their opinion no matter what I tell them. However, there isn’t any amount of money I would trade that experience for, and I’ve finally realized that it’s their loss and not mine.

You now are co-founder and owner of SMK Risk Mitigation. Please describe what your business does and for whom and where it is located.

We mainly provide professional executive protection and private investigative services. Thanks to Richard’s experience, we have also had some dealings with K-9 services. We have a wide range of clients. Some we only perform background checks, for and others we have provided protection for. That’s as much as I’ll say about any client. We are located in Sarasota, Fla., but are licensed and have worked all over the state, as well as outside the U.S.

What has been your biggest challenges starting and running your business?

Figuring out the licensing requirements and learning the business side of things. My entire career, I’ve always been the one working directly with a client and was never really interested in a promotion or running a business. It’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be, learning about licensing, taxes, regulations, etc. It has still been a good learning experience.

What has been your biggest business success to date?

For the company, it has been that we were able to become a resource for a number of nationally known security companies needing dependable services in Florida. For me personally, it was landing a client who had previously lived in some pretty high-threat areas around the world and had a full protection team assigned to him. He is very knowledgeable about protection, which keeps you on your toes. However, he is an absolute gentleman and a pleasure to work for.

Describe a typical work day.

There really is no typical work day. Some days I’m catching up on paperwork, doing a background investigation, or out working for a client. I think that’s why I enjoy this profession. There really isn’t a typical work day. That would be boring to me.

What parts of the job do you find most rewarding?

Obviously when I’m out working with a client, I still enjoy that much more than I do sitting in an office figuring out my quarterly tax bill.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the EP profession?

Hmm, how to answer that truthfully, but also tactfully… I’ve met some of the greatest people I know working in this profession, people who will be life-long friends no matter where our paths take us. I’ve also met too many people in this business who should not be in this business who give us all a bad name. For me, this is one of the most honorable professions you could be in, and that really bothers me. I don’t think you have enough room here for that discussion. However, we all need to start taking a long hard look at things and strive to weed those people out.

What are some of the most important skills to hone as a business owner?

 Besides the obvious of having good customer service skills, learning the paperwork side of things has been very important. You can have the best customer service in town, but you can put yourself out of business overnight if you don’t follow the tax and business regulations.

How do you market your business? How are people aware of your business?

So far it’s been social media, our web site, and people we know in the business helping spread the word. There has also been advertising in Security Driver I have to say that Tony Scotti and Joe Autera have been some of our biggest supporters in helping us advertise, and I can’t thank them enough.

Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? The next 10 years?

That’s a tough question. I’ve seen what happens to companies when they get too big too quickly and don’t have the resources to cope. I would prefer to stay small for now, continue learning the business side of things, and handle a small core of good clients. I think we would be able to provide a much better level of service that way. In 10 years, it would be nice to have the name recognition like Scotti, Kobetz, or VDI has, to be one of the premier EP companies that corporations seek out.

Do you have a mentor or advisor? Whom do you seek advice from for your business?

I don’t have a single mentor or advisor really, I’d have to say that Dr. Kobetz has probably been the biggest influence and lives close to me so I talk to him often. I also have received good advice and help from many people in this business, far too many to list and without them I would never have been successful. I also need to thank my partner Richard. Without his help, I probably would have pulled my last hair out by now.

Any advice to give someone just starting or wanting to get into the EP business?

This is an extremely tough business to get into – and just as tough to stay in. You really have to be dedicated to this job if you want to be even mildly successful at it. Be prepared to be away from home working while your friends and family are having a nice holiday dinner. There will be a lot of long hours, hard work, and sacrifice on your part, but there are also rewards. This job will be what you make of it. Surround yourself with the best people and stay as far away as possible from those with questionable ethics.

Anything else you would like to share? Hobbies? What do you do for fun away from work?

I’ve always been a “car guy” so I enjoy working on and an old one I have. I recently completed a 7,400 mile motorcycle trip with my brother. That’s become a yearly thing after I left Iraq, I learned it was important to just step away and take a vacation now and then. I also enjoy working in my backyard, which I’ve turned into a sort of Zen garden with a nice koi pond.

How can people best get a hold of you? Online and offline?

The most direct way is call our office number, 941-556-1172. Online, we are at http://www.smk-risk.com, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google.

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