“They wanted a kid straight out the military”

Paul Moxness on winning respect and changing mindsets in hotel security

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Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister was Editor of IFSEC Global from 2014 through to November 2019. Adam is also a former Managing Editor at Dynamis Online Media Group.
May 24, 2019

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Something of an outsider initially, Paul Moxness won the security community’s respect over many years.

It’s safe to say they respect him now – and then some: Moxness topped the security executives category in our Security & fire influencers 2018, based on nominations from industry peers.

The Canadian has spent much of his career in the European hotel sector but returned to his homeland to co-found the Always Care Consulting Company, a strategic consultancy that develops bespoke programmes that improve security, safety and resilience, specialising in the hospitality sector.

We spoke to Moxness about winning the respect of his peers, the challenges of protecting people and property in the hospitality sector and the most notable changes he’s witnessed in the sector over the years. 

Could you give me a brief summary of your career so far?

Paul Moxness: I started as a night security guard in a hotel in Oslo, Norway.

They didn’t want to hire me [at first] because I knew nothing about hotels or security and had a university education. They just wanted a kid straight out the military. But there were only two applicants and the other person withdrew their application – so they were stuck!

So 30 years later I retired from the same company as VP of Global Safety and Security for the Radisson Hotel Group.

The company has gone through some changes on the way, but they just kept promoting me.

“It was a challenge for me to be accepted because I had a different background”

So when we aligned with Carlson Companies, I became the first person in a global role for Carlson Rezidor, now the Radisson Hotel Group.

I globalised the safety and security programme for all the brands and other companies Carlson owned at the time. So yeah, it’s been quite a ride.

And then end of June last year, I retired and relocated back to Canada. So I left Canada when I was 18 to spend a year in Europe and it took me four decades to get back.

Your background is unusual insofar as most security professionals seem to have a military or law enforcement background…

Yeah. I had to learn the security part on the fly. When I started in Oslo, Norway was heavily involved in trying to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, so we had a lot of high level delegations stay at our hotels.

We had the first official trip Yasser Arafat took. He was living in exile in Libya I think at the time.

So I learned a lot about security, about collaboration with law enforcement, security services, and the diplomatic side of things.

But after I was promoted to my corporate role in the early 90s, it was a big challenge, for many years, for me to be accepted into the security community because I had a different background.

Neither Canada nor Norway would give government security clearance to me. And at ISMA and other industry events the first question you got was “what’s your background?” The most common one I get is “what agency did you come from?” The only answer I could provide was “manpower” or “Kelly Services” or something like that…

It took a long time to get really accepted into the security community. I can understand that to a certain extent but there’s now a need for more diversity – culturally, intellectually, academically. It’s important that we learn to open up without compromising the integrity of the community, which is really close-knit.

So how did you win them round? You clearly have – and them some – given you topped our security executives influencers category….

Number one, I wasn’t trying to win them round. It wasn’t about manipulating people to like me; it was about contributing what I could, where I could.

So having a different background, having operational experience from a high and broad level, in hotels [helped]. There was more and more focus on duty of care for company employees who were travelling.

In 2005 Marriot wanted to set up a hotel security working group where we could collaborate between global hotel groups to share information, best practice, threat assessments, help each other going into new markets. And so I hosted the first meeting of that group in Brussels in 2005.

“We were held up as an example to other industries”

After the attacks in Delhi we gathered all security directors from different hotel groups together and gave them high level training, where each global hotel group contributed trainers and training materials. With the support of OSAC and the State Department, we could provide really high level training at a really low cost.

That’s been going on for 10 years now and was really recognised by other industries. Since then OSAC has probably about eight or 10 common interest councils for different industry groups and we were held up as an example of how this could happen.

So that helped people understand that I wasn’t just a hippy who couldn’t get another job when he finished university! I was accepted over time.

What are the security challenges you find in the hotel sector?

Two things.

Number one is the hotel sector has no industry-regulated and recognised standards. Aviation and transport and a lot of manufacturing sectors have an industry body that pretty much regulates a lot of their security standards.

So it’s really hard for companies that want to do due diligence on hotels to compare. Any company will say “we have our brand standards, they’re proprietary, but we audit them so trust us.”

So companies send out checklists to the hotels. Hotels check the right boxes so they can get the contract and send the forms back. That’s not necessarily a great verification process for duty of care.

At Radisson we were the first company that signed an agreement with a certification company that did independent audits of hotels towards an independent standard. Safehotels would audit the hotel and work with them until they fulfilled the standard.

Then they publish that on their website and some companies have agreements with Safehotels ensuring that hotels are prioritised in their company booking systems for employee travel.

But it’s a challenge to get acceptance for that in the hotel world because safety and security is still not the highest priority for some companies. There’s still a fear that if we talk too much about it, people will stop staying with us. But I think in today’s world it has to be completely different.

When I started I was told straight up: “You will never have a positive interaction with a customer.” Security is only involved when something bad happens.

But safety and security are actually good things if you look them up in the dictionary, so we need to change that mindset.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry during your career?

Everyone involved in hotels and travel is more security-aware than they were before. There’s much more focus on what everyone calls ‘duty of care’.

I’m not sure if it’s because we see so much security now, or it’s talked about so much, but there’s a huge expectation.

We first did training for the OSAC Hotel Security Working Group in 2009 in Mumbai. When we returned, to New Delhi – I think between 2015-2016 – the difference in the quality of security managers that came to the training was like night and day.

“Sometimes people think that a good CCTV system means they won’t have a security problem anymore”

They were more aware, more open, more tuned in to everything, from technology to training. I think that’s true generally, but especially in the hotel industry. People are much more aware of safety and security issues and how they can contribute.

And then there’s a lot of new technology, which is really helpful. The only danger is that sometimes people think that if they just buy a good CCTV system, they won’t have a security problem anymore.

How can a young security professional progress their career?

The more you know about the business you’re working in – whether you’re an accountant, security guard, or cleaner – the better you can be at your job.

Back when I was a security manager in the hotel, we did a test – I have a psychology degree, which is probably why I think like I do. We asked staff members: “If you’re at a social function and someone asks what you do, what do you say?” And my opinion was that people who said “I work in sales” or “I’m an accountant” were not the right people for the job. They should first say: “I work for Radisson and I’m in the accounting department”.

So in security, we were taking care of guests staying in the hotel. You’re not the police or law enforcement – your main focus is that everyone working or staying in the hotel should be taken care of.

Which is why we developed our slogan, ‘always care’. We would say to all employees that if you care about people, if you care about property, if you care about the world around you, you can take better care of it. So it has to start there.

That’s a much easier way to explain the safety and security function and the need for it, rather than trying to say: “These are the rules and we have to follow them”.

What have you been doing since retiring?

After I retired from Radisson, they retained me as a strategic consultant.

And so I set up The Always Care Consulting Company, but mainly I’ve been continuing to support the Radisson hotel group around the implementation of a five-year strategic plan.

I have also supported the European hotel industry to  contribute to their role in the EU action plan for improved protection of public spaces. I want to show them this is not something scary and expensive. There is so much publicly available material produced by governments that can be put into direct use in hotels. The only problem is it sits dormant on websites or gets published in folders and brochures that nobody reads.

So we’re trying to push that more proactively out to hotel organisations so they can share with their members and build awareness.

It will be better for everyone: from guests staying in hotels to the company that has to sign a contract for traveling staff, to the hotels themselves. The hotels probably want to do it, know they are supposed to be doing something, but don’t have the internal resources to do it and don’t know where to look for the free resources out there.

Surprisingly, the EU has been very pragmatic in their approach, saying they don’t want to have a thousand meetings. They want to make some positive, practical changes to share with both the public and the private sector.

How did it feel to be nominated by your peers and ranked as our #1 influencer in our security executives category?

Being selected as a global influencer last year was quite a shock and surprise. Unexpected, but I really was grateful to get that just as I was retiring from a company I worked in for 30 years.

Network over drinks with some of this year’s IFSEC Global Security & Fire Influencers – influential professionals from around the world nominated and judged by their peers.

Judges for the 2019 edition include Labour peer Lord Toby Harris, National Basketball Association (NBA) security chief Jerome Pickett and Jonathan O’Neill OBE, MD of the Fire Protection Association.

A new category has been introduced for 2019: ‘One to watch’, which spotlights security professionals who’ve made a big impact in a relatively short career.

  • IFSEC Global Security & Fire Influencers 2019: meet & greet
  • ASIS Lounge
  • Tuesday 18 June 2019, 3-4pm

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