By Mark Micheli, Special to the Journal, April 27, 2001
Sometimes they pose as employees and are given offices or cubes–possibly one next to you–so they can spy on workers whom upper management suspects are dangerous.
They may have been at the last meeting you went to, the one where you were told you were being laid off, only they didn’t tell you they were there to protect your manager in case you became violent. They were simply introduced as a company attorney or some other paper-pusher that was required to be at each termination hearing.
They are paid spies and bodyguards, although bodyguard is a term they’d rather not use as they believe it conjures up images of a man with a Barney Fife complex and a protruding belly overhanging a pair of blue polyester pants. And they are much too cool for that.
“We provide peace of mind,” says Gerard Boniello, the 34-year-old president of Corporate Resources Group (CRG). Boniello, a husky man with closely cropped hair who looks as if his muscles could rip through his suit and tie with an easy flex, is talking cautiously about his 15-month-old business in a 6th-floor conference room overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge.
Owner says company operates like the Secret Service
He says his company provides a high-quality, discreet bodyguard service that operates like the Secret Service, with advance men checking out locations before a client–usually an executive, but sometimes a celebrity–arrives on site. And, he adds that what sets them apart from others in this business is that they also offer investigative services that usually complement their protection service.
“I think what they do is unique in the industry in that there are only a few companies that do everything–protection, investigation and consulting–and only a handful that do it well,” says John Gimple, managing partner of Security Management Group in Pleasant Hill, Calif. Gimple says he often refers his clients to CRG when they need help on the East Coast, and so far they have been very happy with the results.
“I lay my business name on the work they provide,” Gimple adds.
Boniello started the business with $25,000 in May 2000, along with his partners Scott Campbell and Paul Soares. Before that, he worked 15 years for other agencies, traveling the world protecting executives and celebrities. Two years ago, he worked under contract helping to train the secret service of a Third World country he’d rather not name.
Campbell also worked for other agencies in the field protecting clients, as did Soares, who often did most of the advance work before Campbell and Boniello arrived on the scene with the clients.
“We worked together quite frequently, and clients said there was a chemistry between us,” Boniello says, explaining one of the reasons they decided to start their own company.
They started accepting cases in January, after creating a marketing brochure and actively building a pool of about 30 highly trained agents that work on a contract basis as needed.
Since then, CRG has created at least enough work for the three of them to work full-time, Boniello says. He adds that they expect revenue to reach about $190,000 by the end of this calendar year, and they hope they will be able to hire some full-time help next year.
“Our goal is not to be the biggest but the best,” says Boniello. “Our business will grow at its own pace.”
‘We plan for the worst but hope for the best’
The cases the team works on are varied, but can involve anything from company theft, to scanning an office building for hidden microphones, to checking out the proposed site of a manufacturing plant in a Third World country. They say they can establish whether a person has a history of violence and predict the possibility of them becoming violent in the near future. They also consult with companies to help plan the safest way to announce layoffs, and they give seminars to human resources groups on how to prevent workplace violence.
Regarding their work, Campbell notes, “We plan for the worst but hope for the best.” He explains that they use their brains more than their brawn to help alleviate tense situations. He says they prefer “to talk individuals down,” or as Boniello notes, they are adept at using “verbal judo.”
Boniello, Campbell and Soares are careful not give away any confidential information about their clients. Their business depends so much on trust and secrecy that they refuse to identify who their clients are and even declined to show their faces in photos taken for this article. After all, how can you do undercover work if your face shows up in a newspaper?
They constantly wrestle with marketing themselves and at the same time keeping a low profile. Even a minor task like creating a business card can turn into a major mental hurtle.
“We thought about creating black cards and then handing them out to people and saying, `We’ll call you.’,” jokes Campbell.
Company name is intentionally vague
The company name was chosen carefully–Corporate Resources Group–gives away nothing. If they hand a receptionist their calling card or if a client’s accountant stumbles across a payment to them, their work is not revealed.
So how do they find new customers? They say most of their business is through networking and word of mouth.
“This is a small field,” Boniello says, “There are only a couple of companies that do this work well, and if you’re involved in this field, you know who these people are and they know who you are.”
Still, they admit they need to get their name out there. Boniello says they have sent out blind mailers to corporations they suspect may need them. They also speak at appropriate security seminars across the country and give presentations to human resource groups.
Both Campbell and Boniello were asked to testify at the Massachusetts State House earlier this year following the tragic slaughter of employees at a Wakefield company in December.
Although they don’t believe the Wakefield shootings increased business, they say the demand for their services is increasing, simply because of the perceived increase in workplace violence.
Campbell notes that companies are feeling more responsible to protect their employees and that their job is to protect a company’s liability. He adds that companies are starting to ask themselves, “Do we pay a few dollars for security or do we end up paying for a lawsuit?”