Behind every business is a story. Behind every story is a life. The story behind Hillard Heintze is linked to three national tragedies that started 50 years ago today – June 6, 1968. I was a 13-year old kid growing up in South Louisiana in a family with very little means, when Senator Robert Kennedy’s assassination ignited a spark in me – the spark to become a U.S. Secret Service special agent. The spark ignited a flame. And the flame became my passion in life which lead to the founding of the company we have today and ultimately the purpose of Hillard Heintze – protecting what matters.
The subsequent national tragedies occurred on March 30, 1981 and September 11, 2001. While the story behind Hillard Heintze begins with my life, purpose and vision, the complete story involves many dedicated, passionate and purpose-driven team members. That’s the real story behind Hillard Heintze.
The First National Tragedy: The Assassination of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy Leads to My Purpose in Life
For those of us old enough to remember, 1968 was no ordinary year, and certainly no ordinary time. As the recent CNN Original Series 1968 – The Year that Changed America illustrates, this was a pivotal, turbulent and transformative time in our nation’s history. We faced the Vietnam War, domestic conflict at home, the struggle for civil rights and human equality, and waves of violence across America highlighted by the assassination of two of our country’s most passionate and purposeful leaders – Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy.
It was during a break from my summer lawn-mowing duties in 1968 when a newsflash on the radio stopped me in my tracks. Senator Robert Kennedy, a presidential candidate and winner of the California Democratic primary, had been shot minutes after his victory speech to supporters in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Kennedy, it turns out, had been mortally wounded, felled by an assassin’s bullets, like his brother President John Kennedy just five years earlier. Although I was only eight on the day President Kennedy was assassinated, the memories of that tragic day rushed back to collide with the day’s news of his brother’s assassination. These horrific national tragedies were – and will remain – seared in my life, my memory and my passion.
That evening, my family settled down to dinner and the evening ritual of watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. It was at this moment in my life that I heard Walter Cronkite report that President Lyndon B. Johnson had issued an executive order and directed the United States Secret Service to protect the remaining presidential candidates in pursuit of the nation’s highest office.
This executive order would forever change presidential elections as the Secret Service would now have this responsibility embedded in its protective mission. While I didn’t realize it at the time, this tragedy – the assassination of two brothers who were trying to serve America and our democratic principles of government – guides my life, passion and future profession.
In the days that followed, I wanted to know more about the Secret Service and its mission. My interest had been piqued. Since personal computers, the internet and Google were still 20 and 30 years in the future, I reached for a World Book encyclopedia that my parents had recently acquired for the family. That night and for many to come, I would be consumed with the “mysterious” federal agency, its protective mission and the brave men who swore an oath to serve – serve the nation and the leader of the free world.
My pull toward the Secret Service and its national security mission quickly turned into a passion and a purpose – the belief that the Secret Service’s mission was a noble one and its purpose honorable. And while a clear entrepreneurial vision had yet to consume me, my early passion shaped my decision to pursue a career in federal, state and local law enforcement and ultimately became my purpose in life – “protecting what matters.”
The Second National Tragedy: The Assassination Attempt of President Ronald Reagan
With passion, purpose and pride, I began my career of protecting what matters with every job I took. This purpose carried me through positions as a lifeguard at Thunderbird Beach and as a store detective at D.H. Holmes department store in Baton Rouge. Upon graduating from Louisiana State University in 1977 with a Bachelor of Law Enforcement degree, I remained focused and committed to joining the U.S. Secret Service.
Upon finishing college in the late 1970s, the federal government was not hiring much. This would lead me to starting my law enforcement career as a uniformed police officer with the Baton Rouge City Police, and then to serving as a criminal investigator with the Louisiana Department of Justice, and finally as a state trooper/detective with the Louisiana State Police.
While serving as a detective with the Louisiana State Police, I was approaching a time in my life when I needed to commit to an organization and frankly, I loved the work I was privileged to perform in the state police.
All of this would change on March 30, 1981, with John Hinckley’s attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. This tragedy would lead to a national priority that would impact my life’s pursuit: strengthening and building the capability of the United States Secret Service.
My childhood dream came true on February 7, 1983, when I was accepted by the U.S. Secret Service and joined the exclusive agency’s ranks as a special agent in the New Orleans Field Office. Two weeks into my Secret Service career, I would find myself protecting what matters while off-duty one Friday night when circumstances brought me face-to-face with an active shooter in Cortana Mall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After leading the response to rescue a gravely wounded hostess in Larry K. Sullivan’s restaurant, I began an intense negotiation with the shooter. During the negotiation, the shooter, Carl Acosta, fired directly at me, placing a round that narrowly missed me and struck a wall slightly above my head. In spite of this shooter’s attempt to kill me, I remained resolved and continued with a mostly one-sided negotiation — which ultimately resulted in Acosta walking out to surrender to me.
The Third National Tragedy: The Events of 9/11
My career in the Secret Service was all I imagined it could be. A career of great satisfaction, accomplishment and pride. Most importantly it was a career in which I found myself working side-by-side with some of the most committed and dedicated professional men and women in the world. People who shared my purpose, passion and pride.
My Secret Service career spanned the administrations of five U.S. Presidents, including service on the elite Presidential Protective Division (PPD) protecting President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush and President and Mrs. William Clinton. After my time on PPD, I worked in our headquarters serving in leadership positions responsible for liaising with foreign embassies in D.C. and as the agent in charge of Public Affairs. In June of 1997, while on a flight to Denver for the 23rd G-8 Summit, I began day-dreaming of life after the Secret Service. Somewhere in mid-flight over the Midwest, my thoughts brought me to the idea of establishing a security risk management firm built on the prevention-oriented methodology engrained in my soul by the Secret Service. This is was my first thought and beginning for the company we have today.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, while serving as the special agent in charge of one of the largest Secret Service field offices in the country, Chicago, the third and final national tragedy driving me to create our company occurred that morning. Among millions of others around the world, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing unfold on the morning news.
My Purpose in Life Becomes an Entrepreneurial Passion
For the days and weeks that followed 9/11, I often found myself envisioning the company. So much so, that I purchased a hard-bound journal on November 15, 2001, and started capturing my thoughts, hopes and dreams. For the next three years, I found myself building and refining four different versions of a business plan before I had a plan I believed in.
On January 21, 2004, I filed the Articles of Organization in Illinois for AllSecure Strategies, LLC. At the start of the business, I held the belief that I would build the business with men and women from the Secret Service. After all, they shared my prevention-oriented mindset, and quite frankly, are the world’s best at protective security, intelligence and investigations.
As good karma would have it, circumstances lead to a conversation with Terry Hillard, the retired Chicago Police Superintendent, in which we discussed life after our public service careers. On April 16, 2004, we got together for a lunch at the Red Light, a well-known Asian Fusion restaurant on Randolph Street in Chicago. After I shared my business plan with Terry, we agreed that an equal partnership was the best course for us. At my suggestion, we selected the name Hillard Heintze as Heintze Hillard just didn’t sound right. So on July 1, 2004, I filed an amendment to my original LLC and renamed the firm Hillard Heintze.
For five years, Terry and I collaborated on the company and worked famously as a team. It was exciting, fun and a time I will never forget. In November 2008, Terry approached me with his desire to focus all of his time, attention and love with his grandchildren. And that’s why I love this guy – he knew where his priorities stood at this stage in his life. In May 2009, Terry’s association with the firm ended and a new chapter began – for both of us.
Where We Stand Today – Protecting What Matters ®
Hillard Heintze is one of the leading security risk management firms in the world. We are trusted around the globe to deliver innovative, prevention-oriented advisory solutions that help our clients improve performance and outcomes in protecting what matters: their people, performance, interests and reputation. Since our inception in 2004, more than 85 Fortune-ranked enterprises, 150 of the world’s most affluent families and more than 525 U.S. and international brands have gained insight, assurance and confidence through our services – and are better managing security risk.
Little did I know back in 1968 that the assassination of a U.S. president, a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, the attempted assassination of another U.S. President, and the 9/11 deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent people would have such an impact on the course of my life forever. As I look back over the last 50 years, my abiding passion, resolve and purpose in life are clearer today than any other time in my life. And to borrow a very profound quote I’ve heard over the years, nothing important is done alone. Without a doubt, the team at Hillard Heintze has made certain of that.