Meet the saree-clad bodyguard who is shattering stereotypes in the security services business
Veena Gupta (Image: TEDxGCEK)
Veena Gupta, the Founder of Seam Group Services, a leader in the security services business across major Indian cities, is often called Lady Bodyguard or Dabang Singh by her peers and clients.
“Should I take it as an insult?” she asks me. She adds, “I am actually proud that I am a trendsetter in the business. Most people would expect a protection officer to be physically bulky or look menacing. I am neither.”
Interestingly, Veena wanted to join the police force when she was young. She was tomboyish and quite the rebel, wanting to protect all the girls in her neighbourhood, and thought she would fit the part. But her height and family constraints stood in her way. She opted to get a bachelor’s degree and later her master’s in the same subject - hospitality management - and worked her way up the corporate ladder in five-star hotel chains from 1992 to 2000.
Shifting to a new career
When she got married and had a daughter, she thought of looking for a 9-to-5 job. During this period, she came across an opening for a business development manager for a security services firm.
“I went for the interview with nothing but my attitude for company. When they asked me whether I would be able to protect people, I jumped at the idea. It was, after all, my passion since childhood, and my journey into this field began,” she says.
She underwent six months of rigorous training in Bangkok where she learnt the nuts and bolts of the security and protection business. When the company shut down operations in 2008, she started working on freelancing assignments.
Veena says she faced a lot of discrimination during this period.
“I look very feminine, and also wear sarees to work. People come with the mindset of ‘how can a woman protect me’. I believe being a corporate protection officer or a security officer doesn’t just entail being physically strong. You have to have that strong sense of intelligence and reaction to situations.”
She learned all she had to, to be in the business – martial arts, Krav Maga, karate, boxing, and fighting with a knife, a gun, or simply her hands.
A prestigious client list
Over the years, Veena has catered to a long list of prestigious clients like Sam Zell ET International, Bell Helicopter, Amway, Western Union, Fair Isaac, Quintiles, Eagle, Adobe, Goggles, Kodak-USA, Wal-Mart-USA, ADP-USA, Lenovo-USA, Net Jets-USA, Adobe-USA, Barclays Bank-Hong Kong, Novelis (Aditya Birla Group)-USA and many more. Some of the special assignments handled by her include executive protection, including logistics and security, for Prince of Hungary and his wife for the wedding ceremony of celebrity actress Liz Hurley with business tycoon Arun Nayyar in India at Mumbai and Udaipur respectively.
Seam Risk Solutions has operations in all major cities in India, and is headquartered in Gurugram. A lot of their staff is hired on the basis of each assignment. Apart from this, Veena also trains men and women to become security officers; she trains some of them free of cost. She also imparts training sessions and organises camps on varied topics, ranging from fire safety to emergency procedures, road safety, women’s safety, and soft skills.
“I hope the government can encourage more women to take up employment in the security sector by providing them the right training. This will be a two-fold benefit: they can defend themselves and also use it as a means of employment,” she says.
Seam Group Services also has other verticals like Women in Security (WIS) and My Security, My Responsibility (MSMR).
Despite having spent so many years in this field, Veena avers that the challenges remain the same. “A male client may have been satisfied with my work, but he is reluctant to introduce me to others because our relationship may be misunderstood. Also, people still think how can a woman protect a man. It’s really hard to break the ceiling.”
Speaking about why she prefers to wear a saree, she explains, “At certain events, I do wear a saree. I can look like a manager, merge into the crowd, and keep my eyes on whom I am protecting. Also, I have learnt how to use the saree as a weapon. I am extremely comfortable in one.”
Veena started Seam Risk Solutions without any outside funding and is now proud to have opened an office in Singapore. “My aim is to go global and have a huge team of female protection officers,” she says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)