January 12, 2005 by

George Wackenhut


Categories: Business

Former FBI agent George Russell Wackenhut turned a small, South Florida detective agency into a global leader in security.
In 1954, Wackenhut co-founded a private investigation firm in Coral Gables, Fla., with three FBI agents. Four years later, he bought out his partners, renamed the company after himself and expanded into the security guard field. Today, Wackenhut Corp. is a multibillion-dollar company, providing uniformed officers and investigative services to business and government agencies in 54 countries.
In the 1960s, Wackenhut was appointed by Florida Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr. to conduct a private “war on crime.” He won security contracts for the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and the Atomic Energy Commission’s test site in Nevada. Wackenhut dressed his guards like soldiers, and even recruited former members of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the military to join the company’s management and board of directors.
Wackenhut began offering its services to the corrections sector in 1984. One of the first private security firms hired by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to manage penitentiaries and detention centers, Wackenhut later received federal contracts from the U.S. Marshals Service and the Department of Homeland Security.
Although the corrections branch of Wackenhut was financially successful, critics claimed the company’s guards abused inmates in Florida, Texas and Louisiana. In 1999, Wackenhut lost a $12 million contract to run a Texas jail when several guards were indicted for having sex with female inmates. The company also came under fire in the early 1990s when a Congressional inquiry determined that a Wackenhut executive had spied on an environmental whistle-blower and stolen documents from his home. Wackenhut sold the company in 2002 to the Danish company Group 4 Falck for $570 million.
A Philadelphia native, Wackenhut earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii and a master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University. He served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II and actually saw the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. As an FBI agent in Atlanta and Indianapolis, Wackenhut handled counterfeit money and bad-check cases and tracked down Army deserters.
Wackenhut died on Dec. 31 of heart failure. He was 85.

13 Responses to George Wackenhut

  1. royall P. Terry jr.

    This was a man ! While a law student ot the Univ. of Miami I worked for Mr. Wackenhut as a part time investigator and on occasion, in uniformed promotional activites.
    He was always the gentleman, generous and thoughtful toward his employees and seemed to know all of their names on sight. When I heard of his death a few years ago I remembered some of the really interesting assignments and experiences being in his emply had brought to me.From this association I benefitted greatly in the years that were to follow my leaving 3280 Ponce de Leon Ave. Coral gables, Fl for other settings — but I never forgot the man and what my connections with him had meant to me.

  2. Jerry

    Nice whitewash. Wackenhut Corp. is a painfully-obvious front company for the most prominent terrorist organization in the world, the C.I.A.

  3. Rick D.

    I worked 10 years at Wackenhut and had the honor of knowing George. The humility and dedication to his company and employees had always made a tremendous impression upon me.
    I consider myself a better man for having known him and will never forget as a low level manager the day he bought me a beer and gave me his life’s story. George would always stop when seeing one of his guards, shake his hand and thank him for his sevice, in and outside the US. A true model for modern CEO’s…

  4. Tim

    Heh, Whitewash huh? Gee I’ve worked for Wackenhut for 4 years now, didn’t know I was a CIA agent….Sweet lol. when do I get the fancy gadgets? But seriously though, how long have you been a member of SEIU?

  5. Ken Daily

    I thought George was a nice person, as was his Daughter and Son.
    I had worked for TWC for about seven years and during that time I met most of his family. They were Good people. I just now read that he had passed on.I think Wackenhut Corp did some great things for the Security industry. But some very bad things which were done by their employee’s. I would like to wish all the best for George’s Family.

  6. Andrew M.

    I’ve been working for Wackenhut for a year and a half and wish I never started. I don’t doubt the George was a good man, and I will never speak ill of the dead, but the company (at least in NJ) runs ass backwards. Never praise anyone, always chastise people. Hire the dumbest of the dumb, and put them in critical positions. It’s ridiculous and I can’t wait to leave!!!!

  7. JT

    I don’t think this qualifies as a “tribute” but it needs to be said.
    I didn’t know Mr. Wackenhut personally, but his reputation and that of his firm precedes him – and I don’t mean that in a complimentary fashion. His corporate operations were rife with incompetency, corruption, and criminal activity.
    I know that a person cannot be held totally responsible for all that is done by his employees, but there were so many problems with Wackenhut over so long a period (as even a cursory glance at their history in FL, TX, NM, LA and elsewhere will show) that it demonstrates a pattern of corporate connivance and malfeasance at the very least – and since management should theoretically set the tone, this does not speak well for either the late Mr. Wackenhut or his staff.
    Their operations and people were involved in a host of problems ranging from incompetence and “gray area” dealings to outright criminal actions up to and including felonies and even murder. (i.e.; the sleeping guards at the Peach Bottom Nuclear Generating Station, which necessitated a video by a whistleblower before anything was done; the illegal spying on Exxon whistleblower Chuck Hamel by Wackenhut who was personally involved in the operation; the rapes and abuses at their “prisons,” and the murder of young Janet Chandler, to name but a few of many.)
    Unlike the loving tributes above, most of what I knew about Mr. Wackenhut and his firm was from a professional standpoint, first as a manager in other security firms, and then working in close conjunction with one of their laughable “rent-a-jails” in a major metropolitan area. There were regular escapes, errors, and the like which made them the laughingstock of the area.
    As one of the employees above, Andrew M. put it; “Hire the dumbest of the dumb, and put them in critical positions.”
    I would add to that accurate assessment that Wackenhut (and most private “security” firms) usually hired the dregs of the city at minimum wage (then under $3 /hr.) or a bit above, with no benefits or health care, while billing the client at rates starting at $35 / hr. (this was in 1979). No wonder SEIU doesn’t like them!
    Some of these people actually had criminal records, and others weren’t even citizens (though some had phony green cards).
    They were often unable to perform the most basic functions (such as tying their own shoelaces without detailed directions) or to do their assigned tasks – one of our field LTs caught one man sleeping on the job – complete with blanket, TV, and other amenities! (This was not uncommon – just one of the more egregious examples.)
    To be fair, this was not limited to Wackenhut. I found this was the norm throughout most of the industry when I was in it – one reason I rose rapidly was that I could read, write, and speak English, and had good communications skills and rapport with the clients – as well as firearms, mace, and baton cards.)
    In fact, after working in the security field for several years before leaving it for a more rewarding field, I can say that there are only a few firms that treat their employees reasonably well, look for a better caliber of employee and pay them commensurately, and really give a damn about anything other than the “bottom line” – let alone their client’s security interests. I have seen companies whose owners and managers knowingly engaged in every form of malfeasance up to and including serious criminal actions .
    (Again, to be fair, having spent about 12 years working in close proximity with regular sworn LE personnel of various agencies, I can say with a fair degree of certitude that they are often not much better.)
    I can’t speak to their alleged CIA connections (although I have connections in that agency who might be able to inform me, if it is not classified), but certainly Mr. Wackenhut had a number of former CIA execs on the board, most notably Kelley, Inman, and Carlucci.
    In conclusion, I would say that the field in general often tends to attract anal-retentive control freaks with serious psychological issues (the J. Edgar Hoover types, which Mr. Wackenhut appears to have emulated), and that while there are always a certain number of good men and women out there trying to do an honest job of “Serve and Protect” there are others who are as bad as or worse than the criminals they pursue and incarcerate.
    A person or firm desiring good private “security” had best look long and hard, and exercise due diligence – and then keep an eye on them! As the Roman satirist Juvenal famously wrote; “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” – “Who will guard the guards?”
    Who, indeed?

  8. Herb

    Its to bad for George, but i am a ex employee of Wackenhut at Nasa and i think it was the Worse Security company that i ever worked for, if you not in the good old boy club you dont work.

  9. David T

    As a young police officer in the mid 70’s working for the City of Coral Gables I used to patrol the south end of the Gables where the Wackenhut Castle was located. Whenever the alarm system went off or some suspicious person would be seen outside the home we would respond and many times George himself would let us into the house. He was a wonderful caring man with a fantastic personality. I would stay in his kitchen for an hour just talking shop.
    His yacht “Top Secret” was rigged right in the back of the house and the Gables Marine Patrol and the Wackenhut Gables Estates Marine Patrol would always keep an eye on the big ship and the back of the house. He was proud of his company and the services he provided; I always though highly of the Wackenhut organization.
    Move the clock forward 30 plus years, and as I decided to come out of retirement I decided to apply for a job with the Wackenhut organization. Hired as a CPO (Custom Protection Officer) in Central Florida I was incredibly disappointed to see a totally disjointed organization with no real leadership. Their only goal is to sell contracts and fill them with whatever they can scrape off the street. No Supervision, no leadership, no work ethic and no accountability. I could not believe the “Road Captains” in filthy ill fitting uniforms. The CPO’s on the street with their shabby, home laundered uniform look deplorable. A far cry from the original CPO concept put together by Murray Levine (the godfather) of Wackenhut operational fame. His son is now President of Wackenhut, but his father he is not!
    The company is disgraced from Miami to L.A. with millions of dollars in contracts lost and a reputation that puts this once proud company at the bottom of the pile.
    I don’t think George ran it this way 30-40 years ago when I got to sit in his kitchen, and I don’t think he would approve of how they are running it now. The big G4S giant owns them now. They say bigger is not always better, and I guess it holds true in this case.
    A great man and what used to be a great company……gone forever!

  10. Creosote Cowboy

    He was a dangerous McCarthyite, who boasted in 1965 that he kept files on 2.5 million American “dissidents,” which at the time was 1 in 46 American adults. So yeah, if you think the HUAC was a high point in American history, he was a great man. RIP.

  11. Joyce

    As a former Regional Investigations Director for TWC, I do remember George fondly. He was always quite a gentleman, who took an interest in his staff. Under his leadership back in the early 70s, the company did well, but its successes were measured by each area office’s reputation. Each region was only as good as it’ manager! I was fortunate and had an outstanding manager who saw potential in me. I learned much about investigations management and after seven years with TWC, I ventured out on my own. With many successful years and lots more experience now, I look back at my beginnings with TWC and I am very thankful. It was an incredible opportunity for a female, as it was still considered a “man’s world” where women were not allowed. They let me in and I had wonderful mentors. Without their leadership and guidance, I would not be who I am today!

  12. Janice C.

    Better late than never. I was attempting to remember Mr. Wackenhut’s first name. I was 10 or 11 when I had the opportunity to meet him and back then children did not call adults by first names. Anyhow, this was when the “Castle” was first being built in Gables Estates and my parents were looking to purchase the home across the street. Back then it wasn’t a gated community but still only had one way in and out. We ended up living a block away. I was always amazed at his yacht and one day while I was sailing behind our home in the canal, I luffed up and admired it. He happened to be on it and recognized me as being one of the kids in the neighborhood. He was very cordial and asked if I would like a tour? You bet! I was ecstatic! Tho’ my Father is a boat manufacturer, we were sailors. A 60′ Catamaran to prove it and I was always fascinated with “stink pots” as my Dad would call them. Anyway, Mr. Wackenhut was a fine man personally. I visited or said “Hi” and he’d wave. Here I was just a kid. Fine man that I have fond memories of. I hope he rests in peace.

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