Risk Management

The Profession

Facebook’s global risk manager is motivated by the positive change she helps her company create in the world.
By: | October 15, 2016 • 5 min read

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R&I What was your first job?

Working at a dim sum restaurant in San Francisco called Yang Sing. My mom’s best friend owned the restaurant so she recruited/shanghaied me for a summer job in the kitchen. These were the days before gloves in food prep. Soy sauce chicken wrapped in foil led to lots of foil cuts, thus an early foray into employment injuries. In retrospect, it was a great experience, it certainly motivated me to do well in school and focused me to go to college.

R&I How did you come to work in risk management?

I started out my career in insurance with the brokerage Sedgwick, since acquired by Marsh, simply because I wanted to work in downtown San Francisco. While at Sedgwick, I immediately started to take insurance classes and became interested in risk management after taking a couple of ARM classes. I liked the idea of delving deeper into one company’s risk.

R&I What is the risk management community doing right?

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Essentially, we work collaboratively and cross-functionally with the business to identify, quantify and manage risks, and we provide the technical guidance in the use of risk transfer products or self-insurance. Now, instead of being a cost center we look at proactive ways to add to the top-line growth of our companies.

R&I What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

Well I could say Berkshire Hathaway, but that is because I’m a groupie of Warren Buffet’s. But from a professional prospective, it boils down to the fact that most insurance carriers have the capability and capacity, but do they have the creativity? Will they take the time to understand your business needs and can they give the policyholder something close to contract certainty with respects to the pre-discussed risks?

R&I How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

None. I feel that the broker offers the knowledge and specialization of the markets, relationships and consulting expertise.

R& I Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic and why?

Long-term, I’m optimistic. We still have an incredible platform for creativity and growth. Short-term, I’m pessimistic because of how intertwined the world’s economy is and the effect of that. The slowdown in China, for example, will touch us here.

R&I Who is your mentor and why?

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I am fortunate to have many mentors, but I would say Carol Harrington, the risk manager at Sun Microsystems Inc., always believed in me. She showed me the value of the cross-functional relationship, the art of negotiation and creativity, and in the end, that there is no substitute for substance. I’ll never forget her words to me during my third week at Sun, at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. Carol said, “I’m going to help you find another job.” I thought to myself, “Really I can’t be that bad.” She continued on to say, “in order to move up, you need to move out … you’ll be the risk manager someday.”

R&I What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

How can I not say my kids? I tell them that society values money and power, and I value who they are as a person. BUT, make enough money to support yourself. They turned out to be awesome people.

R&I What is your favorite book or movie?

I’m a Harry Potter aficionado. I love how the author weaves the story line together and leaves clues in the early books to set up for the future.

R&I What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Pompeii, Italy. The preserved history from the Roman civilization to the sadness of the fate of who were essentially the poor.

R&I What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Feeding a tiger a strip of raw meat with a pair of rusted tongs through a chain-link fence that only came up to my waist. I call it risk management brain freeze.

R&I If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

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OK, not trying to score any brownie points, but Mark Zuckerberg. He is prescient, leads with conviction and is a clear communicator. He is generous and respectful to others in how he interacts with employees, trying to put them at ease and giving them authority and credit. Every Friday he speaks with the employees, and you can ask any question you want. I admit, in the early days while I sat in the front row, I thought to myself, I wonder if Mark sees me and thinks, ‘What is my mother-in-law doing here?’ But I find the common thread of intelligence and security and the collegial atmosphere simply amazing.

Feeding a tiger a strip of raw meat with a pair of rusted tongs through a chain-link fence that only came up to my waist. I call it risk management brain freeze.

R&I What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Every day I walk through the Facebook office I am filled with gratitude to work at a place with such an altruistic mission: connecting the world and making it a better place by sharing thoughts and viewpoints. For every 10 people in the developing world who are on the internet, one person is lifted out of poverty.

R&I What do your friends and family think you do?

Shockingly, my children know what I do as they have been brought up with the RIMS swag. They have heard of Factory Mutual (great bags) and Zurich (chocolate) and my daughter wants to become an insurance professional. Imagine that — a next generation professional. She has heard stories about how many ways risks can be managed and how insurance makes capitalism possible. She even has a T-shirt with the faces of Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet. So, I guess, my friends and family have been schooled about risk management, through my exuberance and crazy stories.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

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I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

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Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]