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 Dwyer 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

Pinnacle Entertainment’s VP of enterprise risk management says he’s inspired by Disney’s approach to risk management.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Bus boy at a fine dining restaurant.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

I sent a résumé to Harrah’s Entertainment on a whim. It took over 30 hours of interviewing to get that job, but it was well worth it.

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

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The Chinese citizen (never positively identified) who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. That kind of courage is undeniable, and that image is unforgettable. I hope we can all be that passionate about something at least once in our lives.

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

Cyber risk, but more narrowly, cyber-extortion. I think state sponsored bad actors are getting more and more sophisticated, and the risk is that they find a way to control entire systems.

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

Training and breaking horses. When I was in high school, I worked on a lot of farms. I did everything from building fences to putting up hay. It was during this time that I found I had a knack for horses. They would tolerate me getting real close, so it was natural I started working more and more with them.

Eventually, I was putting a saddle on a few and before I knew it I was in that saddle riding a horse that had never been ridden before.

I admit I had some nervous moments, but I was never thrown off. It taught me that developing genuine trust early is very important and is needed by all involved. Nothing of any real value happens without it.

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

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Setting very aggressive goals and then meeting and exceeding those goals with a team. Sharing team victories is the ultimate reward.

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

Disney World. The sheer size of the place is awe inspiring. And everything works like a finely tuned clock.

There is a reason that hospitality companies send their people there to be trained on guest service. Disney World does it better than anyone else.

As a hospitality executive, I always learn something new whenever I am there.

James Cunningham, vice president, enterprise risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc.

The risks that Disney World faces are very similar to mine — on a much larger scale. They are complex and across the board. From liability for the millions of people they host as their guests each year, to the physical location of the park, to their vendor partnerships; their approach to risk management has been and continues to be innovative and a model that I learn from and I think there are lessons there for everybody.

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

We are doing a much better job of getting involved in a meaningful way in our daily operations and demonstrating genuine value to our organizations.

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

Educating and promoting the career with young people.

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

Being able to tell the Pinnacle story. It’s a great one and it wasn’t being told. I believe that the insurance markets now understand who we are and what we stand for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

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John Matthews, who is now retired, formerly with Aon and Caesar’s Palace. John is an exceptional leader who demonstrated the value of putting a top-shelf team together and then letting them do their best work. I model my management style after him.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

I read mostly biographies and autobiographies. I like to read how successful people became successful by overcoming their own obstacles. Jay Leno, Jack Welch, Bill Harrah, etc. I also enjoyed the book and movie “Money Ball.”

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Ice water when it’s hot, coffee when it’s cold, and an adult beverage when it’s called for.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

In my family, I’m the “Safety Geek.”

R&I:  What’s your favorite restaurant?

Vegas is a world-class restaurant town. No matter what you are hungry for, you can find it here. I have a few favorites that are my “go-to’s,” depending on the mood and who I am with.

If you’re in town, you should try to have at least one meal off the strip. For that, I would suggest you get reservations (you’ll need them) at Herbs and Rye. It’s a great little restaurant that is always lively. The food is tremendous, and the service is always on point. They make hand-crafted cocktails that are amazing.

My favorite Mexican restaurant is Lindo Michoacan. There are three in town, and I prefer the one in Henderson as it has the best view of the valley. For seafood, you can never go wrong with Joe’s in Caesar’s Palace.




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