The Profession

Helen Chue

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

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

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

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.

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R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

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

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.

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R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

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

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

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

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

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

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &




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