Risk Management

The Profession

Drawn to the industry since college, Elisa Atwell, the risk manager for a Fortune 500 company, is at the pinnacle of her career.
By: | February 20, 2017 • 4 min read


R&I What was your first job?

I started my career in property broking at Aon in New York. I spent five years there and [then] relocated to Tampa for one year as a Lean Six Sigma facilitator.

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

I studied risk management and insurance in college. As a freshman at Florida State University, I wanted to attend the business school and secure accounting and finance degrees. On a whim, I took the Introduction to Risk Management course and the professor suggested that I take her next course, Employee Benefits. If I didn’t like it, I could use it as an elective toward my other majors. I knew very quickly that risk management was the right career for me, and I never looked back! I was very involved in the RIM program and Insurance Society at Florida State, and was even awarded a scholarship to the PRIMA conference in Las Vegas my senior year.

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

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The risk management community is wonderful at encouraging networking and professional development. There are many designations, conferences and continuing education opportunities available to risk managers at all levels. The community has also done a good job of elevating the profile of risk management as a strategic finance discipline both in the industry and within companies.

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

Talent retention and recruitment of new college graduates. A handful of colleagues that I started with in the industry have left insurance for other careers in the finance sector. There were also very few entry level risk management positions available when I graduated in 2007, although I have seen improvements in this area over the last 10 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 with respect to the overall insurance market, for better or for worse, there really hasn’t been much change. I started in the industry at the beginning of the financial crisis, and since then the insurance market has been relatively stable.

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

Chubb. In my opinion, the ACE/Chubb acquisition was seamless. Both companies did a great job of communicating the changes in a clear and professional manner. I also enjoyed working with both carriers and members of the various underwriting teams prior to the acquisition.

R&I Who is your mentor and why?

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I have had a few mentors … in different stages of my career development. Dr. Cole and Dr. McCullough at Florida State University helped me with internships, interview skills, career placement and preparing my resume. Vincent Flood, Joan Jakowski and Janine Smith at Aon guided me through my first years in the industry, and I still seek advice from all three.

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

Getting to the position that I am currently in. I have worked, since college, with the goal of becoming a risk manager. I am proud to have advanced my career to this level.

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

Malala Yousafzai. Her life story is incredible and inspiring. As such a young girl she had the strength to stand up for what she believed to be right. Not only has she been strong enough to persevere through all that she has had to endure, but she has actually thrived and continued her mission with the Malala Fund. Worldwide access to education should be a basic human right and the work she is doing to improve these circumstances for girls is unparalleled.

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

This is a tough question since I love travelling and trying new restaurants. But, Eleven Madison Park [in New York City] was a memorable treat; I went for lunch and have been meaning to go back for dinner. The service is exceptional and the menu is creative and fun.

I would say with respect to the overall insurance market, for better or for worse, there really hasn’t been much change. I started in the industry at the beginning of the financial crisis, and since then the insurance market has been relatively stable.

R&I What is your favorite drink?

The Stoli Doli from the Capital Grille is my favorite cocktail (paired with a Kona crusted filet, of course).

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

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Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui, Hawaii. My husband and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon and we were surprised that the beach consisted of smooth lava rocks instead of fluffy, powdery sand. We had never seen anything like it.

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

Driving to work every day on I-95. Joking aside, zip lining and rappelling in Belize.

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

The partnership and relationships that I have built with my brokers, insurance carriers and team members. They are wonderful to work with and I am thankful that I am surrounded by talented, thoughtful people. We all work together with a common goal of reducing risk and losses.

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

Most people think that I work in personal lines insurance and I have had family members ask me to review their home and auto policies.

The views represented here are the views of Elisa Atwell, not those of her employer.




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

Wawa’s Director of Risk Management knows that harnessing data and analytics will be key to surviving the rapid pace of change that heralds new risk exposures.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first job was at the age of 15 as a cashier at a bakery. My first professional job was at Amtrak in the finance department. I worked there while I was in college.

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

A position opened up in risk management at Wawa and I saw it as an opportunity to broaden my skills and have the ability to work across many departments at Wawa to better learn about the business.

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

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The advancements in analytics are a success for the industry and offer opportunities for the future. I also find value in the industry focus on emerging and specialty risks. There is more alignment with experts in different industries related to emerging and specialty risks to provide support and services to the insurance industry. As a result, the insurance industry can now look at risk mitigation more holistically and not just related to traditional risk transfer.

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

Developing the talent to grow with the industry in specialization and analytics, but to also carry on the personal connections and relationship building that is a large part of this industry.

Nancy Wilson, director, quality assurance, risk management and safety, Wawa Inc.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

I have had successes at all of the RIMS events I have attended. It is a great opportunity to spend time with our broker, carriers and other colleagues.

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

I think the biggest challenge facing most companies today is related to brand or reputational risk. With the ever-changing landscape of technology, globalization and social media, the risk exposure to an organization’s brand or reputation continues to grow.

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

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The changing consumer demands and new entrants into an industry are concerning. This is not necessarily something new but the frequency and speed to which it happens today does seem to be different. I think that is only going to continue. Companies need to be prepared to evolve with the times, and for me that means new risk exposures that we need to be prepared to mitigate.

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

I try to be optimistic about most things. I think the economy ebbs and flows for many reasons and it is important to always keep an eye out for signs of change.

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

I am fortunate to have opportunities professionally that make me proud, but I have to answer this one personally. I have two children ages 12 and 9 and I am so proud of the people that they are today. They both are hardworking, fun and kind. Nothing gives me a better feeling than seeing them be successful. I look forward to more of that.

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

This is really hard as there are too many favorites. I do prefer books to movies, especially if there is a movie based on a book. I find the movie is never as good. I have multiple books going at once and usually bounce back and forth between fiction and non-fiction.

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

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I have eaten at a lot of different restaurants in many major cities but I would have to pick Horn O’ Plenty in Bedford, PA. It is a farm to table restaurant in the middle of the state. The food is always fresh and tastes amazing and they make me feel like I am at home when I am there. My family and I eat there often during our trips out that way.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

I do love a good cup of coffee (working at Wawa helps that). I also enjoy a good glass of wine (red preferably) on occasion.

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

Vacations aside, I do get an opportunity to travel for work and visit our food suppliers. The opportunities I have had to visit back to the farm level have been a very interesting learning experience. If it wasn’t for my role, I would have never been able to experience that.

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

My husband, kids and I recently did a boot-camp-type obstacle course up in the trees 24 feet in the air. Although I had a harness and helmet on, I really put my fear of heights to the test. At the end of the two hours, I did get the hang of it but am not sure I would do it again.

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

The first people that come to mind are those who are serving our country and willing to sacrifice their own lives for our freedom.

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

Every day is different and I have the opportunity to be involved in a lot of different work across the company.

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

My husband and children have a pretty good sense of what I do, but the rest of my family has no idea. They just know I work for Wawa and sometimes travel.




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