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The Profession

Mark Kebert

This university risk director says the profession has come a long way, but risk managers can increase their value by getting more involved in business strategy and driving true ERM.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Life insurance sales agent.

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

Early in my insurance career, I interviewed for a risk management position with an agriculture firm. I found the position and duties to be fascinating. Sadly, I lacked qualifications at the time and was not selected for the position.
I decided to work toward that career path over time by supplementing my education. Later I happened upon my position at Purdue. The organization and I have been growing together since then.

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

I think we do great with collaboration and knowledge sharing through a variety of professional networks, which helps us enhance efficiencies. We also are reaching out to important tangent professional areas — like auditing and legal — in our collaborative efforts. We are doing much better at creating risk awareness from our boards to our frontline employees.

R&I: At what could the risk management community do a better job?

Promoting robust enterprise risk management (ERM) implementation. Many organizations have a pretty model they display on their website; however, a robust program is often lacking. I am of the opinion risk managers are not spending enough time with their boards and officers, engaged in corporate strategy and observing what is on the horizon of their industries.

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

The year does not matter, any RIMS hosted in San Diego is always blissful for this guy.

Mark Kebert, director, domestic and global risk, Purdue University

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

Complexity and velocity. The complexity of our organizations in relation to business environments, regulations, compliance, technology and emerging risks. It is these things, and the increasing speed at which they come at us, that create unprecedented challenges.

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

At the moment, cyber and the use of drone technology.

R&I: Of what insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion?

I am split between FM Global and AIG. They have been incredible partners.

R&I: Of which of your accomplishments are you most proud?

My mind goes to two places on this one. Non-profession related — my amazing wife and three children who never fail to amaze with kind hearts and the desire to transform our world for the better.
Professionally — I have managed to assemble and retain the most incredible work family. They share my daily challenges and without their outstanding talent and support, life would be so much more difficult.

R&I: How many emails do you get in a day and how many do you answer?

Who has time to count? Several million, with about 200 or so actionable. Well, it seems like that anyway …

R&I: What is your favorite book?

It is an old book, but I keep it on my desk. It has been there for a few decades now. I brush through it once a year just to remind myself of its lessons. It remains so relevant. It is called Leadership Is an Art by Max DePree, Dell Publishing 1989. It is a quick read and everyone who is in a leadership position should read it and apply its concepts.

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

Hands down, Filippo’s Italian Restaurant, West Allis, Wisconsin. I have driven 300 miles to go back and eat there. It is that good.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Margarita. Is there anything else?

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

The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize. Words are inadequate to describe the experience.

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

I have a Suzuki GSX-R cycle. She makes me feel 20 again. Constantly managing that risk …

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

This would have to be any single parent trying to raise future leaders in our current society. My heart goes out to them.

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

Every day is different and full of challenges. I could be addressing the risks of nuclear reactors, experimental rocket fuel, jet turbines and the design and manufacture of prosthetics and that’s only half my day. I really wear about 10 different hats at any given time. It is challenging and utterly amazing.

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

It is too hard to explain what I do to friends, and it generates too many questions. To them I am a department head at a large research university, and I offer no additional details. To my kids, wife and extended family, I’m a “risk jockey.”

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swans

Black Swans: Yes, It Can Happen Here

In this year's Black Swan coverage, we focus on two events: An Atlantic mega-tsunami which would wipe out the East Coast and a killer global pandemic.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 2 min read

One of the most difficult phrases to digest without becoming frustrated or judgmental is the oft-repeated, “I never thought that could happen here.”

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Most painfully, we hear it time and time again in the aftermath of the mass school shootings that terrorize this country. Shocked parents and neighbors, viewing the carnage, voice that they can’t believe this happened in their neighborhood.

Not to be mean, but why couldn’t it happen in your neighborhood?

So it is with Black Swans, a phrase describing unforeseen events, made famous by the former trader and acerbic critic of academia Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We at Risk & Insurance® define these events in insurance terms by saying that they are highly infrequent, yet could cause massive damages. This year, for our annual Black Swan issue, we present two very different scenarios, both of which would leave mass devastation in their wake.

A Mega-Tsunami Is Coming; Can the East Coast Even Prepare?, written by staff writer Autumn Heisler, profiles an Atlantic mega-tsunami, which would wipe out lives and commerce along the East Coast.

On the topic of whether the volcanic island of La Palma, the most northwestern of the Canary Islands, could erupt, split and trigger an Atlantic mega-tsunami, scientists are divided.

Researchers Steven Ward, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Simon Day of University College London, say such a thing could happen. Other scientists say Day and Ward are dead wrong; it’s an impossibility.

One of the counter-arguments is backed up by the statement that there has never been an Atlantic mega-tsunami. It’s never happened before and thus, could never happen here. See exhibit “A” above, re: mass school shootings.

Viral Fear: How a Global Pandemic Kills an Economy, written by associate editor Katie Dwyer, depicts a killer global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

Tens of millions of people died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

Why it could happen again includes the fact that it’s happened before. The science on influenzas, which are constantly mutating, also supports just how dangerous a threat they pose to millions of people beyond the reach of antibiotics.

Should a mutating avian flu, for example, spread widely, we could see a 10 percent drop in GDP, mostly from non-physical business interruption.

As always here, the purpose is to do exactly what insurance modelers and underwriters do; no matter how massive the event, we create scenarios, quantify possible losses and discuss risk mitigation strategies. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]