Risk Management

The Upside of Risk

Organizations win when they integrate risk management into strategic decision-making.
By: | May 24, 2016 • 13 min read

In 2012, the LEGO Group considered increasing its investment in the fast-growing Chinese market.


A year later, it began weighing whether to build a sales and distribution presence in China. The company had existing sales hubs in Connecticut, London and Singapore. That required the Danish toy company to consider the potential opportunities of such a move as well as the potential risks.

“There is a tendency for people to look on the negative side of risk, but the objective from my point of view is mainly the positive,” said Rico Ferrarese, who was with LEGO Group’s strategic risk management department until recently moving into an operational role.

Hans Læssøe, senior director of strategic risk management at LEGO, created the department in 2007. It focuses on company strategy. It doesn’t handle insurance, safety, claims or other traditional risk management responsibilities.

“Insurance has value but it doesn’t help you develop your business,” he said.

Hans Læssøe, senior director of strategic risk management, LEGO

Hans Læssøe, senior director of strategic risk management, LEGO

“How do we help management make better decisions — decisions that are better informed about the uncertainties? … To me, that’s much more proactive,” he said.

“I think a lot of risk managers right now are hampered by the fact that they are coming from an auditing or insurance business,” Læssøe said. “They want to make sure everything is covered. They have not been trained or asked to look at opportunities. They have not been asked to support decision quality.”

Focusing on the positive side of risk is unnatural for many risk managers. There’s a reason many executive and operational leaders dub such departments, the “department of no.”

By the same token, it also is uncommon for the C-suite or operational leaders to rely on their risk managers when they are contemplating strategic moves. They often fail to recognize the tools that risk managers can bring to the table to help assess potential opportunities and challenges.

Generally, it is only when a strategy moves forward that the organization informs the risk manager as a prelude to securing insurance protection.

“All too often, risk managers get called in after the decision has been made,” said Elizabeth Carmichael, director of compliance and risk management for Five Colleges Inc., which includes Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith College and University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Risk managers who successfully integrate themselves in C-level discussions often must take the initiative themselves. They ask questions and develop relationships throughout the organization. They make sure they understand the entire business and its operations.

They ask key leaders what would help them do their jobs better, and then follow through with ways to help.

Strategic Uncertainties

When LEGO considered going into China, it used a scenario process known as “Prepare for Uncertainty.”

“There are a lot of things we don’t know about China and especially China five years from now when we would be up and running,” Læssøe said.

“We have a set of uncertainties.”

Among them: What is the retail distribution structure like? Is it like the United States, with a few very large toy distributors, or like Germany, with “a gazillion and one small stores?” Or is it a combination of the two?

What are the consumers like? Will they want the same products as the American market, or will LEGO need to create different colors, heroes and concepts geared to the Chinese culture?

“How do we help management make better decisions — decisions that are better informed about the uncertainties?” — Hans Læssøe, senior director of strategic risk management, LEGO

Læssøe facilitated a structured discussion with the leadership team responsible for deciding whether to enter the Chinese market. Using Post-it notes, each team member team individually listed their “two most important uncertainties” about the potential move.

It was done that way to prevent group-think.

“We don’t even consider whether things are a risk at this time,” Læssøe said.

For three hours, the team talked through the ideas as they placed the notes two-by-two across on the table.

The leadership team then used the “Park Adapt Prepare Act” (PAPA) model.

“We prioritized them, not based on impact. The impact is inherently high. We look at the likelihood, low or high. Do we believe it will happen or not, the speed it might happen and our agility to respond,” Læssøe said.

If an issue was not likely to happen or offered sufficient time for the company to respond if it did, the uncertainty was “parked” on the side. Eventually, the only issues left on the table were those with a high likelihood and a short amount of time to respond.


All of the items had the potential to be both risks and opportunities, he said. “Now, we look at the issues we need to address.

“We want to make sure our strategy is resilient in a world that probably will change in a different way than we expect,” he said.

“What will give you a competitive advantage in the future world is maneuverability or agility.

“Competitiveness to me is like a penicillin for the flu. It can get you nauseous and uncomfortable but it makes sure you are on your toes and don’t get really, really sick,” he said.

LEGO started building its factory in China a couple of years ago.

“It’s just about finished,” Læssøe said.

On the Cutting Edge

LEGO’s strategic risk management process is “probably the leading edge of best practice,” said Andrew Bent, manager, enterprise risk management, Alberta Energy Regulator, in Calgary, Canada.

Bent, who is chair of the RIMS strategic risk management development council, said that more risk managers are recognizing that they must create as well as protect value for their organizations.

“Risk managers shouldn’t be the ones saying, ‘No, no, no. It’s too risky.’ They should be working — and many now are working — to provide the organization with the information needed to make good decisions,” Bent said.

“Risk managers are now asking, ‘How do we actually create value for the organization? How do we support the business strategy?’ ”

It’s about ensuring decision-makers have solid information about both the upside and downside of a potential strategy, he said. When that happens, the leadership takes accountability for the decision and is able to explain to their shareholders or board the reasons behind decisions and what controls were put in place.

“Over the last few years, we have seen much more emphasis on the C-suite and boards to be actively engaged with risk management, to really understand what is going on,” Bent said.

“Risk managers shouldn’t be the ones saying, ‘No, no, no. It’s too risky.’ ” — Andrew Bent, manager, enterprise risk management, Alberta Energy Regulator

“The implication for the risk manager is that we must be prepared to answer their questions. Most risk managers I talk to see this as the opportunity they have been looking for and waiting for.

“The organizational culture has to be ready to receive and ask for information about risk, and risk managers must be better prepared to not only give the information they are asked for, but also the information the organization needs to hear,” Bent said.

Adding value to the organization takes many forms. It is as individual and specific as each organization’s operations.

When Bent was working in risk management at a law enforcement agency, the city he worked for had the highest murder rate in Canada.

“In addressing this serious community problem, we needed to think beyond the very obvious downside. We had to ask, ‘What is the value that risk managers can add to our organization?’ ”

The downside, or traditional approach, he said, would have been a push to ban knives and increase police patrols.

Andrew Bent, manager, enterprise risk management, Alberta Energy Regulator

Andrew Bent, manager, enterprise risk management, Alberta Energy Regulator

Instead, the agency focused on the potential opportunities. It began to coordinate activities with social service organizations, such as homeless shelters; employment, training and housing agencies; mental health and addiction centers; and others; to bring more organized support to residents, he said.

“They were doing great things without a lot of coordination,” Bent said.

“Is this our job as a police agency to coordinate? Perhaps not in a traditional model. But we manage the downside of the risk, so we thought it was more useful to manage to upside first so we don’t get to that point.

“It was about bringing together all of those pieces and putting the right people at the table to have those conversations and make sure they are risk informed and understand the good, the bad and the ugly,” Bent said.

In another situation Bent is aware of, a construction company facing a range of safety issues decided to focus on the upside economic advantages of creating a strong safety culture to prevent further injuries.<

Leaders who had higher rates of injuries on their sites were also the ones who tended to have more re-work on their jobs, and the sites used more materials. By addressing the safety culture, those sites became more profitable.

Supervisors and foremen were trained, performance indicators were created, unions were consulted, and if workers refused to transition to the new safety climate, “they were no longer welcome on the company’s worksites,” he said. “It was costing money and hurting people.”

“By addressing the safety culture, the company was able to control downside risk and also improve profitability.”

A New Way of Thinking

It’s challenging for many risk managers to think about the positive side of risk, said Joanna Makomaski, president of Baldwin Global Risk Solutions Inc., and a columnist for Risk & Insurance®.


The Institute of Risk Management in London recently honored Makomaski as Risk Management Professional of the Year for her work on the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee of the Pan/Parapan American Games.

Too many risk managers equate risk management with the company’s insurance portfolio, Makomaski said.

“When you rely only on insurance, in essence, you are waiting for something negative to happen and you can only mitigate the consequences.

“I am an advocate of identifying what your opportunity risks are, but you also have to look at the possible collateral damage of that risk,” she said.

For example, utility companies have a great opportunity for increased revenue during long, cold winters. At the same time, however, those companies may find that more people can’t pay their bigger bills. That can result in default risk on bill payment and a social responsibility risk.

“When you rely only on insurance, in essence, you are waiting for something negative to happen and you can only mitigate the consequences.” — Joanna Makomaski, president of Baldwin Global Risk Solutions Inc.

“That’s the challenge: Should the utility cut off their heat in the middle of a frigid winter? All of a sudden, even though this really good thing is happening, there are other risks to consider.”

In exploring opportunities, risk managers must consider their organization’s risk appetite, its tolerance for periodic excess risk, and the possibility that the failure to take a risk can have a negative impact. An example would be the way the manufacturers of the BlackBerry phone overlooked the risk posed to it by the iPhone.

“Given that risk is integral to the pursuit of value, strategic-minded enterprises do not strive to eliminate risk or even to minimize it,” according to “Risk Management in Practice” by Deloitte.

“Rather, these enterprises seek to manage risk exposures across all parts of their organizations so that, at any given time, they incur just enough of the right kinds of risk — no more, no less — to effectively pursue strategic goals. This is the ‘sweet spot,’ or optimal risk-taking zone.”

When risk managers understand a company’s potential exposures and the company’s risk tolerance, they can be in a position to tell the organization it can take on even more risk than they think, said Læssøe of LEGO.

Makomaski said she sometimes uses a “global heat map” to illustrate possible risks and returns of potential business strategies.

A heat map plots the likelihood and impact (ranging from very low to very high) of a strategy, including such potential risks, for example, as supply chain disruption, economic downturn, customer preference, new or increased competition, etc.

It’s important to note that such risk assessments are only as good as the data.

“Assessments are vulnerable to the garbage in, garbage out rule,” Makomaski said.

Marti Dickman, vice president, risk management, Advanced Disposal

Marti Dickman, vice president, risk management, Advanced Disposal

Marti Dickman, vice president, risk management, Advanced Disposal, said her risk management department is designed to “be the instrument that enables senior management to contemplate all of the risk factors and make good sound decisions about how to manage risk on the front end, recognizing we will still have a downside of risk.”

One way her department looks to add value is when the sales and marketing department negotiates with customers.

“They engage us right away and we offer suggestions for [contract] language, coverages that perhaps the customer has missed that we can provide,” she said.

“We can offer recommendations on how a component of the contract could be changed to create a value add and allow us to win the business. It gives us a competitive edge,” Dickman said.

“I work with my team so that my folks are not seen as the ‘no people.’ We want to be the ‘go-to people.’ The direction my team is charged with is to explain the challenges we see and the opportunities to make something even better.

“Instead of looking to avoid risk, we help them understand the risk on the front end so decision-makers can use that to make informed decisions. Ultimately, it will depend on the risk appetite of your company,” she said.


Carmichael, of Five Colleges, said most of her risk management colleagues “are pretty skilled at understanding the upside of risk.”

“We get requests for all kinds of interesting projects within higher education,” she said.

“Our students and faculty are very creative and the administration is often looking to do things that are innovative.

“When asked to do a risk assessment, it may be wise to ask the administrator, ‘Are you looking to say yes or no,’ because that way you have a better sense of what direction they are working toward.

“If they are looking to say no, the task is fairly easy because you can probably come up with many things that can help the school say no,” Carmichael said.

“But don’t leave off the upside of the activity, as other administrators are likely to want to weigh in at some point.”

In one instance, an honors student with a circus project wanted to bring a trapeze event to campus. Participants would have the chance to learn how to swing on and transfer from one trapeze to another.

“The upside of the risk was great. It would be an on-campus activity that would engage a large number of people in the community, both staff and faculty. It would bring the campus together and give people an experience they might not otherwise have in a relatively low-risk environment.

“The obvious downside [to the event] was that someone could have been hurt or there could have been some other snafu, for lack of a better term, with the project,” she said.

“As the risk manager, in collaboration with other administrators, we were able to ensure that our facilities staff and public safety officers were on board.

“We also worked through a very well-reasoned and balanced contract with the trapeze company and used waivers to help spread the risk to the participants. We had an extremely successful event.”

Supporting the Business Plan

“When you invest in something,” said Ferrarese of LEGO, “it must have a positive outcome. You may not be able to put a financial outcome on it, but there is a positive reason we are doing it.”

“The key challenge,” said Dickman of Advanced Disposal, “is to overcome the traditional view that many people have of risk management.”

While that may be slowly changing among senior leadership, the onus is on risk managers to “reach out and take that initiative if the culture sees risk management in that more traditional role. Push forward,” Dickman said.

“Don’t be discouraged. Make inroads so people see you as a resource and benefit so they will want to bring you in at the beginning.”

At the same time, some risk managers need to change their own mindset.

“Instead of being risk averse, we need to understand there is a benefit to taking on more risk — when we do so in a controlled way,” she said.

Carmichael suggested risk managers “look for ways to engage in conversations about getting to ‘yes’ rather than starting at ‘no’ … and getting carried grudgingly along.”


They also need to educate senior leadership. “The more aware your senior officers are about risk and risk management, the more likely risk management will be called in before a decision is made,” she said.

Makomaski said one way to gain traction and engagement is to “dance to the rhythm of the business.”

“I like to attach myself to an agenda or internal system that is working and risk adjust that,” she said.

“Make yourself an enabler to the strategy. My job is to enable the risk to happen within the bounding risk position of the organization.” &

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Report: Marine

Crewless Ships Raise Questions

Is a remote operator legally a master? New technology confounds old terms.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 6 min read

For many developers, the accelerating development of remote-controlled and autonomous ships represents what could be the dawn of a new era. For underwriters and brokers, however, such vessels could represent the end of thousands of years of maritime law and risk management.

Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk

While crewless vessels have yet to breach commercial service, there are active testing programs. Most brokers and underwriters expect small-scale commercial operations to be feasible in a few years, but that outlook only considers technical feasibility. How such operations will be insured remains unclear.

“I have been giving this a great deal of thought, this sits on my desk every day,” said Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk, a major UK underwriter. Johnson sits on the loss-prevention committee of the International Union of Maritime Insurers.

“The agreed uncertainty that underpins marine insurance is falling away, but we are pretending that it isn’t. The contractual framework is being made less relevant all the time.”

Defining Autonomous Vessels

Two types of crewless vessels are being contemplated. First up is a drone with no one on board but actively controlled by a human at a remote command post on land or even on another vessel.

While some debate whether the controllers of drone aircrafts are pilots or operators, the very real question yet to be addressed is if a vessel controller is legally a “master” under maritime law.


The other type of crewless vessel would be completely autonomous, with the onboard systems making decisions about navigation, weather and operations.

Advocates tout the benefits of larger cargo capacity without crew spaces, including radically different hull designs without decks people can walk on. Doubters note a crew can fix things at sea while a ship cannot.

Rolls-Royce is one of the major proponents and designers. The company tested a remote-controlled tug in Copenhagen in June 2017.

“We think the initial early adopters will be vessels operating on fixed routes within coastal waters under the jurisdiction of flag states,” the company said.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.”

Once autonomous ships are a reality, “the entire current legal framework for maritime law and insurance is done,” said Johnson. “The master has not been replaced; he is just gone. Commodity ships (bulk carriers) would be most amenable to that technology. I’m not overly bothered by fully automated ships, but I am extremely bothered by heavily automated ones.”

He cited two risks specifically: hacking and fire.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.” — Rolls-Royce Holdings study

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, asked an even more existential question: “From an insurance standpoint, are we even still talking about a vessel as it is under law? Starting with the legal framework, the duty of a flag state is ‘manning of ships.’ What about the duty to render assistance? There cannot be insurance coverage of an illegal contract.”

Several sources noted that the technological development of crewless ships, while impressive, seems to be a solution in search of a problem. There is no known need in the market; no shippers, operators, owners or mariners advocate that crewless ships will solve their problems.

Kinsey takes umbrage at the suggestion that promotional material on crewless vessels cherry picks his company’s data, which found 75 percent to 90 percent of marine losses are caused by human error.


“Removing the humans from the vessels does not eliminate the human error. It just moves the human error from the helm to the coder. The reports on development by the companies with a vested interest [in crewless vessels] tend to read a lot like advertisements. The pressure for this is not coming from the end users.”

To be sure, Kinsey is a proponent of automation and technology when applied prudently, believing automation can make strides in areas of the supply chains. Much of the talk about automation is trying to bury the serious shortage of qualified crews. It also overshadows the very real potential for blockchain technology to overhaul the backend of marine insurance.

As a marine surveyor, Kinsey said he can go down to the wharf, inspect cranes, vessels and securements, and supervise loading and unloading — but he can’t inspect computer code or cyber security.

New Times, New Risks

In all fairness, insurance language has changed since the 17th century, especially as technology races ahead in the 21st.

“If you read any hull form, it’s practically Shakespearean,” said Stephen J. Harris, senior vice president of marine protection UK, Marsh. “The language is no longer fit for purpose. Our concern specifically to this topic is that the antiquated language talks about crew being on board. If they are not on board, do they still legally count as crew?”

Harris further questioned, “Under hull insurance, and provided that the ship owner has acted diligently, cover is extended to negligence of the master or crew. Does that still apply if the captain is not on board but sitting at a desk in an office?”

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Several sources noted that a few international organizations, notably the Comite Maritime International and the International Maritime Organization, “have been very active in asking the legal profession around the world about their thoughts. The interpretations vary greatly. The legal complications of crewless vessels are actually more complicated than the technology.”

For example, if the operational, insurance and regulatory entities in two countries agree on the voyage of a crewless vessel across the ocean, a mishap or storm could drive the vessel into port or on shore of a third country that does not recognize those agreements.

“What worries insurers is legal uncertainty,” said Harris.

“If an operator did everything fine but a system went down, then most likely the designer would be responsible. But even if a designer explicitly accepted responsibility, what matters would be the flag state’s law in international waters and the local state’s law in territorial waters.


“We see the way ahead for this technology as local and short-sea operations. The law has to catch up with the technology, and it is showing no signs of doing so.”

Thomas M. Boudreau, head of specialty insurance, The Hartford, suggested that remote ferry operations could be the most appropriate use: “They travel fixed routes, all within one country’s waters.”

There could also be environmental and operational benefits from using battery power rather than conventional fuels.

“In terms of underwriting, the burden would shift to the manufacturer and designer of the operating systems,” Boudreau added.

It may just be, he suggested, that crewless ships are merely replacing old risks with new ones. Crews can deal with small repairs, fires or leaks at sea, but small conditions such as those can go unchecked and endanger the whole ship and cargo.

“The cyber risk is also concerning. The vessel may be safe from physical piracy, but what about hacking?” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]