This Risk Manager Says the Profession Knows How to Add Value to Every Industry

This risk manager wants to see the risk management profession become as respected a career path as being a banker, lawyer or engineer.
By: | December 2, 2019

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

I was working my way through college and took a job as a credit card collector for Bank One in Columbus, Ohio. After obtaining my degree, my career goal was to work in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). After a year working in collections, I saw an internal job posting in corporate risk management, and I thought it might help me join the M&A group down the road.

I talked with people at the bank and a few of my professors about what risk management’s function was, and, it’s funny, they had a lot of different responses that I would say, even today, aren’t exactly the right answers.

I was fortunate to get that risk management job, where I was exposed to the different responsibilities and aspects of the department. There, I learned a lot about risk management due diligence relative to M&A transactions, since at the time, the bank was pursuing dozens of deals during a rapid expansion phase. I immediately saw the potential for a rewarding career that touched a lot of different functional areas on a daily basis and have been in risk management ever since.

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

To me, going beyond being solely the ‘insurance person’ and moving more into managing risk has been a big change. The role has shifted from being mainly the insurance buyer to a place where we think more about the different aspects of risk and how to influence or minimize the impacts on our employers and industries.

R&I: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?

I joined GE in June 2001 and moved my wife and year-old daughter to Fairfield, Connecticut. A few months later, 9/11 occurred. The professional, emotional and personal weight of living through that time, especially in the tri-state area, was really challenging.

On the professional and personal side, we lost team members, especially from Marsh and Aon. These were really good people who I had just started to work with and learn from.

It was a scary time to go through, watching how the markets reacted and worked through that turmoil. Looking back, I learned so much during that time, working and living through that crisis and recovery.

R&I: Who has been your mentor(s) and why?

Julie Haines, the risk manager at Bank One during my early days. She really had faith in me and threw me into many things very early in my career, while still providing a safety net to back me up. She’s why I pursued this career path.

Paul Morrison at Emerson Electric was a fantastic boss and is still a friend. He really taught me how to manage relationships, among other things.

Stacy Regan at GE is another one — she always struck me as someone who wasn’t afraid to bring a bunch of smart people into a room, agree on a strategy and let everyone fly, only stepping in if needed.

There are too many other people to name who have influenced me and taught me what I know. I can only hope to pay that back to others.

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

Have patience when it comes to managing your career. Some may jump into a role because it pays more, without thinking long-term about the career they want to build. The grass might not be greener elsewhere, but at least be sure that potential job changes contribute something to your career goals.

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

We recognize that the profession is looking to add value. Whether your education and background is as a CPA, attorney or insurance practitioner, we’re embracing our roles and collaborating wherever we can to bring respect and credibility to the profession. Many of us, especially my colleagues on RIMS Board of Directors, want to see risk management become as respected a career path as being a banker, lawyer or engineer.

We’re also investing in a credible risk and insurance college education platform for the future generations of workers. A lot of us recognize we fell into this career, and for many of us, risk and insurance wasn’t even offered at our universities. Now there are many more opportunities to study risk management or insurance, earn degrees in this space and proactively choose this career path.

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

I hear a lot that risk management struggles to get a seat at the table. I feel like it’s up to us to make those opportunities happen, to show the value of our position and perspective and to continue to look for ways to contribute to our company’s success. It doesn’t matter what profession you are in, each of us has to work to create and earn that seat at the table.

R&I: What’s your favorite book/movie?

Movie-wise, anything by Clint Eastwood, dating as far back as the old westerns. I like Saving Private Ryan. I think the Lord of the Rings books and movies are some of the best.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Red wine — that’s my go-to.

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

I’ve been married almost 25 years and I have two fantastic kids. You don’t get an instruction guide on how to be the best spouse or parent, so while I’m sure I’m not the best at either, I am proud of where I am with my family and I’m grateful to have had a career that’s grown along with us.

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

I love roller coasters and thrill rides like that. The faster it goes, the more I love it. Cedar Point in Ohio is still my favorite place for those kinds of rides. &

Autumn Demberger is the content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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