Airbnb’s Head of Insurance Operations Shares Why Risk Managers Need to Break Into the Boardroom

Laura Langone, the 2020 president of RIMS, discusses the rise of Insurtech, a commitment to learning and why risk professionals need to break into boardrooms.
By: | February 13, 2020

R&I: What was your first job?

My risk management career started at AIG in Boston for American International Underwriters (AIU).

I’ve been lucky to travel and live in different parts of the world as part of this professional journey. I lived and worked for AIU in Boston, New York and in Paris and an investment banking firm in Venezuela.

Now I reside in the Bay Area. My first real corporate risk management experience came when I was a broker at Johnson & Higgins, where my boss assigned me to be an outsource risk manager for hi-tech companies whose risk managers were on vacation or sabbatical.

I learned great insight as to what it takes to work in this profession, as well as good perspective of the variety of risk programs. One risk manager told me that if I ever attended the RIMS Annual Conference, I should remember that this is my time to network and learn. I have always remembered this.

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

With the experience I gained as a broker, insurance underwriter and a consultant, I quickly realized that not only was this a profession filled with opportunity, but I was also genuinely fascinated by the work.

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As a consultant, one the firm’s clients called and said, “we have an opening for you.”

It was a big risk and, honestly, I didn’t know if I was ready. But I took the opportunity, and it has been one of the best professional decisions of my life.

Since then, I have taken different roles. But when I evaluate risk management roles, they are more strategic, like leading ERM, or a difficult risk, like fintech or Biotech, highly regulated fields that cross industry groups.

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

It’s an interesting question because I find it amazing how little has changed.

Risk professionals still need information and data to get the job done. We still need new and updated technology to succeed.

If I had to say what the biggest change has been, it would be the massive consolidations that we have witnessed. Consolidations have reduced risk professionals’ options and are probably a big contributor to the rise of Insurtechs. Those Insurtechs are offering new innovations as they attempt to compete in this space and bring more technology to the risk management and insurance industry.

That said, competition creates innovation, and the next few years in this industry should be very interesting.

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

The biggest challenge I faced, as many risk professionals, is shedding that middle management label. I’m a strategist, and it’s been difficult throughout my career to be seen as a strategic contributor to the organization and break through that glass ceiling.

It takes perseverance and persistence.

Risk professionals are challenged to demonstrate just how important their insight is to innovation, risk taking and, ultimately, growth.

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

I’ve had several influential risk professionals who have certainly helped my career. Robin Denholm, chairwomen at Tesla, is always someone who I went to for advice for ERM and board participation.

Catherine Portman, now at Palo Alto Networks, really gave me the opportunity to experience a wide range of risk management and treasury responsibilities.

And, Ward Ching at Aon who was a fantastic mentor for me as a risk management consultant. We always challenged the status quo and worked on innovative risk management projects and solutions for risk managers.

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

We have seen that RIMS global community continues to place greater emphasis on their own personal education. This commitment to education goes beyond procurement but to really understanding dynamic risks like cyber and climate change.

Risk professionals have become continuous learners and are seeking opportunities like RIMS-CRMP certification and other professional marks of achievement to demonstrate their commitment to their work.

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

We need to break into that boardroom.

There is a bit of disconnect. Board directors want risk management and risk professionals who are getting more savvy, but still, we’re not always being invited to these important, strategic conversations.

Perhaps, we need to be bolder to take some risks, to demand the resources that we need and follow through on our programs until they’re fully mature. Transparency for risk is one of our strengths as risk professionals, and this leads to driving positive risk culture in top management, which adds to shareholder value.

R&I: How would you say technology has impacted the risk management profession?

Technology continues to have a significant impact on risk management. It has allowed organizations to become more efficient and improve processes.

We are able to keep property and people safer. We have better data that helps us address customers’ needs and compete and/or create marketplaces.

With all of these wonderful attributes, technology is also opening the door to so many uncertainties. Risk professionals must be ready to help guide their organizations through its implementation and unintended and intended use.

R&I: As the 2020 RIMS president, what are you most excited for this year?

I am excited to take my own risks, to challenge myself and to be uncomfortable. I don’t just want to be spokesperson, but I want to live what I say.

There is great opportunity for risk professionals. This is an extremely rewarding profession. My goal, and really the goal of this entire association, is to help professionals achieve. If you want to help this profession, you have to be a part of it.

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RIMS really offers that opportunity to everyone to be involved and contribute. You get what you put into RIMS. I am very active and have always gravitated towards RIMS as the leading risk management organization.

R&I: What’s your favorite book?

Wisdom at Work by Chip Conley. I’m really enjoying it right now. It talks about reinventing yourself in the second half of your career, taking risks, adapting to the modern workplace and the importance of continuous learning. It’s never too late to adapt and take new risks and most importantly engage with diverse groups of people and thought.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

A beautiful red wine … but, it’s even better if it’s shared with friends.

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

Professionally, as I look back, I really took some big risks and challenged myself. With RIMS, serving as president of the Silicon Valley Chapter. We rebranded it, elevated its offering and really made it a valuable option for local risk professionals. My engagement at the chapter level lead to more involvement at the board level.

Personally, raising two great kids. Every day they amaze me.

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

Sometimes I can’t believe I did this, but I jumped off of a cliff in Venezuela to parasail. I’m shaking my head. My husband says it is the stupidest thing I have ever done as a risk professional. Sometimes you just need to fly. &

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]