RIMS Risk Manager of the Year Theresa Severson on Why Outreach to Young Professionals Is Essential for the Industry

2023 RIMS Risk Manager of the Year Theresa Severson shares the pillars of her risk management philosophy, her mentors and more. 
By: | July 8, 2023

R&I: What was your first job?

A waitress. Waitressing gave me the flexibility to work 30 to 40 hours a week and still go to school full-time. I just didn’t sleep much!

R&I: How did you come to your current position?

I was the vice president of insurance and risk at Retail Properties of America for 12 years. When they merged with Kite Realty Group in October 2021, KRG did not have a full-time risk manager and I was asked to stay on in the role I held at RPAI.

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

I believe the role has evolved from a stand-alone function to a strategic part of the business decision-making process.

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

Growing the organizational awareness that the risk management role is not just about the placement of insurance policies or a check-the-box function, but being able to help the stakeholders and the entire organization develop best practices to achieve their operational objectives.

R&I: You were recognized as Risk Manager of the Year by RIMS. Could you tell us a bit about your risk management philosophy?

My risk philosophy focuses on collaboration. I don’t want the insurance and risk department to be viewed as an obstacle that a department must get past, but as a strategic partner that will help develop best practices to control and/or transfer risk so that our organizational goals can be successfully achieved.

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

My sisters. My parents immigrated from Northern Ireland with just an elementary school traditional education, so college wasn’t really something they encouraged us to do. But my older sisters encouraged me and my younger sister to go to college.

My oldest sister has her MBA and worked in education, one is a dermatologist and just sold her medical practice, and the third is a geophysicist who had her own consulting firm. They always encouraged me and were my inspirations.

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

Supporting each other and the next generation of insurance and risk professionals. The insurance and risk community are so willing to help others with questions or requests for guidance. I am proud to be a part of this community.

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

The risk community does a great job mentoring students in the IRMS programs, but I would love to see more outreach to high schools, especially in underserved communities, to showcase the opportunities our field offers.

R&I: What’s your favorite book or movie?

There are so many out there, it’s hard to choose just one favorite. I love all books, and for movies, I do love suspense and romantic comedies.

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

Raising my children; it’s the most challenging and rewarding job in the world.

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

I went white water rafting down the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Africa. It’s considered to be one of the very best rafting rivers in the world. I did it with a broken foot!

Emma Brenner is a staff writer with Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected].