Royal Risk Management: Tips for Higher Education Risk Pros Based on a Study of Harry and Meghan’s Strategy

By: | April 8, 2021

John (Jack) Hampton was a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University, a core faculty member at the International School of Management (Paris), and a Risk Insider at Risk and Insurance magazine where he was named a 2018 All Star. He was Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS), dean of the schools of business at Seton Hall and Connecticut State universities, and provost of the College of Insurance and SUNY Maritime College in New York City.

It’s so refreshing to see, once again, that we can always count on the British royal family when we need them most.

Thank you Meghan. Thank you Harry. You guys teamed up with Oprah in a discussion that showed us how the British royal family manages or mismanages risk.

The interview did not match the epic level of the couple’s last big appearance. In 2018, 29 million Americans set their alarms to wake up in time for a pre-breakfast wedding. Still, 18 million viewers for a 2021 primetime event is not too shabby.

It has been 16 months since my December 2019 story explaining how Harry and Meghan’s situation was parallel to what’s happening in U.S. higher education. To recap:

  • The royal couple and higher education were in untenable positions.
  • Few powerful people in British royalty or American higher education seemed to appreciate the danger.

My recommendation was specific: “The common risk management challenge of the British royal family and U.S. colleges is to create a pathway to a happy and prosperous future for themselves and the people who love them.”

If the two situations had similarities, the parties took different pathways.

For Harry and Meghan it was straightforward:

  • Risk Identification: The situation is not working. The negative elements are crushing our spirit. How much longer can we hold on?
  • The Risk Assessment: We have financial and other resources to chart a different pathway. Either we change or we die.
  • The Business Model: Let’s focus on a goal and take steps to achieve it.

For many colleges and universities, the situation was not so clear:

  • Risk Identification: The serious risks facing higher education got obscured by COVID-19.
  • The Risk Assessment: Let’s deal with the pandemic.
  • The Business Model: If we sanitize the campus, the students will return.

Starting in March 2020, the focus of many colleges and universities has been to reopen after the departure of the virus:

  • Offer online or Zoom courses until enough people get vaccinated.
  • Redesign classrooms to allow social distancing.
  • Announce the intention to resume “normal” operations as soon as we have herd immunity.

This is a dangerous strategy. Have they forgotten the pre-COVID challenges?

  • Demographics: A declining student population in an era of too many colleges.
  • Community Colleges: Expanded efforts to make them “free.”
  • Tuition Sticker Prices: Unreasonable by any measure.
  • Student Debt in a Weak Job Market: Crushing financial burdens with long-term career disruption.

What’s the answer? It’s the same as it was prior to COVID-19.

  • Acknowledge that education is valuable but the current model of delivering it is broken.
  • Develop a vibrant set of educational experiences that give students choices to learn the things that are important to them.
  • Form partnerships with people and organizations that want to fix things that are wrong with the world.
  • Develop business models for higher education as a component of sustainable survival for the planet.

Jon Stewart hit the nail on the head with a quote from Irresistible, his 2020 movie: “You can’t win a battle if you’re not honest about what you’re up against.”

Harry and Meghan were honest. They dealt with stubborn tradition, family jealousies and out-of-control British tabloids. They created a strategy to physically escape. They plotted and executed. They showed us that anything’s possible. Risk management sometimes pays off.

Who would believe they would wind up in a ritzy area of Southern California talking to the Queen (Oprah) after negotiating a $100 million deal with Netflix? &

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