By MATTHEW BRODSKY, senior editor/Web editor
Let's take it for granted that risk managers are a different breed, and that unlike many other management types and mid-level vice president people, they like to mark their territory around one stomping ground. They don't flitter from one employer to the next. They settle at one spot and stake their reputations and their lives on what they do there.
"For the most part, they do," says Scott B. Clark, the risk and benefits officer with Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Clark, who is also treasurer with the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc., moved to Miami in Sept. 1984 while working with Wausau. It was soon after that his boss told him of an assistant risk manager position opening up in the local schools. Clark says he always knew he wanted to be in risk management, in no small part because his family was in the insurance business. So when he went in for the interview, despite telling them he didn't want to work for the government, he ended up taking the job in March 1986, and sticking with it.
"There are a lot," says Richard Roberts, corporate risk manager, Ensign-Bickford Industries Inc., regarding peers who tend to do the long haul with one company. "People just don't leave."
For Roberts, his first long haul was with Aetna, back when it was a P/C company. He started out as an IT expert developing computer systems. Risk management caught his fancy after five years on the tech side, however, and he achieved the ARM designation to move into that space. When a risk management position opened up in Aetna ... he was passed over. When the position opened again, he got it. He worked in risk management for the carrier for six years, until the company started downsizing, and he left after 15 years there. He's been with Ensign-Bickford ever since 1993, and has taken up a leadership role as well in the profession as director of enterprise risk management at RIMS.
What brings these risk managers back to the same office morning after morning?
One thing to consider is that, though the general goal of their position never changes, the details of the job are always shifting, expanding, evolving.
Skip Neilson said so much when presenting at the recent Vermont Captive Insurance Association conference in Burlington, Vt., during a session on risk management. Neilson has been with Shell since 1981, his current positions being head of risk and insurance for the oil company's downstream operations in the Americas, deputy head of risk and insurance in the Americas and vice president of Shell's captive board. And when asked what keeps his job fresh, he says it was the change that does it.
Neilson credits how he hasn't been in one position for more than a couple years, on average for only a matter of months. He also has the chance to do a lot of mentoring with colleagues. But what does it for him as well is "rethinking," asking, "why do we do that?"
"Challenging the status quo is what keeps it fresh," he says.
When you work for an organization that large and varied, it's got to be a hoot to get your hands into all the action. That's basically what Tim East, director of risk management at The Walt Disney Co., said in the same VCIA session. He's had the chance to sit in on live news broadcasts, follow security details during Grad Night at one of the parks--opportunities for "eye openers" about what really goes on at his company.
Roberts remembers how he was originally brought onto Ensign-Bickford to handle insurance purchasing, yet ...
"The job kept growing," he says. Much of the growth of his responsibilities have had to do with his own initiative, as he got himself involved in fleet, credit, security, the medical unit. He's stayed because he can "diversify" his job like that, with perhaps enterprise risk management being the biggest opportunity yet.
In his job, Clark says he's never felt stymied, never felt bored. He's been able to be creative, to test different things. "I've always had the ability to grow," he says. "It's an ongoing experiment."
But perhaps what generates the strongest magnetic pull between Clark and his job are the students, his passion. What has kept him through changes of nine different superintendents, kept him from reaching for larger loot in the corporate world, was the fact that all his hard work can "lead to keeping money in the classroom."
While corporate risk managers focus on delivering value to shareholders, his task of taking care of 365,000 kids on a daily basis "is a very tall calling."
Not to say that corporate risk managers don't have deeper purpose or meaning in their responsibilities. Whatever product or service their company provides, it appears that long-timer risk managers all share this sense of duty. But it's also more than that--a fit of perfectionism, a calling, building the boat in the bottle.
"You can't do anything meaningful in three to five years," says Clark, adding that it takes that long just to get to know a company.
Roberts agrees. With risk management, he says, you have to take "baby steps" to build the "perfect program," which you might never achieve. Perfection could always be around the corner. "You're always tweaking it," he says.
So, one risk manager, working on one risk management program, at one employer, could put in three, five, seven, 11 years until he finally gets the "blend" he likes.
"When you're dealing with risk management programs, it's not something you drop in," Roberts says.
Perhaps when a risk managerskedaddles from one employer to another to another, the reasons are that the above qualities of a good risk manager position are not present?room to grow, to create, to feel fulfilled and appreciated.
Such was the case with Gary G. Pederson, who is now senior vice president at Beecher Carlson. Pederson literally "fell" into insurance when he broke his back doing construction as a young man. After he healed and needed to return to work, he says the only company that would hire him was Reliance Insurance, which gave him a position in loss control. After a stint as a stock broker, he found his way into a risk manager job at a construction company. He worked directly under the president of the $100 million company during a tough patch in its history, helping the business to survive by tackling workers' comp and making his department a profit center.
"It was a fun and exciting time," he says. "It was a great school."
Yet after six years, Pederson says, he reached a dead end. He would need to run a whole operation in order to move up. So instead he hired his replacement--who is much better than he was, he adds--and became a broker at Beecher, where he's been for just less than three years.
"I get to go out to companies and solve problems," he says. "I love the thrill of a win."
Pederson wonders aloud about what could have been had he had a chance to grow somewhere in risk management, but he doesn't doubt for a moment what he's doing now. Though he knows risk managers sometimes roll their eyes at brokers.
September 15, 2008
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