The December issue of this magazine had two articles discussing the need to attract new talent to the risk management profession. Part of the attraction of any profession is how seriously the profession is taken, which starts with just how serious the profession takes itself. Does risk management take the same pride in its accomplishments as, for example, the people who do "the wave" at sporting events?
Case in point: Last year, in 2005, risk management celebrated its 50th year. Unfortunately, no one seemed to notice. There were no celebrations and no special articles. In stark contrast, this year "the wave" (the undulating, coordinated movement of fans at an athletic event) turned 25. I know this because the inventor, cheerleader Krazy George Henderson, is celebrating the anniversary, and the media is obligingly covering it.
One has to wonder why a simple cheer gets this treatment when something as important as risk management does not. It took a considerable amount of research and a great deal of help from two of the most respected people in the business, George Head and Felix Kloman, to simply find out who coined the term "risk management." It turns out that Wayne Snider first used it in 1955, though Mark Greene was also one of the early proponents of the term and might have actually published it before Snider.
While celebrating the birth of our profession might not have any practical use, it brings up larger issues regarding not only the history of the risk management profession, but also its future. Most professions have a good idea of their history. For example, no psychiatrist would ever graduate without having taken classes covering the history of psychology. And no one in science would have trouble remembering who developed the Theory of Relativity. Consider for a minute that for most professions the events of a mere 100 years ago are well-known. Yet in risk management, we can't well remember the events of the 1970s.
I remember how I felt about entering the insurance profession as a 21-year-old college graduate. Let's just say that working in insurance was not on my short list. Almost everyone I met entered the profession for the same reason: because they were a liberal arts major and it was the best option when compared with alternatives like unemployment. Most of my peers at the time had plans to get out of insurance as soon as they could. There was certainly no one trying to talk them into staying.
The problem with our professional amnesia is the effect it has on the talent we bring into this profession. Young people in college might not understand exactly what a risk manager does, but they can hardly be blamed for not having a desire to enter a profession that does not take itself seriously enough to celebrate its own achievements. We need to take pride in our contributions to the larger business community.
Since 1955, risk management has grown exponentially in size and importance. Risk management is now a common term, and no prudent business would think of conducting its affairs without at least a modicum of risk management. In fact, risk is of such concern that, as John Adams, the author of "Risk," is fond of pointing out, a Google search of "risk" yields far more hits than a search for either "sex" or "god."
Risk management has never been as crucial to business as it is now. If risk managers don't treat it as a serious, noble and worthy profession with a rich history, no one else will either, let alone 21-year-old grads.
BEAUMONT VANCE, the risk management columnist for Risk & Insurance®, lives in Colorado and manages risk for Sun Microsystems Inc. He
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January 1, 2007
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