You don't necessarily have to have three letters behind your name to do well at risk management. What you really need is to know how to communicate and how to apply yourself, executive recruiters say. Most important, you need a healthy dose of passion for your work.
Not that that alone will get you a leather-backed chair in that corner office, but it can get you far enough. "You've got to be passionate," said Gary Kilburg, assistant treasurer, risk management for Whirlpool Inc. and a former risk executive with Boeing Co. Working the risk management beat in corporate America devoid of passion is like trying to cook without water. You'll make a name for yourself as a dry, arcane lump of jargon.
Kilburg was one of four panelists offering his advice to other risk managers in a RIMS 2005 session titled "Career Insights Even Ben Franklin Would Get Charged Up About."
One key piece of advice: Check the urge to tell others everything you know about your rofession.
It was a lesson learned early in Chris Mandel's career, when he was working the risk beat at Pepsico. Mandel, now assistant vice president for risk at USAA, once prepared a 30-page briefing for a meeting when all he needed was five pages.
"Your senior manager wants you to communicate in simple and clear terms," he said. "It's particularly true at the very top because they have such a crush of urgency and work volume. Make it simple and communicate it clearly."
"Whether it's finance or HR, I like to think of these different departments as different countries communicating with different languages," said Kilburg.
The clarity issue has become more important because senior managers rely more on their risk and treasury folks to keep them abreast of the latest developments on the compliance and financial reporting front.
"Senior managers are looking for risk managers to bring to light the risks of the enterprise, well beyond buying insurance," said Kilburg.
Instead of talking about premiums, deductibles and loss costs, he would use the terms fixed costs and variable costs. "We have lots of charts and lots of pictures," he also said.
In addition to not overwhelming superiors with just how much insurance industry knowledge you possess, a pinch of tact and flexibility also go a long way.
"You're still dealing with other individuals within the company," said Michael B. Tannenbaum, president of Key Strategies, an executive recruitment firm. "You have to have flexibility, because if you go in there guns blazing, they might shoot back--and it could get ugly."
Memphis-based David Arick, director of global insurance risk at International Paper, recommends managing turf wars by being a kind of diplomat.
"I try to make sure I give the same answers to people and be consistent," he said. "It is sort of a diplomatic process. I've worked for a company that's relatively political. We've had a couple of mergers. You can't hang your hat with certain people because they may not be around next year."
July 1, 2005
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