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Industry insight crucial, RIMS' past presidents say

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Risk managers who understand the industries they're in and know the ins and outs of their organizations are better equipped to identify, assess, prioritize and mitigate risks, experts say.

Having entered the industry as an “insurance person” 31 years ago, Scott Clark, risk and benefits officer at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, says he has “absolutely” learned the business of public education.

“A good risk manager is one that, maybe as much as the CEO, needs to know the ins and outs of their organization and really what makes that organization tick so they can clearly understand the risks,” Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Clark and other risk managers, all former Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. presidents, shared their wisdom during a session at the association's annual conference in San Diego this week.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools had a $100 million ground-up loss from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, said Mr. Clark, who was the president of RIMS in 2011.

He said that taught the district how to strengthen its facilities by removing air conditioners from roofs, for example.

“One of the things we've been successful in building from a strategic basis is a very responsive critical incident reporting system,” Mr. Clark added. “We'll know within 24 to 36 hours what facilities are available to us to continue the educational process and what facilities we may have to really focus in on.”

For Rick Roberts, 2015 RIMS president and director of risk management and employee benefits at Ensign-Bickford Industries Inc. in Simsbury, Connecticut, the biggest focus is cyber risk.

About a year and a half ago, “our director of IT went into the board and told them he was getting pinged 64,000 times a day,” Mr. Roberts said.

Since then the board has been “heavily involved and they're asking for a much broader solution than” they have in the past, he added.

Mitigation of cyber risks is key, Mr. Roberts said, noting that the goal is to protect proprietary information and corporate reputation.

With more than 65,000 employees in more than 100 countries, “my biggest concern is staying in the loop and understanding what we're doing in each region,” said Janice Ochenkowski, 2007-2008 RIMS president and international director of global risk management at Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. in Chicago.

In addition, Ms. Ochenkowski said the company has offices in just 80 countries, “which means we service 20 countries by flying folks in and out. Those are primarily very high risk areas,” such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

During monthly global conference calls, “we look at the headlines of the day,” Ms. Ochenkowski said. “We look at the risks that are affecting organizations, municipalities and individuals and we figure out, how do we step up against that? What would happen to us? … Is our culture open enough that people feel comfortable coming forward to report things they think are wrong in the system? … Do they know how to do it?”

Ms. Ochenkowski said each of her risk professionals “identifies with a business line,” which allows him or her to gain an understanding of the business, “have the business get to know them and be seen as assistants in solving business problems.”