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Communication, documentation help risk managers prove their value

Programs should be documented, embedded

Strategic Risk Management

SASKATOON, Saskatchewan — More than a decade ago, when Bell Canada was in the midst of a hostile takeover bid of another company, the company's risk manager asked about the risks that Bell Canada would acquire as a result of the transaction.

“We had to submit our questions in advance,” said Susan Meltzer, Bell Canada's former risk manager and now vice president of enterprise risk management at Aviva North America Inc. in Toronto. Her questions included, “How much insurance do you keep on an orbiting satellite?”

The takeover company's new CEO said that it wasn't necessary to insure satellites after they are in orbit because “nothing can happen,” Ms. Meltzer recalled during a session on “Stories from the Front Line of Risk Management” during the 2012 RIMS Canada Conference, held last week in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

After that meeting, Ms. Meltzer investigated the cost of insuring an orbiting satellite — about $13 million Canadian at the time — and prepared a report that she filed away for future reference.

But a short time later, while she was at home one evening watching television with her then-5-year-old son, the broadcast was interrupted when a meteor shower knocked that satellite out of orbit.

“I was jumping for joy!” she said.

Ms. Meltzer also said she received a call the next day inquiring about whether that CA$13 million satellite insurance policy would respond to the loss, valued then at CA$300 million.

“If I hadn't documented that the CEO declined to buy the cover, I would probably have lost my job,” she said. “We spend a lot of time trying to prove the value of risk management,” Ms. Meltzer said.


But risk managers will leave a bigger impression if they also document it, she stressed.

The theme of this year's RIMS Canada Conference focused on the evolving role of risk management as it becomes integral to business performance and viability — and the fact that with that attention also comes greater responsibility.

“Risk management must deliver a clear and measurable impact on the company's operating performance,” said Dan Kugler, assistant treasurer, risk management, at Snap-on Inc. in Kenosha, Wis., speaking during a session titled “Risk Management Speak: Communicating Risk Management Value and Results to Your Organization's C-Suite and Board.”

“How do you align risk management objectives with the organization's strategic goals? Take the lead in moving beyond hazard risk management,” said Mr. Kugler.

“When I'd talk about loss prevention and safety, I could see my CEO's eyes glaze over,” said Robert Cartwright, loss prevention manager for Bridgestone Retail Operations L.L.C. in Exton, Pa. He said he “had to learn how to speak my CEO's language” to get his support.

Also presenting during the “Risk Management Speak” session, Mr. Cartwright said he changed his lexicon to explain things like “here's where our profit retention will be if we prevent and control losses.”

“You need someone who sees your vision and can be a champion of risk management in your organization,” he said. “When you get the buy-in from the top, it makes the job a lot easier.”

However, to gain the most attention, he recommended that risk managers “limit action plans to those risks with the potential to cause significant impediments in achieving business objectives or which may cause major impairments of capital.”


“Depending on how successful you are, it opens the door to other things,” Mr. Cartwright said.

To get his CEO's attention, Hans Læssøe, senior director of strategic risk management at Lego A.S., implemented “active risk and opportunity planning,” which involves evaluating how certain risk scenarios could affect each component of the Billund, Denmark-based toy manufacturer's entire business operation.

“Look at the entire business system. What would be the impact on the other components” if a particular risk scenario played out, Mr. Læssøe queried during a keynote at this year's conference, where he documented how a focus on risk management has enabled the company to remain profitable despite a stagnant toy market.

Mr. Læssøe confided that his ultimate objective is to embed risk management throughout the company so that his job as risk manager becomes obsolete. He is doing this by assigning “ownership” of each risk to various individuals.

“They are in charge of making sure something gets done,” Mr. Læssøe said. “In some cases, it has refocused the project,” he said.

If risk management is implemented effectively, it should make it easier for executive management and an organization's many “risk owners” to carry out their respective responsibilities, Mr. Cartwright said.

“Risk is owned by everyone, not just the risk manager. If you don't have safety, production stops, then you can't serve the customer and make money,” he said.

To get the attention of their CEO, risk managers also should learn how to spin their message so it is positive, rather than negative, Mr. Cartwright said.


“Aren't all risks opportunities? Use that as a selling point,” Mr. Cartwright said.

In some cases, educating others in an organization about risk management may change the corporate lexicon as well, Mr. Cartwright said.

“Now I hear people saying "root cause,'” which is a risk management term, he said.

“You can't turn an ocean liner that quickly. It takes a while to make that turn. But if you (are) concise, direct and leave them with something,” it will have an impact, Mr. Cartwright said.

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