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People discussing Russ Opferkuch's teaching activities often refer to them as his "second job."
It may be a second job, but for the Bankers Trust Co. vp of corporate risk and insurance, it's a key component of the fabric of his overall career.
Mr. Opferkuch has taught all three classes in the Associate in Risk Management program on behalf of the New York Chapter of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. for more than 10 years.
"He takes that responsibility very seriously," said Claudia Mastrapasqua, a vp at Johnson & Higgins in New York. "He builds his business trips around his class schedule."
Mr. Opferkuch's introduction to teaching came as an outside instructor in public safety at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. It was there that he first came to believe that teaching could benefit his performance as a risk manager.
"It did a number of things for me," the risk manager said. "It allows me to practice communications skills, which I think is important for anyone. It's not easy to step up in front of a group and field questions."
Later, when a position opened at the New York RIMS chapter, he started teaching in the ARM program, particularly ARM 55, Essentials of Loss Control. He has taught ARM 54, 55 and 56 ever since.
"I feel it keeps me on my toes," Mr. Opferkuch said, noting that to teach the ARM classes well the teacher must be current not only with the course materials but also able to apply real-world events to the subject matter.
"He injects his personal risk management experiences in the broadest sense into his classes and I think his students benefit tremendously," said Alan Friedlander, senior vp at Aon Risk Services Inc. in New York and a long acquaintance of Mr. Opferkuch.
"I think it's an important part of his professional life," Mr. Friedlander said. "And I'm sure that his risk management skills also benefit from his teaching experience because when you're busy explaining something to a class, you have to have it clear in your own mind first."
Mr. Opferkuch agreed. "I find that to be able to understand the concepts and understand what is behind them helps me do my job a little better as a risk manager," he said.
And, much of risk management involves educating others, he noted, whether it is raising risk awareness in the company or explaining to others why they must provide the risk management department with the information needed to deal with claims.
Antonina Basile, an assistant vp in Bankers Trust's risk management group, thinks Mr. Opferkuch's experience as an educator has a lot to do with the way he deals with his staff.
He's always ready to drop what he's doing and discuss an issue if the staff doesn't understand it, she noted. "Almost ad nauseam he'll discuss something to make sure we get to the next level," she said.
And Mr. Opferkuch is both patient and creative in his teaching. "A lot of people, if you don't understand 'one and one is two,' can't find another way to explain it," Ms. Basile said. "He can find four other ways to explain 'one and one is two. "
"I take great pride in educating my people," the risk manager said.
Indeed, education and professional development are highly regarded at Bankers Trust.
"BT in general has always been very supportive of education. I came on board and I was halfway through my MBA and they made that a priority for me," Ms. Basile said. "I finished my MBA, I was in the middle of planning a wedding and the first thing they asked was when was I going to start my CPCU."
Mr. Opferkuch holds the ARM, Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter and Certified Safety Professional designations and earned his MBA with distinction in professional management in 1979 from Pace University.