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Tax librarian application leads to career in risk management


Carol Arendall didn't set out to become risk manager of OfficeMax Inc.—or of anywhere, for that matter—when she applied for a job at Long Grove, Ill.-based CF Industries Inc. while still in college.

"I applied for the tax librarian's job and didn't get it, but they had another job in risk management," said Ms. Arendall, now Office- Max's senior director-risk management. At the fertilizer manufacturer and distributor, she worked with the risk manager, Dave Haight, while finishing her work toward a bachelor's degree in business administration at Chicago's Roosevelt University.

The Chicago native said her final course in college was a business English class that required her to answer a help wanted ad in the newspaper with a cover letter and a resume. She saw an opening at Carson Pirie Scott & Co. and thought, "What the heck, I'll put a stamp on it and mail it off and see what happens."

She was hired by Carson's in 1985 and began a career in risk management, even though she says, "I'm not sure was it my goal to get into risk management."

Her career continued as Saks Inc. acquired Carson's during the 1990s.

"When I was at Saks, I went through multiple mergers. I went through a bankruptcy. I had a lot of different things I dealt with there, sort of in adversity. It put me in unique position that I was ready to come in here and do this position," Ms. Arendall said.

When she joined OfficeMax in mid-2005, Ms. Arendall thought, "It's retail. I know that—I've been doing retail most of my career."

But she found that OfficeMax and its challenges—including supply chain issues—were somewhat different from those she had dealt with before.

"The thing that's really neat about risk management is you touch all parts of the organization. You're not limited," she said. "We interact with every part of the organization. I work with everyone—it gives you a broad overview."

Ms. Arendall said she's "reasonably active" in the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc., "but actually more active in the Marsh retailers group," which is affiliated with Marsh Inc. That's been particularly true during the past five or so years, she said. The group meets twice a year to discuss risks that are unique to the retail environment. Participants prepare their questions before the meeting, and the format "makes sure that everyone has an opportunity to talk," she said.

"When you do stuff like that, you actually get more out of it than what you give to it," she said.

Ms. Arendall, 50, is an avid runner who jogs every morning. She also likes to garden.

"You will never come to my office and not see flowers there," she said.

She and her husband, John, live in Mundelein, Ill. Their daughter, Celestia, is a second-year nursing student at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind.