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Vp, Risk Management
Ahold USA Inc.
Libby Christman is infusing risk management into the culture, strategies and operations of grocery chain Ahold USA Inc., continuing a movement she began at the Giant Food Stores unit before stepping up to the parent company's U.S. division in mid-2010. Her responsibilities include occupational safety and health, compliance, customer safety, property protection, claims and litigation management, business continuity and crisis management. She led development of an Ahold proprietary program, which will be rolled out to other divisions, that significantly reduced a category of customer injuries by 40% in two years. Additionally, her focus on nurse triage and safe shoes in the workplace has generated more than $6 million in savings for one division since 2008. She is collaborating with the claims management department in designing a predictive model for workers comp claims. She also is developing risk management and safety benchmarks for all U.S. divisions. Ms. Christman is the chair of the Food Marketing Institute's Risk and Safety Committee and a member of the Network of Executive Women, a food industry group that aims to attract, retain and advance women in the retail and consumer products arenas.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN ENTERING THIS FIELD?
You need to know the business your company is in. I'm in risk management, but that's not the corporate business of Ahold. I work for a retail grocery company. I learned that in order to make recommendations, initiate change and have credibility, I really had to understand what the needs of a grocery retailer were. Also, in order for you to do your job well, you have to understand how you impact everyone else's function and how they impact you….Make it your business to understand how each area of the company impacts yours, and how your area impacts others.
WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU'VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?
The most interesting thing I've learned is that the way you interact and deal with people typically predicts the outcome of a situation. Relationship-building is underestimated. Take a step back and try to understand the other person's point of view. Do more listening than anything else. Taking the time to establish a rapport makes conversations easier and helps get things accomplished.
DID YOU HAVE A MENTOR EARLY IN YOUR CAREER?
I have had a couple of mentors in my career. When I worked in claims, someone in my group felt that I really needed to understand the business. I was encouraged to sit with underwriters to learn other aspects of the business. In the 14 years with my current company, I have been fortunate to work with leaders who saw my potential. A common quality with my mentors has been encouraging me to understand the business, speak up and ask for the things that I want. They all have helped me define what I want to do and how to get there, and have provided feedback that has moved me along quicker. The empowerment to make mistakes was beneficial. I learned more from those mistakes than from successes.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB, OUTSIDE OF YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
I have actually thought about writing nonfiction. I also would like to teach at the college level, where you can teach in more specialized areas and more sophisticated concepts.
OUTSIDE OF FAMILY AND COLLEAGUES, WHOM DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?
In general, I admire people who just don't follow a normal path, who have a significant amount of courage to do the right thing and the personal strength to stand alone.
WHAT'S YOUR CAN'T-MISS TV SHOW?
I don't watch much television, but my husband and I sometimes watch “Survivor.” I think what interests me are the relationships and interactions among diverse people when it's not too scripted.
BEYOND WORK, WHAT ONE THING DO YOU WANT TO DO OR ACCOMPLISH IN LIFE?
I've always made a list of things that I want to accomplish. The overall theme is that I always want to continue to challenge myself. Two areas in which I am doing that are long-distance running and cycling.
DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA? IF NOT, WHY NOT?
I use Facebook for personal relationships and LinkedIn to connect with people professionally. With Facebook, I feel like I can continue to stay in touch with friends and be a part of their lives. I spoke at the (Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.) conference because of people I connected with through LinkedIn. We ended up doing a really great session.