I originally qualified as a Chemical Engineer, working for ICI. This eventually led me to discover risk management as a career and realise this would be much more interesting. On the way, I secured additional qualifications in Environmental Management, Risk Management and Business Continuity Management.
At present, I lead a team of 15 risk management consultants within Aon’s risk consulting division. We provide risk management solutions to a wide range of clients.
Typically we are brought into to help when clients realise there is not an insurance product that will address the risk issue they are grappling with. In other words we are risk trouble-shooters and therefore there is rarely a dull day where we work.
On the other hand, the role is demanding and clients often ask the impossible. And we have clients with global operations, so travel is common. In the last year I have been to Asia as well as Brazil, the United States and various parts of Europe.
It would be fair to say becoming a risk manager was a risky business. It was definitely not part of my plan when I set out, however it turned out to be far more interesting than my original goal.
Back to the beginning
Being brought up in London with an English father and French mother, I went to the French Lycée in South Kensington, studying all subjects in French until I decided to take A levels. I had an interest in chemistry but wanted to apply this in practice. This drove me to study Chemical Engineering.
I picked the University of Nottingham because it had a very good course, but mainly because it has a fantastic campus and a great atmosphere. I took a four-year course, so liking the place was important.
During my course I secured several summer placements, which helped fund me but more importantly helped make sure I really wanted to work in the chemical industry.
Planting the career seeds
I was attracted to ICI’s speciality chemical business and started work in Grangemouth. This division was dynamic and the plants were smaller than in other companies. This meant you could get involved in all aspects of a project. Grangemouth was an industrial town, but the role allowed me to live in Edinburgh.
I gained tremendous experience in these four years in designing, commissioning and operating chemical plants making dyestuffs, inks, preservatives and agrochemicals.
This experience allowed me to become a Chartered Engineer and I moved to Bristol into Zeneca Pharmaceuticals (spun off from ICI) to take on the design and commissioning of a £15 million plant as a lead engineer. I led a design team of four engineers and eventually a commissioning team of 20 technicians. This was in fact the riskiest thing I have ever done. I had no idea in reality until we commissioned the plant whether it was going to work! We had applied some novel technologies and there were some stomach-churning moments.
Having commissioned the plant, I did not want to let go of it, so I became the plant manager.
Within a month, the business had reorganised and I was managing four plants and had a group of 45 people reporting to me, the majority of whom were plant operators. This involved a fairly steep learning curve, especially when it came to line management responsibilities and trying to manage a disparate group.
I was involved in many aspects of the site as part of the site’s management team. This drew me into Safety and Environmental Management as well as becoming the site coordinator for Business Continuity Management. My role for the plants I managed involved ensuring that production volumes were met whilst complying with safety, health and quality standards expected within the pharmaceutical industry.
Gradually I got more and more involved in the risk management aspects of maintaining security of supply.
I learnt more about risk management in the winter of 1996 than I expected. That winter our interruptible gas supply was in fact shut off as supplies ran short in the southwest. We invoked our business continuity plan and the temporary boiler arrived within a couple of days and was commissioned as planned. However no one had thought about securing fuel oil.
Needless to say we were not alone in needing this and it took three weeks to buy any. A plan is not a plan until it is tested!
To help me make a career move I decided to continue my studies and undertook a distance learning MSc in Environmental Management at the University of Bath. Meeting deadlines was a challenge as I changed job, moved house and welcomed the arrival of my daughter in this period. I did finish the course four years later and learnt a lot.
I must have done something right as subsequently I was asked to help write an Environmental Risk Management module for the course and supervise a number of risk-based dissertations.
The perfect choice
An opportunity arose to join AstraZeneca’s (Zeneca merged by Astra of Sweden) corporate risk and insurance function. My role was to evaluate and help manage key business risks particularly associated with supply chain interruption risks. This involved modelling the supply chains and working with professionals across the business in production, procurement and research in identifying potential means of mitigating major risks.
I also managed a risk-based audit programme of the company’s sites and key suppliers to ensure risks were being effectively managed.
After a few years, I decided that risk management was a career I wanted to pursue and I needed to secure a qualification in the subject to make myself skills more transferable.
I therefore undertook the Institute of Risk Management’s Diploma and secured membership within a couple of years. I was then talked into becoming an examiner for one of the course modules and have since been elected a Director of the Institute.
This is my way of ‘putting something back’ into the profession and encouraging others.
This role gradually developed to allow me to be promoted to Risk Services Manager and lead a team of three risk professionals implementing the organisation’s approach to Enterprise Risk Management. Working within a fast-moving corporate environment we gained a great deal of experience in facilitating a wide range of risk assessments and workshops across the organisation as well as supporting the Senior Executive Team in the preparation of risk reports.
I acted as secretary to the corporate risk committee and lead a number of specific risk-based projects. One of these was the implementation of business continuity management across the sales & marketing organisation. AstraZeneca had 65 national sales organisations organised regionally with no consistent approach to crisis management. My team helped sell the concept and implement a practical solution for the organisation.
The power of growth
Having worked within the risk function for seven years an opportunity arose to move to Aon to establish and lead an Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) practice. Initially working as an Associate Director within IRMG, I have grown a consulting practice specialising in the practical implementation of ERM solutions for clients.
The team has grown from two people in 2005 to 15 and the nature and scale of projects has also grown as we have established a reputation in the market for delivering practical and credible solutions. The most rewarding part of the job is currently being able to bring together a great group of young risk professions and help coach and develop them within a strong team.
My conclusion therefore for those wanting to join the risk management profession now is there is possibly an easier and more direct route that has been created.
It is possible to study a Masters in risk management or undertake the IRM Diploma to get a fundamental grounding in the subject. There remains no substitute however for having experienced the risks themselves.