From the March 12, 2012 issue of National Underwriter Property & Casualty • Subscribe!

Risk Managers on the Rise: Three 40-and-Under Talents Look to Make Their Marks

When most people conjure images of top-performing risk managers, they probably picture executives with many decades of experience.

But the truth is, being a world-class risk manager is less about age and more about having good instincts, and the right training, when it comes to identifying potential threats to business.

Three such young talents—all 40 years of age or younger—are already making a name for themselves in the field. We profile them here. 

Jessica Maldonado,
Director of ERM
Centerline Capital Group

“I’m fortunate to be at an organization where I have a seat at the table,” says Maldonado, 37. “I report into the audit committee on the board and I have a direct line to the CEO”—access that even much more experienced risk managers can find a challenge to obtain.

“I’m in an organization where there are a lot of young, successful people, so age is not a challenge from that perspective.”

How did Maldonado get into the field?

“I started in the brokerage world with Johnson & Higgins right out of high school as a receptionist. I worked and also got a degree in business from the University of Connecticut. I loved my job as a broker, and I learned the business of the brokerage world from the ground up, supporting claims and placements, and moved into my own book of business for placements.

“I was exposed to many clients, but I focused on financial institutions and real estate, which is how I had the opportunity to become a risk manager.

“[Centerline] approached me about five years ago. They didn’t have anyone dedicated to risk management. It was an opportunity to move into an organization that didn’t have a team of risk managers and to be entrepreneurial in crafting the position.”

What are Maldonado’s current day-to-day responsibilities? 

“We do multifamily debt and equity lending as well as programs for government-sponsored agencies like Fanny Mae, Freddy Mac and Ginnie Mae. We asset-manage and we service the loans.

“There are a lot of compliance requirements relative to insurance and making sure the underlying assets in a portfolio have the right levels of coverage. There is risk to the organization, whether you’re loss-sharing or taking balance-sheet risk as you fund these loans or equity transactions.

“Today, we also oversee all the responsibilities for insurance-monitoring and insurance reviews around our portfolios.  Coming from the brokerage environment gives me an understanding of how the business is done—the technical aspect of insurance policies and how the system works. 

“My role is overseeing all the audit functions, and in the last year-and-a-half we’ve spent time building a framework for monitoring risk—which is where my Enterprise Risk Management [title] comes from.

“We’ve developed an internal risk committee and we have a solid [process] for reporting risks into the board. The first half-hour of every board meeting, in fact, starts off with a discussion about the company’s risks.”

Jennifer Matthews
Director of Risk Management
Home Box Office

“I handle all the insurance for all of our television series, documentaries and some movies of the week,” says Matthews, 40, who has been at HBO for eight years. “This means we handle all the insurance for the cast; we handle any liability situations; we insure all the vehicles and all the sets and props and wardrobe—all the things you see on the screen.”

How did Matthews get into the field?

“I started out at Seton Hall University in the business department and transferred in my sophomore year to the University of Georgia.

“At first I checked out accounting, and it wasn’t for me, so I took some insurance classes. I graduated with a risk-management degree and got a job soon after graduation with Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta with the risk-management department.

“I worked at CNN Center in Atlanta for a couple of years. When Turner purchased New Line Cinema and Castle Rock Entertainment [both in California], they needed people in risk management to be on the West Coast because of the time difference—and because that’s where the exposure is. So I moved into entertainment and relocated.”

What does Matthews enjoy about the profession?

“I’ve been doing this now for 18 years, and there’s something new every day.”

Walker’s advice for other young professionals who may be considering a career in risk?

“Risk management is a dynamic industry, and there are so many ways you can go with it. Companies are looking at risk managers more—it’s more mainstream now, and companies see the benefit of having someone in-house who is dedicated to risk management as opposed to just tagging it onto another position.”

Dequan Walker
Assistant Vice President and Business Analyst
Marsh Inc.’s Global Employee Benefits Practice

“The role of brokers is changing,” says Walker, 32, who started at Marsh in 2010. “It’s not just placing risk-transfer business, but assessing a business’ overall risk exposure. So it’s becoming more sophisticated.”

How did Walker get into the field?

“When I initially started studying at St. John’s University in New York, the focus was to get an MBA in finance. But the year was 2008, and the subprime mortgage crisis was going on, so there was a great need for risk-management skills.” Instead, he received an MBA in risk management and insurance.

“This presented an opportunity to get into a career where the focus was on bringing value to an organization and addressing specific needs that were neglected over the past decade.”

What does Walker enjoy about the profession?

“The nice thing about risk management is that it fits within every sector, every industry and every segment. Everyone needs some level of risk management. It’s a huge need right now in business.”

What’s a trend that Walker expects will increase in importance in coming years?

“Enterprise risk management, for me, is the way to go. A business needs to aggregate and put together all aspects of its risk under one umbrella. You have risk managers in companies addressing HR needs as well as the traditional risks a client might face, like business interruption. It’s good that they’re trying to include every risk aspect under ERM.”

What are Walker’s responsibilities?

“Currently I work for the global employee-benefits practice; we provide support to more than 60 countries.

“We typically go to the market and find providers for employee-benefits services for our clients—medical, health, life and disability coverage. I’m working on a project now where we focus on wellness and take a more proactive approach to risk management.

“The emphasis is on promoting healthy employees and a healthy work environment. This increases morale, which motivates employees and ultimately increases productivity.

“The employer, in turn, can see reduced premiums, because across the globe there is a huge problem with medical inflation. An employer with more than 5,000 employees can see a 10-percent uplift on their premium year over year. So there is a lot of interest right now in wellness programs. I’m heading up a group focused on bringing a product to the market to help clients address these issues.”

In what ways is Walker’s relative youth an edge?

“Being young in this field is definitely an advantage. A lot of people say they fell into the role of risk management. So I meet people and they are shocked that I went to school for this and am working in the industry. You can get a lot of attention, because you are a novelty in this respect.”

Walker’s advice for other young professionals who may be considering a career in risk?

“You will always need people with risk backgrounds to address [the potential for] crises at organizations, so it’s a very sustainable profession.

“Some people have a view of risk management as boring and not glamorous, but in risk management there are so many directions and opportunities. So we have to do a better job of selling the profession. This is one of the reasons I am on the student advisory council for RIMS. We’re trying to get more students into the profession and letting people understand what we do.”  

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