Pathway to the Boardroom: Advancing Risk Professionals
Now more than ever, because of the current global pandemic and the myriad of risks in today’s global business and economic climate, organizations must recognize the benefits of having a risk professional seated on a board. This RIMS 2021 session explored why a risk professional may want to serve on a board and the pathway to achieving it.
- Soraya Wright, Vice President Strategic Initiatives, RIMS
- James Lam, James Lam & Associates
- Justin Smulison, Business Content Manager, RIMS
Where to Start
When looking to serve on a board, a great place to start is with non-profit organizations. There are a lot of learning opportunities to learn board governance, strategy development and overall how they operate. This is also a phenomenal way to make connections with other board members who may work at large employers in your area. It is not a pre-requisite to moving on to a corporate board, but it can be a valuable learning and networking experience.
For corporate boards, it is not required that a risk manager serve in the C-suite before serving on the board, but it is a desirable, logical track. On the other hand, if you have unique skills, like cyber security or mergers and acquisitions activity, the board may value this specialized knowledge for building corporate strategy. The board is looking for people who possess skills that will help the organization achieve its goals.
Risk management is a broad title that spans from areas of insurance, safety and everything in between. It is important to move away from the “property/casualty loss” line of thinking and really be a thought leader that can show value in how the organization can move forward. Risk managers need to show that they can think more broadly.
Networking & Personal Branding
Whether corporate or non-profit, it is important to note that you do not apply to be on a board. You have to be invited, so it is important to build a strong brand to show the value you provide and to network. Building that network is critical, but make sure your connections are meaningful and both parties can provide value to each other. Executive recruiters for corporate boards would tell you 70% or more of board member placements result from networking.
In addition, your personal brand is something you need to build and protect. It is what is going to get you noticed. As you are building it, it is important to find ways to show your value. Be visible. Show that you have the skills and you can deliver. You have control about what others say about you through your actions and the value that you add. Your brand does not have to be event driven. It can be how you help people.
Own your development and invest in yourself. Set those goals because it is not guaranteed that someone will do it for you. Seek a mentor, be a mentor, network and build skills. It is never too soon to think about board service, even early in your career. Ultimately, it may or may not happen, but the journey will be an exceptional learning experience and will provide great value to your career development.
There are several classes you can take to prepare for board interviews. It is important to know that value that you bring and to be able to articulate that value. Once you have that seat, you have to communicate what dish you bring to the party. Is it deep experience in risk? The ability to integrate risk with strategy? Knowledge of cyber security or other disruptive technologies? Building equity and inclusion strategies? It has to be more about enabling business and building strategy, rather than insurance knowledge.
When interviewing for a board position, it is as critical for you to vet the organization as well. There are elements of liability involved. Do your due diligence. Do you agree with what the organization stands for and its purpose?
Board service can offer great skills for the future. You can learn governance, collaboration, strategy, influencing others in a productive way and greater understanding of the compliance and regulatory environment. It is a continuous learning exercise.
There are great opportunities out there today. Boards are beginning to value diversity – spanning from ethnic diversity to age. It can be time consuming, but many who serve on non-profit boards consider their involvement as service. Whether serving on a corporate or non-profit board, the experience provides so many learning opportunities that most find it to be extremely fulfilling and satisfying work.