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MRA Students Gain Real-World Insights and Professional Connections at ERM Roundtable Summit

By Samantha Beavers

Pairing innovative curriculum and real-world practice, Poole College of Management aims to advance thought leadership and fuel ongoing learning in a changing world – while helping industry professionals tackle emerging risks with a proactive, strategic mindset. It’s why the college launched the Master of Management, Risk and Analytics (MRA) program in 2021 – and why the Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Initiative brings hundreds of industry professionals together twice yearly for its ERM Roundtable Summit. 

On April 27, more than 200 industry professionals and MRA graduate students gathered for the spring installment of the summit. Drawing professionals from across the nation, the event offered MRA students an opportunity to enrich learning by networking with other practitioners, gaining exposure to emerging insights and coupling the theoretical concepts they’re learning in the classroom with real-world application.

“I attended the event to hear from industry leaders about their companies’ best practices and the new trends they are encountering – and to network with other working professionals,” says MRA student Tiffany Fragoso. “The summit provided a different perspective on the concepts I’m learning in class and opened a whole new level of understanding. It gave me exposure to real-world scenarios and how to apply theoretical knowledge to address business challenges.”

Thinking strategically

Featuring risk executives from a broad range of industries, the summit put a spotlight on the importance of integrating risk management and strategy in order to drive value within organizations. Specifically, speakers noted that making the connection between risk and strategy allows companies to devote more time and resources to the risks most likely to derail their strategic priorities.

“The nature of strategic risk is that it takes value away from the company,” noted Shankar Kumar, director of corporate strategy and enterprise risk at Caterpillar, in a session about the connection between ERM and strategy. “In any company, the erosion of value from strategic priorities plays a huge role – just think about where leadership spends their time.”

The simplest way to create value for senior leaders with ERM, Kumar said, is to consider how the company’s strategic priorities fit in the context of its risk universe. Additionally, he recommended validating internal opinions about risk with external research – and using ERM to shape leaders’ agendas by making the process more outcome-oriented.

Uncovering blind spots

Whitney Heflin and Lisa Owusu, of GuideWell Mutual Holding Company, spoke to the importance of creating environments for leaders to brainstorm about risk. They introduced two risk evaluation tools they’ve used to facilitate conversation: a “pre-mortem” tool, where leaders envision a plan has failed in the future and consider what risk event occurred to impede its success, and COSO’s bow-tie analysis, where leaders identify the potential causes and consequences of a particular risk event.

Both tools, they explained, help leaders uncover blind spots in an organization and think more broadly about risk. 

“Learning about some of the tools professionals are using to enhance their programs, like the bow-tie analysis, was one of the highlights,” Fragoso says. “And, to see the passion that these professionals had about the accomplishments they’ve made in their fields made me want to work even harder in the program so I can join their ranks.”

Increasing ownership

Roxane Hamilton, finance director of enterprise risk for The Coca-Cola Company, noted that one of the biggest opportunities for ERM is involving all employees in the process. “We have to inform and remind everyone that we are all risk managers. Everyone has a role in risk management, so we have to communicate that at every level,” she said.

According to Elona Ruka-Wright, chief risk and compliance officer for Finastra, this is why organizations must consider not only the “tone at the top,” but also the “tone in the middle.”

“If your executive management and board don’t believe in the value of risk management, it’s going to be a challenge for you and it’s going to be a hard road ahead – so tone at the top is really important,” she says. “But the tone in the middle is where risk management happens.”

Culture is key, Ruka-Wright says – and middle managers are the ones who play a major role in driving and building it within the organization. When middle managers understand and value risk management, that mindset trickles down to other employees, creating a culture where risk management is seen as a team sport. Training and building trust at the middle management level, then, is essential.

Changing culture

Charles Follett, principal of consulting firm Business Ingenuity, agrees. Culture is key. Unfortunately, he said, culture-related risks are the most difficult to manage. He compared these risks to the “gray rhino” that Michele Wucker describes as a highly-probable, high-impact threat that sits neglected. Because they’re difficult to see, they’re difficult to address. 

“What every CEO wants is synergy – that multiplier effect. But, if you have organizations that are less than synergistic, guess what? You’ve got a gray rhino problem,” he explained.

Because organizations are complex networks that become more complex by the day, Follett noted that ERM teams need a new lens to see culture-related issues. Like anthrax that spreads, these issues can only be examined under the microscope.

“One lens you can use to see these gray rhinos is complexity science,” Follett said. With the laws of complexity science, he explained, leaders can learn about how networks form, grow and transform – and make shifts in organizational narratives to keep cultural risks at bay and improve organizational performance.

Adding value

According to MRA students who attended the ERM Roundtable Summit, these insights brought the MRA curriculum to life and provided a number of practical takeaways for their careers. 

“These events help me understand what other professionals are doing to manage risk at their companies. I took away some really good ideas – like how to conduct risk assessments and communicate the risks – that I can implement in my role as accounting operations manager at Red Hat,” says MRA student Georgianna Sow.

Fragoso agrees. “I feel confident in approaching my leadership with ideas to improve our current ERM programs – really driving in that risk management is the responsibility of all employees and it should be woven into our daily responsibilities,” she says. “I also appreciated the networking, which allowed me to build friendships with other professionals who have offered to answer any question I might have in the future about risk management, as well as the trends they see today.” 

Immediately following the summit, MRA students, faculty and staff also had an opportunity to discuss what they learned together.

Ericka Kranitz lined up a quick and informal discussion for us, and it was really great to speak with her, Mark Beasley, Allison Anthony and Dean Buckless about the event. I love how energized they were when summarizing the event,” says MRA student Pete VanGraafeiland. “Each of these folks are so talented in their own right, and they want to engage and converse with their students – pretty cool if you ask me!”

To learn more about the Master of Management, Risk and Analytics (MRA) program at NC State’s Poole College of Management, click here.

To learn more about the ERM Initiative at NC State’s Poole College of Management, click here.