What’s it really like to work in the field of risk management? In conjunction with the Institute of Risk Management (IRM), Risk Xtra continues its new series of articles running under the banner ‘Tools of the Trade’ in which we ask practising professionals to offer their handy hints and tips on the matter for those looking to make the move into the industry. In this fifth instalment, Carla Knight IRMCert (Senior Risk Management Specialist at Exxaro Solutions in Johannesburg) focuses on answering the key questions.
Risk Xtra: How did you move into your current role?
Carla Knight: My journey in risk management started in 2005 when I decided to study B.Com Risk Management at the North West University in South Africa. After completing my Honours degree in Risk Management in 2008, I started working as a risk management intern at Statistics South Africa which was a very good learning experience, especially so being fresh out of university.
I continued working in the Risk Management Department until I was offered an opportunity as a junior risk specialist on a mega project for Exxaro Resources where I gained a lot of experience in both mining and construction. In 2012, I joined the Exxaro Risk Compliance and Assurance team as the senior risk specialist.
Looking back at where my risk management journey started, I’m proud to say that I’ve come a long way and so has Exxaro’s Risk Compliance and Assurance team.
Risk Xtra: What’s a typical day like in your role at Exxaro?
Carla Knight: There’s not one day which is the same as the other. That’s one of the reasons I absolutely love my job. Risk management is an extremely dynamic and evolving field and my interest in both macroeconomic and microeconomic affairs, what happens on the world stage and innovation makes my job fascinating.
Some of my daily activities are to facilitate risk workshops and conduct risk review sessions. One of the most crucial, but also one of the more difficult tasks is to continuously create a risk aware culture. I’m also very involved with the risk champions that sit across the country at the different business units to guide them in the right direction in terms of our risk management process and how to input data into the SAP GRC Risk Management tool.
Reporting of risks up and down the organisation is also performed by our team. An area that I regard as very important is to identify signals of change and opportunities to test the robustness of our strategic processes. Risk management is key in our team to ensure that our company remains sustainable in the long run.
Risk Xtra: What do you enjoy most about your role?
Carla Knight: Risk management requires a lot of creativity and interaction with all layers of the organisation. That being so, the interaction with other people from different departments is a huge advantage in my day-to-day life. In risk management it’s important to build bridges between the operations and the corporate headquarters. Without ‘buy-in’, it’s fair to state that risk management can never be integrated in the business processes of the company to really add business value.
I have a keen interest in the systems that enable the execution of our risk management processes and our risk appetite framework. I’ve realised that this is an area I really enjoy. A system will only enhance a good process, but if implemented correctly it will yield information that’s crucial in making sustainable decisions orchestrated to achieve our strategic objectives.
Risk Xtra: What are the main challenges involved?
Carla Knight: I think my challenges are no different than any other risk team’s challenges. It takes some time to gain the ‘buy-in’ at all levels in the organisation. Risk practitioners should never give up on this. We’ve been working on this for almost four years now and we’re definitely starting to see positive changes in the behaviour of people. Never view this as a project, but rather view it as a journey towards improving the organisation at the strategic, tactical and operational levels.
Risk Xtra: In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?
Carla Knight: The qualifications provide you with the correct foundation that’s necessary to be a successful risk specialist or risk manager. This is also an excellent way in which to ensure that you stay relevant and on top of the ever-changing risk management field. The IRM’s qualifications have taught me so many things, especially in those areas where I don’t see myself as an expert. Insurance would be a good example here.
Risk Xtra: How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?
Carla Knight: From being an intern and not having a lot of experience to becoming a risk specialist for the last five years, I would have to say a lot has changed. I’ve gained great experience over the years and my mentors have guided me in the right direction.
I want to be the best risk manager that I can be and I would like to be known as a leader that my team looks up to and strives to be like. The best example of what a good leader is all about… That’s what I would like to be.
(1) Be creative and flexible
(2) Understand your customers’ needs
(3) Interact regularly with all risk owners and risk champions and obtain their buy-in
(4) Realise that it will take time to truly integrate risk management in all business processes. “Rome was not built in a day…”