In our sixth See It to Be It podcast interview, Amy C. Waninger speaks with Robert Cartwright Jr., a division manager of Bridgestone Retail Operations in the Northeast Region, about all things risk management. Robert is highly skilled and knowledgeable in risk management and is a very well-respected mentor and leader in the space. Additionally, he serves as chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council of RIMS. They talk a bit about how he got into the field, and Robert explains to us how risk management intersects with just about everything. These discussions highlight professional role models in a variety of industries, and our goal is to draw attention to the vast array of possibilities available to emerging and aspiring professionals, with particular attention paid to support black and brown professionals.
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, look, every now and then we try to mix it up for y’all, ’cause–so look, dependency and consistency is really important, but even within those lanes of consistency, you gotta have a little bit of variety, you know what I mean? You don’t come home and just eat the same thing every day, or even if you do–you know, you got a meal prep thing–maybe sometimes you put a little red sauce. Maybe sometimes you put a little green sauce. You know, you gotta just, you know, mix it up from time to time. Maybe sometimes you grill it. Maybe sometimes you saute. Maybe sometimes you rotisserie. You gotta just–am I hungry? Yes, I’m hungry, y’all. My bad. Listen, check it out. We have another entry for y’all from our See It to Be It series. Amy C. Waninger, CEO of Lead at Any Level as well as the author of Network Beyond Bias, she’s actually been a member of the team for a while now, so shout-out to you, Amy. Yes, thank you very much for all of your work here. And part of her work has been in driving this series called See It to Be It, and the purpose of the series is to actually highlight black and brown professionals in these prestigious roles, like, within industries that maybe we–and when I say we I mean black and brown folks, I see y’all–may not even know exist or envision ourselves in, hence the name of the series, right? So check this out. We’re gonna go ahead and transition from here. The next thing you’re gonna hear is an interview with Amy C. Waninger and a super dope professional. I know y’all are gonna love it. Catch y’all next time. Peace.
Amy: Robert, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Robert: I’m doing great, Amy. How are you doing today?
Amy: I’m doing quite well. I was hoping that you could tell me a little bit of how you got involved in risk management and what about it appealed to you.
Robert: Okay. Wow, so I have to go back a little bit, because risk management was not a field that I had even thought about, because my background is actually HR, and I managed a couple of plants, manufacturing plants, and when I took over one plant–it was in Philadelphia, and they also made me head of plant operations, and the first issue I encountered was an OSHA citation. It was about $160,000, and it kind of threw me into the field of what is this all about and what are we looking at. So I didn’t understand the term risk–and this is in the early 90s when this occurred–and I think it was more of a thing of, you know, the exposure or the things that we had to figure out with how we’re going to manage that. So one of the things that the owner asked me to do was to look more into what that was all about, and so that was my first exposure to what risk management was. Now, going on another eight years, and then at this point now I’m working for Bridgestone. I was overseeing part of their [work comp?] program, and as I was moving further along with that I got exposed to, from the insurance side and the claims side of things, the exposures and the risks associated with it, and so I wanted to learn more about it, so I looked it up on Yahoo. That was before Google. Yahoo was a big search engine back then, so I’m dating myself, but Yahoo was a search engine, and it talked about risk management organizations, and I wanted to find out more about it. They directed me to Risk and Insurance Management Society, and they had a local chapter in the greater Philadelphia area, and I went to their meetings, and that’s when I started to really learn more about all of the elements that involve risk management. It is a vast operation, and a lot of things that are done, especially from the RIMS perspective, is more volunteer-based. So there’s a lot of volunteers that were trying to put together risk management programs for their communities and their communities spread across the world. So that was my first exposure to risk management. The other thing I found that was very interesting is that it was so interconnected with business, and a lot of times businesses are siloed. You have operations doing one thing and HR is doing something else, and, you know, finance is doing something else, you know? They’re all kind of siloed, where risk management was really trying to be the gatekeeper for all of those and trying to put them all together and say they’re all elements of exposure that will harm the company. We need to find ways to do a better job with that. So I think the short answer to that is that I kind of researched and fell into risk management. It wasn’t a career that I chose. The career chose me, and so here I am 35, 36 years later, and just really being an advocate for risk management.
Amy: That’s fantastic. Did you go through any formal training for this or did you really just research this on your own and kind of pull from these different disciplines?
Robert: Yeah. So I did get my CRM, my Certified Risk Manager designation. So I went through those five principles of risk management, risk finance, risk factors, risk analysis and things like that. It kind of gave you a basis of what risk management was for, and that really was I think the biggest education that I got, because I didn’t know anything about it, and that was really the exposure. So I did that. I got my certification that way and started to bring some of that information back into my company, but at the same time I was getting more and more involved with the risk management organization, the RIMS orgnization, and so with the local chapter I was able to really kind of build a very robust program that was gonna benefit the community that we were serving, and then I found that it was on a global level, so I started to get involved in other committees and other counsels that handle other parts of what risk management is, and I had the opportunity to serve as their global president last year. So it was a crowning achievement to my career thus far.
Amy: That is an amazing story, and it’s exciting to me to hear how many people really fall in love with a career path or even get exposed to a career path through associations, because I think a lot of folks–because I didn’t know about associations, and I think that’s true of a lot of people, especially if you’re first-generation in the professional workplace or a first-generation college student. You know, you may not realize that these associations are even out there and that they’re a wonderful way to explore different career possibilities and network with people, find out what they like about their job, what they would change about their job if they could, and really get exposure to a lot of different disciplines along the way.
Amy: So what’s been the biggest surprise to you about risk management that you weren’t expecting when you decided to take the leap?
Robert: Well, let’s see, I think the biggest thing I found was that I think the connectivity of it is a universal language, and I think going to the convention, to the annual conferences, that was a big thing for me, seeing so many people kind of doing the same thing. Then I realized I wasn’t on an island by myself. Handling the issues that we were having in my company, sharing some of the best practices, the peer-to-peer connections, and then the networking aspect where the first time you go you don’t know a lot of people. The second time you know a few more. They introduce you to some people. And after about three, four years, all of a sudden it’s like a family gathering all over again. You’re seeing people you hadn’t seen before. They’re gonna introduce you to more people, and so your network just gets bigger and bigger every year.
Amy: That’s fantastic. So what do you think the future holds for talent needs in risk management? Do you see this as something that’s going to be–that there will be more jobs in this field, or do you see it as something that maybe artificial intelligence will be taking over? You know, are you going to be working with machines and robots in the future, or do you need more people in this space?
Robert: Interesting thing about that, and this is one thing I’ve been championing. I’ve been talking about the 21st century version of risk management. The 21st century version of risk management is a person who bought insurance to protect any liabilities for the company. That was the basis for risk management, an insurance person and the person who bought the insurance, and the person who set up the policies and [?]. It has since expanded into a multi-dimensional I guess job description, because IT falls under risk management. HR falls under risk management. Finance falls under risk management. Safety falls under risk management. Audit falls under risk management. So all of these disciplines, any business, anything that a business is associated with, has an element of risk, and so the 21st century risk manager is not gonna look at things so much as “How much insurance do we need to have in order to cover our loss?” They have to look at risk management now from the aspect of saying “What are we gonna do to save the company money by putting processes and procedures in place to stop and mitigate the losses that we have?” Or, and here’s the challenge for the 21st century risk manager, the unknown unknowns, the things you don’t even know that you don’t see. Yes, the company is doing great. We’ve had a three-year positive trend of losses and things that are happening in that regard, but what else is going to happen around the corner that we don’t know about? That’s what the future of risk management is. So in a visualization of risk management, that is very key, it’s very critical. The next generation, we’re looking to them to help lead us in that regard. So my push and my passion has been for 21st century risk managers, they’re the ones who understand technology, AI, blockchain. All of the things that are out there that are coming on the horizon. You still need people to manage that level of risk, whether you’re working with machines or whether you’re working with AI, which is being done right now in the insurance field. AI is now writing insurance policies. So there’s a lot of things that still need the people side to drive that and to understand and to direct AI to do those things, and I think my exposure this past year having traveled around the world a little bit has shown me that around the world there are a lot of things that are happening in spaces that we haven’t even touched here in the United States. There’s a need for people to understand how we can fix these problems. So I talk to college students now and I say, “Do you want to be a risk manager? Here is your job. Find the process solutions and problems.” You say when you go into a company and say, “We don’t really know what’s going on.” You’re new to the organization and you start asking questions. Before you start asking questions about “Why are we doing it this way?” Ask yourself that question and come up with the answer. When you go into the next meeting and you ask that question, “Well, why are we doing it this way?” And they say, “Well, we’ve been doing it this way for 20 years and it’s working, why?” When you come up with an answer or a solution that they didn’t see, then you’re the risk manager. All of a sudden now you’re the problem solver. You’re the one who’s gonna help them save money, be relevant, and be able to take that company and move forward with it. The other thing I’ll say is that the future of risk management is critically tied in with strategic thinking, because we are raising a group of students now who are getting risk management degrees. They didn’t have that when I went to college. That just–that doesn’t exist. And so now people are coming out of college with risk management degrees, or they’re taking things that are tied in with that – actuarial, underwriting, or even on the broker side. Those are all things that they need to know in order to help their company go forward. So I tell people go into a company, and it doesn’t matter if–’cause there’s not a lot of risk management jobs that you can get right out of college. There’s not a lot of entry-level jobs that are like that. There’s some companies that have risk management positions that they don’t know what they call it. They’ll put you into a different category, but it’s really dealing with risk management. The thing I say to them is understand the mission and vision of your organization. Find out what that is, because that’s your basis. That is your starting point to have a conversation with anybody in your company. Once you understand what the mission and vision is–becuase everybody’s connected to it. They have to be. That’s the basis of the company. So when you look at that, that’s your catalyst to move forward. So yeah, 2020–risk management, oh, there’s development in the 21st century. So Amy, here’s another point to the whole thing. Persons like myself who have been in this industry 35, 40 years, for the next 10 years, there’s a statistic that says 400,000 of us are gonna be sun-setting off into other pursuits. Who’s filling that gap? So there’s a need, a drastic need, for people to fill that gap who, in my opinion, know technology, have grown up on technology, know digital technology, they live, eat, sleep, breathe it. They’re the folks that we need to have to understand how to take this to the next level, because there are things that aren’t even regulated right now. We’re talking about AI. Let’s talk about drones. Let’s talk about autonomous vehicles. There’s no legislation for that. They’re still trying to figure it out. So who’s gonna figure this out? So there’s definitely a need for that.
Amy: Perfect. And what you’re bringing up is the intersection of private sector initiatives, you know, public sector initiatives. There are community implications for this beyond the companies, beyond the legislators, but, you know, just really in small towns and cities and in terms of education. You know, schools need to be prepared for this. One of the things I love about the insurance industry as a whole is that it intersects every other part of the economy, and risk management is a little bit broader even than insurance in that it intersects all of these things but it also overlays them in a way that maybe some other disciplines don’t. So I like the advice about if you’re a strategic thinker this is a great place for you.
Robert: Exactly. Well, you know, most organizations righ tnow, their focus is on strategic thinking. They’re looking at leaders who can put them in a position to be more successful. Anybody can write a policy and can say that we’re protected, but what does that really mean, and what did it really mean to the organization? Do you need a $10 million writer? Who knows? But that’s the person who needs to examine that and find out what it is that they really need. And what are they doing to prevent the incidents or the issues that are happening? What are they looking at so far as other methods and means of making the company more successful without an expense? So I kind of look at–a friend of mine used the expression, “Loss prevention is profit retention,” and a lot of times you don’t think about it from that perspective, but that’s really what it is after you put the elements in place.
Amy: Is brand preservation, reputation, does that fall under the risk management umbrella as well?
Amy: And I’m thinking specifically about some of the companies that we’ve heard about in the news lately where they have not–they’ve clearly not had diversity among their decision-makers, and they’ve made horrible, horrible mistakes in the marketplace–and very hurtful mistakes–in terms of how they’ve treated their workers, how they’ve treated their consumers, how they’ve established their brand. Do you see marketing as being maybe a primary stakeholder or maybe a future primary stakeholder in this work?
Robert: I would say absolutely so. And to your point, we’ve seen a lot of things where even in marketing we’re advertising that they’ve taken some polarizing images under the guise of “Oh, we didn’t know it was offensive,” but at the same time it bought them publicity. So there’s, like, a double-edged sword with that. There’s an ethical component I think to everything I think that most people are missing, and the ethical thing is not that it’s the right thing to do, it’s doing the right thing, and doing the right thing means you have a responsibility to your shareholders and to your public, where a lot of times people will focus on their rights. “We have a right to advertise this.” “We have a right to market this.” “We have a right to display this.” And they don’t look at the responsibility as the other side of that. So to answer your question, marketing, yes, that’s a very big issue, and there’s a risk management process that’s tied in with that, because the thing you have to look at is if we market the wrong thing, how does it impact the bottom line of the organization? Nike did something just recently with a person who the NFL did not really want to be involved with. It was something that was controversial, kind of brought people’s attention to something, but at the same time there was a backlash behind it too. But I think one of the–when you talk about marketing, one of the commercials for the Super Bowl was the one where “you call it crazy,” and it talked about women and how they were “crazy to do that,” women wanting to play sports or wanting to run in a marathon or, you know, she wanted to do these things, but she’s too emotional or she’s–and they’re talking about all these things and–hold on, if that’s the case, just show them what crazy is. Great advertisement, right? But the reality is that people still don’t understand that that level of diversity is what is needed because women are the buying power. I mean, you have women as 60 or 70% of the buying power of this country. You’re not going to cater to that? So the funny thing I found just in my travels is that now the hotels I’ve been staying at–I’ve noticed this in the last eight, ten, twelve years–are using more and more comforters and duvets and things like that. They didn’t have that before. Why? Because there are more women travelers. Women want more comfort, and so they distinctly designed that to say “Well, we’re adding more comfort to your stay.” Everything is designed around comfort now. I don’t mind it. So yeah, I don’t think I would have asked for that because, you know, if I have a sheet I’m okay, but a duvet is kind of nice to have, you know? But there are a lot of things that if you don’t include the population of which you’re serving, you’re missing out on a big part of humanity and what risk management is all about.
Amy: Absolutely. To your point about hotels, if I go to a hotel and there’s not enough counter space for my makeup, I don’t stay there again, and the reason I don’t is because I know that there were not women involved in the design of those hotel rooms, because no woman would design a bathroom where she didn’t have a place to put her makeup. And so it’s like, clearly you didn’t want me bad enough to invite me back, so.
Robert: So if you feel that way and you just happen to share casually with a friend who shares with another friend, now you have people where there’s–and business people are not going to a certain chain. There’s a reputational risk that they didn’t even realize. So then the people who are marketing and saying, “We want to drive more revenue,” or things about growth and sustainability, “We want to drive more revenue, and we know that men like to travel and do this.” If you’re missing that side of demographics, like you said, that becomes this whole silent killer. The next thing you know, boom, [?].
Amy: Yeah, you’ll spend millions of dollars renovating your property. You better make sure you get all the stakeholders in the room before you cut that check and before it’s finished, because then it’s too late. So I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about–you’ve already alluded to RIMS, but I know you’re doing some more work in RIMS about future talent and diversifying talent in risk management, but what are some–so we’ll just start there. What are some of the things that RIMS is doing to engage a different kind of workforce maybe than risk management has seen in the past?
Robert: Right. So I think one of the things that–timing is always everything, right? And I am the first African-American president of this organization. So we’ve been in existence for about 67 years, so [?].
Robert: Thank you, thank you. That was a milestone in itself. And I reflect back on a time when they asked me to be on the global board, and the person who called me was a friend of mine, but he was also involved in that whole process of selecting the next person that comes on. And first I thought he was kidding with me. I said “Yeah, whatever. You don’t have any diversity on the board, so.” And then we’re going around and around and I said, “Okay, so is this, like, a backdoor deal?” And he says, “Robert, you can’t get into the back door with this organization. You can only get in the front, and it’s only by the way of what you do and your merits and leadership and things like that.” I was like, “Well, okay, so–how did that even happen?” So as time goes on, and so now as a president, as I was thinking about my presidency and what I wanted to do, my thing was about legacy, and my thing focused on the fact of we need to know where we came from to know where we’re going. If we’re talking about risk management being relevant, yes, we need to understand our past, but we also need to understand the future and where we’re going. Diversity is important. If you don’t have diversity, then you’re not gonna be relevant. Society is dictating that, they’re insisting on it. I saw that in my travels around the world, where they’re importing diversity, they’re importing the talent, because they want to have what that is. Companies here in the United States are global. The majority of the big companies have a global presence, and if they don’t include the type of marketing, like you said, as a woman, that doesn’t have space for your cosmetics, then you’re losing out on that part of it. So when I think about–what I wanted to expand on as president was diversity and inclusion, that it needed to be something where we get past the conversation of this as it’s now something that we talk about. I want to get it to the point where it needs to be a verb. And so we took that, RIMS took that perspective, and we constructed a task force to delve into whether this was something that as an organization we wanted to be involved with, and I’m pleased to say that the board of directors created a new council, a diversity and inclusion advisory council, that was launched this year, and I was asked to be chair of that council. So we’ve got international presidents. We’ve got women, men. We’ve got the LGBTQ corner covered. We have every element covered when we talk about so far as what we want to do as an organization, ’cause we have to walk that talk in my opinion. So as a result of that it becomes more of a thing where we say “What is the next step?” So what RIMS is gonna look at, we’re gonna dive into this using the collective firepower of the people on this council, and some of the people on this council are already in that field, from a global level to a local level to an international level. As a matter of fact, my vice chair is from New Zealand, just to kind of give you a perspective that way. But she brings another perspective to that. So what we want to do is we want to take this and say, “Okay, how do we help the next generation understand what this is? How do we help risk managers understand what that is?” As a part of the risk management discipline, D&I, or a diverse group, is a must. It can’t be something that we just continue to talk about, but I’m really excited about this. There’s just so much. You know, Amy, when I started my presidency, people were reaching out to me, and the first group that reached out was Women of Color, and they asked me to speak to their group, and from there I spoke to the National African-American Insurance Association, and then there was a Latin organization that asked me to speak to them. So there was an influx of people who were coming in, and for the first time RIMS decided that we wanted to have a D&I meeting at our conference in San Antonio last year. It was set up for about 100, 150 people. I’m standing in front ’cause myself and another person were speaking. People were filling in, and they were filling in, and then they were bringing more chairs in, and they filled all the chairs they brought in, and the last count was about 250 people that were crammed into that room over something that we thought might be a good idea, and that I think was a catalyst for us to say “Okay, you know what? We need to take this thing even further.” So I’m honored to be able to lead this council going forward, but I just think that there’s so much that’s already been done that no one knows about. That’s the second part. A lot of organizations are out there that are doing things that no one knows about, and I think from the inclusive part we can’t just say it’s the big organizations who are doing these things. There are other groups that are doing things as well. Let’s bring them to the party and have them included as well. We need to hear their voice.
Amy: Absolutely. It sounds like, with a response like that, that there was some pent-up demand and that people were excited to have an opportunity to learn more and to participate in this and even to see, you know, the head of the organization be a history maker. That’s exciting to me, that other groups said “Oh, wow. You made history. Come talk to us.” I think that’s phenomenal.
Robert: It is. Last year would have been a whirlwind without that, because I wanted to make that as my platform. It became almost double what I would normally have done or what a president would normally have done, and so, you know, everything is about opportunity, right? So right place, right time, right people, and you have to have a passion for it, and I believe in it. I firmly believe in it, because if you don’t–I mean, I have found in my experience that if you don’t have a different perspective outside of your own or people who look like you, then you’re gonna be doing the same thing that you’ve always done and thinking that you’re successful. Patting yourself on the back, “Yeah, we did a great job.” Did you really? Who did you compare yourself to? Who did you ask? So, you know, when I bring my significant other into a situation, I say “What do you think about this?” and get her perspective, and “Man, that’s something I didn’t even see.” So I think that’s the benefit, yeah.
Amy: So you’ve obviously done a lot of work to help people feel included in your organization. When do you feel included?
Robert: I think that’s kind of hard to define, because on the surface people can say, “Yeah, we invited you to the meeting. We need you to prepare a report.” I think when you become included is when you’re part of the decision-making, and when someone says “What do you think?” outside of the normal group or the people who are called on. I’ve found that for me, when I have a meeting, when I have a lot of folks or a lot of different groups in the room, I try to make sure that every voice is heard. That’s not how it happens in real life. What happens in real life is that–and my daughters have already attested to this, ’cause I’ve asked them, and they’re all professionals. They’re all in that business world. One’s in defense, one’s in pharmaceuticals, and the other one’s a nurse. And it’s the same thing. The great ideas that they got get shot down because it wasn’t their idea, but then someone else picks it up and all of a sudden it’s their idea. So I think the inclusiveness is when somebody says “What do you think?” And they take your idea and say “Okay, well, why don’t you run with it? Why don’t you lead this project?” So the duty of RIMS as an organization is that that’s exactly what they do, which is exactly why I’m here today, because every time I kept saying “How come we’re doing it this way?” They’d say “Well, what would you do differently?” I’d say “Well, we should do that.” “Oh, great. Why don’t you lead that project?” And so I ended up leading projects and then becoming treasurer and secretary and vice president and president of the local chapter, and then you get onto a committee and “Why don’t you do this?” And now you’re on the board. “Why don’t you do this?” And then you’re president. So that’s the thing right there. So in my company itself there’s still a long way to go. I think in big companies, because there’s such a culture that exists and that culture is a thing you need to understand, and that’s what I tell a lot of young people. If you’re going to walk into an organization, you need to understand their culture. Figure out what their culture is first. Understand the culture. Understand the language you need to speak, and by that I mean that there’s certain expressions that opens everyone’s ears. There’s certain things that happen that everybody says “Hm, okay. That’s pretty interesting.” And it doesn’t mean that you have to assimilate, it doesn’t mean that you have to change who you are. It just means you have to understand the language. Now, you have to bring your spin to it, because as a woman you’re gonna bring a different perspective. As a minority, you’re gonna bring a different perspective. As an LGBTQ person, you’re gonna bring a different perspective. Those are needed, and so I think that my drive for D&I now is to highlight the value of all of those different values, but it’s a mandatory thing. Right now we’re creating positions, but I don’t see the action that needs to be behind it enough where it comes a norm where it’s like–okay, let me use history as an example. Back in the 30s and 40s, a secretary was a man. It was not a field for women. Now when you talk about a secretary, they don’t want to use the word secretary. It’s an office manager, but it’s mostly women. So we see the trend has changed, and so now people don’t even blink twice when you say a secretary or an office manager. “Oh, yeah, of course it was a woman.” So that’s where we need to be when we talk about a diverse workforce. It needs to be something where we’re not trying to put a checkmark and just saying “We checked the box. We have this person. We’ve hired a black man, a black woman, a gay person, or a lesbian or a trans person, and they’re now on our group,” but are they inclusive? Are they inclusive? Are they part of the group? And are they accepted for their voice? And I think that’s a critical thing. The second part to the inclusion is that it also has to be inclusive of thought. We have five generations in the workplace right now. There’s no inclusion of thought ’cause the younger person that comes in, they could have some great ideas, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, Robert. That’s great, that’s great, and we’ll hear from you later.” So therefore they have all this energy, you psyche them all up, you told them “Run with this project,” they come back and they get slapped down. So after a while you stifle that growth, you stifle that creativity, and I think that the whole generational issue is another problem that we’ve got. We’ve got to be able to bridge that gap. So when I talk about diversity and inclusion, I’m thinking about diversity of thought, I’m thinking about inclusion of thought. That’s a critical piece as well.
Amy: Absolutely. Robert Cartwright Jr., thank you so much for you time today. Thank you for making history and for sharing that with us.
Robert: Thank you, Amy. Appreciate it.