According to Antonietta Corigliano, senior director of risk management at George Weston, many people (including herself) fall into risk management as a career. But that shouldn’t be the case, she says. Risk management should be front and centre for any large enterprise - and be attracting the brightest young talent.
“I think the industry needs to promote itself,” she says. “I think if you’re in the industry, you realise how big it is and how powerful it is and how integral it is to business and enterprise. But I think if you’re outside of risk management … I think people perceive it as, ‘Oh, that department in the corner that we’ll call if something goes wrong.’ I don’t think they realize the impact that we could have on business and how integral we should be. We should be at the table all the time.”
Corigliano is certainly front and centre at George Weston, Canada’s largest food and drug retailer, where she has worked for 23 years. Starting out as a junior accountant, Corigliano’s talents soon made her indispensable to the risk management side of the business.
She got married and had a child, after which she returned to a massive restructuring at George Weston, the outcome of which was that she was now running the entire risk management group. That’s no small thing, for a $45 billion company.
“We have a bank”, she explains. “We’re multifaceted and we’re also a food manufacturer. We’re a bread baker, I guess. So, we’re enterprise-wide. My group basically runs the risk management group, enterprise-wide. And the objective is to improve our risk profile and reduce the total cost to risk.”
Being appointed to the risk management group was a turning point for Corigliano, because it was where she would finally settle - and it also spurred her to get properly qualified as an insurance professional.
So was her path to the top all about good luck? Not quite. Corigliano is a believer in making your own.
“Anytime I got bored or thought, ‘OK – I need a new challenge,’ I went out of my way to meet people that headed up different areas to say, ‘What do you do?’ and made myself available,” she says. “I kind of took lateral moves just so that I could get exposed to new things.”
She sees some changes on the horizon for the risk industry too. She notes that risk managers have to adapt to changes in “cyber-social engineering” as well as a tendency for insurers to become more selective in their risk writing (particularly with respect to natural disasters).
But perhaps most importantly, she predicts that in future “good risk management practices may be the only way that a company can actually survive the competitive forces or phases.” That is to say, risk management may make the difference between a company’s success and failure in an ultra-competitive market.
“I think risk management helps around safety, food safety, fraud, asset protection,” she says. “They represent the greatest opportunity to reduce cost and maintain business resilience and a reliable business plan. And as I see it, we’re like many, many businesses. The number of recalls out there, the number of security breaches. All of that has a tremendous impact on the profitability of a business and I think the only way we can start differentiating ourselves with our customers and vendors is basically saying we’re a solid company. We are not exposed to this type of stuff.”
Given the future centrality of risk, it’s even more imperative that young risk professionals come prepared. So what advice would she give a younger version of herself?
“Life goes by so quickly – make every day count,” she says.
“You have to try your best all the time so you don’t have any regrets. I think at the end of the day, nobody is going to guarantee your success. Things aren’t always going to work your way, but I think if you know you gave it your best, you’ll go through life feeling pretty confident and satisfied.”
Part and parcel of this is making your own opportunities.
“You have to be proactive,” she notes. “So – you have to shape your life and you have to shape your career. I think the problem with millennials and even with the younger generation is they expect people to pick them out of a crowd and give them their opportunity, whereas I think you really have to work for that opportunity. Make yourself available. Again – do the hard work and it comes. Because then you’ve built your brand and people want you on their team – so I think that’s really key.”
While Corigliano exhibits no signs of slowing down, she does admit to a shift in her priorities, as she gets older. She now puts more emphasis on passing on her accumulated wisdom. If she had to choose a different career, she might even have been a teacher.
“I think as I get older I realise it isn’t really about me anymore,” she says. “I get a lot of satisfaction helping others. You know, assisting them with their personal and professional development. Teaching them what I can, what I’ve learned. I think if you have the opportunity to make a difference in that way it’s a gift.”