It’s clear that Gina Kirchner, director of risk management at Navy Pier Inc., is in large part motivated to work hard and serve others because of her faith. When we asked her for her life motto as it pertained to risk management, she responded with a quote from the Gospel of Luke (12:48) “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
“I consider myself to be extremely blessed to live the life that I live and to have the career that I do, and the feeling of gratitude allows me to not take my life, success and career for granted,” she said. “This causes me to stay more focused and truly engaged in what I do. Ultimately, it makes me a stronger, more disciplined, and more effective risk manager.”
That sense of discipline is crucial when directing risk management for Chicago’s number one tourist destination. Navy Pier was opened in 1909 and is over a kilometre in length – and encompasses all manner of leisure activities. It is a complex, multifaceted operation.
Many would consider managing risk on such a scale a daunting prospect. It’s a big responsibility, but Kirchner advises those starting out on their careers to not shy away from big challenges.
“It can be scary to feel like we have nothing else and no-one else to rely on but ourselves,” she said. “But if you have a dream, whatever that may be, you cannot rely on someone else but yourself to make that come true.”
She advises taking it one step at a time, and to work from the little challenges to the big challenges, while always keeping faith in yourself.
“If you have never achieved anything in your life, it can be very hard to take a big jump,” she explained. “However, starting from small steps, you will slowly gain self-confidence and self-esteem. And one day, you will be ready to take a big jump.”
The trick is to “[s]ee life as a progressive journey” rather than an unnavigable maze. And what’s the worst that can happen?
“You’ve got nothing to lose but everything to gain,” she said. “If you fail, you’ll become smarter. If you succeed, you’ll gain even more self-confidence and the emotional and financial rewards.”
This notion of the “progressive journey” has paid dividends in Kirchner’s own career, when her boss – the then director of risk management – resigned. Kirchner had worked under her for 14 years and slowly accumulated an understanding of all the responsibilities the big job entailed. This preparedness, and sense of the steps that had to be walked to get to the final destination, “led to multiple promotions, which ultimately led to a directorship position.”
There had been a long run up to the big leap. “It was a moment where my years of preparation met an opportunity,” she said.
Kirchner’s work ethic and advice is nested in the notion of service to others, and the idea that you must do the most with what you have so you can best help others less fortunate. She says that if she were to do anything else, it would be “a career in full time ministry.”
“Last year I travelled to Mwanza, Tanzania, for a mission trip and it was an amazing experience,” she said. “We touched and changed lives from a medical, financial and spiritual perspective and to be able to have that kind of impact in the world on a daily basis would be amazing.”
Maybe she will one day.
It’s hard to imagine her giving up her current career success to pursue another path – but we wouldn’t bet against her success if she tried. As she herself says: “You’ll never know the limit of how much you can achieve until you take a leap of faith in yourself and try."