To say that Donna Festorazzi (pictured) is a risk expert is perhaps putting it lightly. An Institute of Risk Management certified fellow (CFIRM), Festorazzi holds a BA Hons degree in risk management and is currently the chair for the IRM Scotland regional group, which will be holding its first meeting under her chairmanship on September 20.
Here, the Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) alumnus shares with Corporate Risk and Insurance why she made the leap into the unknown and where it has brought her after more than two decades.
“I applied to study risk management for two reasons,” noted Festorazzi, who now operates her own company called Risk & Value Solutions Ltd and provides services to global design firm Stantec.
“The first, I was really uncertain about what career I wanted to pursue at 18 years old, and risk management as a course had a variety of modules and courses which I thought would expose me to many areas of business and enable me to select a more specific career. The modules available were risk financing, law, statistics, business management, and risk and society, etc.”
The second reason for the choice, she said, was the fact that GCU was the only university offering the degree. In fact, at that point Festorazzi had not heard of risk management, let alone of risk managers.
“There was a maximum intake of 50 students per year, so I thought I would have had more chances of securing a job than other general business courses,” she added.
This field of study went on to lead her to the likes of Network Rail, where Festorazzi not only spent nearly nine years but also made some hard-to-forget memories.
“At 26 I was part of the Network Rail team that promoted and sought funding through Parliament (on behalf of Transport) for the Airdrie-Bathgate rail link project,” she recalled. “I attended a session with the Scottish Parliament to answer questions from MPs and the meeting was live on the local radio station.”
Festorazzi’s credentials include her stint outside the UK as well, like in Australian cities Melbourne and Brisbane. She also remembers working with the Hong Kong metro team to tender for the Sydney Light Rail in 2012.
“This was one of my unforgettable and most nerve-racking moments, as it was the first time in my career I was questioned by the CEO in relation to risk management and confidence in relation to contingency budgets,” the now-seasoned risk executive told Corporate Risk and Insurance.
When asked about her present duties, Festorazzi described her role as Stantec’s head of risk management in the UK as “very exciting” as the business continues to flourish.
“As a result, the area of risk management is growing as well,” she said. “Being part of that process and advising and shaping the framework and future of the risk management service and offering within Stantec and to our asset owners is something I find very rewarding.”
Meanwhile, Festorazzi calls herself fortunate to be surrounded by “excellent and highly skilled” risk managers. She said having to manage and inspire high-performing and dynamic teams is very challenging, conceding that there’s a need not only to fine-tune her leadership but also recognise and accept her own limitations.
As for what she takes pride in, the IRM Scotland regional group chair had this to say: “I was asked by Glasgow Caledonian University if I would consider becoming an inspirational alumni leader for future students. This was a humbling experience for me and an unforgettable moment, as to be regarded as someone that has the attributes, knowledge, and integrity is something that I will always be proud of.”
For risk managers, her advice is to accept that every day is a school day and life a journey.
“Accept that mistakes may be made along the way, but ensure that you learn from them,” asserted Festorazzi. “A good risk manager should remain curious, push their boundaries, and build resilience, but most importantly have fun and success will follow.”