Proactive Career Management

Why this Web Site?

Many of you may know that I was a practicing Risk Manager for the 9 years immediately before the founding of Harvard Aimes Group. Since 1984,  I’ve earned my living helping companies find good people to manage their Risk Management programs. I consciously chose to operate in a very narrow niche. I believe we are the ONLY Executive Search firm in the world that accepts assignment ONLY in the area of CORPORATE risk management (including the sub-specialties of Safety and Claims management). We do not accept assignments Brokers, Carriers, or Vendors to the buyer community. And we work ONLY on an Employer-retained basis. I developed this site because of an abiding (self-) interest in Risk Management as a career / a craft / and a profession. Your comments (and your contributions) are greatly appreciated.
Jim Gunther,
Harvard Aimes Group

What have you done for me lately?

Over the years, we’ve always tried to be accessible to people who have a personal interest in Risk Management as a career. Many times folks ask about the general subject of career management. More often, however, the caller wants advice or help in making an immediate job change. The biggest recurring frustration I’ve had in the years since founding Harvard Aimes Group is my inability to do anything more than to give good advice to good people when what they really need is ‘a new job’. The following is some of the “free advice” I’ve dispensed over the years – you may take it for what it’s worth.

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Career Risk Management

At the risk of sounding cryptic, it is painfully obvious that the days of corporate “cradle-to-grave” (if they ever existed) are certainly over. Furthermore, the pace of change shows no sign of slowing down. That in mind, it should be obvious that today’s middle manager needs to take a more proactive approach to career management.

You are totally responsible for your future!

The headhunter's role

A good friend observed some time ago, that “you ‘headhunters’ are a lot like bankers”. While business was pretty good at the time, I didn’t quite understand the characterization. He continued, only partly in jest, that his banker “was always happy to lend money when I didn’t need it”. I got it – and (unfortunately) there’s more than a bit of truth to his observation!

Like your banker, the time to develop a “relationship” with a recruiter/headhunter/executive search consultant (which moniker is applied doesn’t matter to ME) is when you don’t NEED one.

It is never a bad idea to be plugged in.

All search firms (whether an employment agency working on a contingency fee basis or an employer-retained practice – such as ours) are paid by the CLIENT and — YOU aren’t the client!
Our charter is to help the firms we represent (they pay our fee) find the near perfect combination of background, experience, and chemistry or “fit” which matches their needs at the given moment. When considered against a background of budget/salary/industry and location considerations, the likelihood that ‘all the stars can perfectly align’ for your benefit at the exact moment that you have a ‘need’ is, frankly, remote.


Pre-Loss Considerations

The Five-Year Chunk Outlook
I’ve long advocated that folks look at their career in five-year “chunks”. Beyond your first couple job assignments (which should be looked at as post-graduate education), the middle manager needs to form a mindset in which a job is undertaken on the basis of a Five-Year option.

Such an approach will require that one:

  • Get your ticket punched – that is – acquire the degrees and professional designations appropriate to your chosen field.
  • Keep current on state-of-the-art in your field
  • Stay active and networked in your field
  • Each of these points is related.

The investment in your own human capital will benefit your present employer making you more valuable to them.

Knowledge is power. Knowledge of the marketplace will keep you abreast of your own value in the marketplace.

If, at the end of your five year “option” period, you still find yourself excited, fairly compensated, and your employer continues to provide a thriving environment – GREAT! But it is naive to expect it.

Should, however, you find your, then current, assignment less than stimulating you may consider to exercising your “option” elsewhere. Certainly, the angst often associated with making a change should be somewhat reduced because it was – “part of the plan”.

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Research and Development

I had a discussion with a colleague some years ago, regarding a scandal that had been exposed in the Wall Street Journal. This was a front-page general business item that was eventually discussed by all the business magazines and, in fact, directly effected his specific industry. Clearly, my friend had NO knowledge of the subject. He volunteered that he hadn’t read anything about it because, “if his company wouldn’t get him the Journal he wasn’t going to pay for it” – What a stupid, self-destructive attitude!

While my friend might have considered his company’s educational reimbursement policy cheap and shortsighted – such a policy should have been the most compelling reason for him to invest in himself. He spitefully chose not to invest in advanced academics, professional designations or targeted networking of any type. (He was also an ant-computer Luddite.) Alas, he is out of the Risk Management business today — Sadly, the market passed him by.

There are so many general business related resources available that you could spend your every waking hour reading. Obviously, one has to pick one’s spots. At a minimum, you should be reading:


  • Business Week also provides a good reflective perspective
  • Fortune frequent entertaining articles – certainly a wonderful way to keep abreast of “flavor-of-the-month” management theories and trends
  • Business Insurance – obviously.
  • MOST IMPORTANT – The Journal of your particular industry (I.e. Restaurant News for the restaurant industry) Make sure you get the most respected one in your business. You need to be able to speak the language spoken in your industry (and that isn’t insurance-ese!)


There are a number of practical (cynical?) reasons to get your ARM (Associate in Risk Management) sooner than later.

While it does not teach you how to be a Risk Manager, it does give a nice overview. You might actually learn something.

It will separate you from more than 60% of the folks you may compete with in the job market; especially at the near-entry level.

The preparation/review classes are excellent networking opportunities.

It is a relatively easy professional designation to obtain. Only three exams.

It is tangible evidence of a commitment to professional development.

Some things to think about when you plan your continuing formal education. The CPCU is the “gold standard” professional/technical designation for the insurance professional. Anyone holding the key ought to be proud of his or her accomplishment. Nonetheless, those planning a career in the corporate world (and not already committed to the 10-exam CPCU process) ought to consider:

  • CPCU is, in fact, an insurance designation.
  • MBA is a general business designation and is likely to have more credibility and currency within the corporate organization.
  • In the real world, where the Risk Manager is seldom seen as a mainstream manager (because of the language he/she speaks), why not stack the cards in your favor by having the same ticket your peer level managers have?

When considering the pantheon of professional educational opportunities, many (Risk) Managers would be better served by the Dale Carnegie or Toastmasters regimen than by the 10 CPCU classes.


There are only so many hours in the day. Few employers relish the thought of their managers participating in every possible industry group.

Choose Wisely!

I’ve always been an advocate of professional involvement with RIMS. For most practitioners, it’s the only opportunity to network with peers on a regular basis. It’s accessible. The ability to pick up the phone and “brainstorm” with a colleague you’ve met through RIMS, who doesn’t have an ax to grind, is incalculable. All things considered, if you’re depending exclusively on your broker for risk management advice and counsel you run a serious “lack of perspective” risk.

Most industries have formal or informal focus groups. While one needs to be somewhat circumspect regarding anti-trust issues, these can be some of the most worthwhile organizations to be involved with. The likes of the National Restaurant Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the American Bankers Association do a fine and focused job with their risk management sub-groups.

One wonderful organization I discovered some time ago is Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI). This Washington DC based group has a very broad charter to affect legislation and enhance the environment for business. They educate government but they also have a mission to enhance the skills their members. They have a CEO group, a General Counsel’s group, Treasurer’s, Human Resources, and a Risk Manager’s group. Typically, these specialty focus groups meet twice yearly (at pretty nice digs). The unique MAPI twist is a requirement on individual members to participate by and delivering a paper every 3 years. The work product delivered at the meeting is mostly practical and excellent.

From my conversations over the years with top executives, I can report that involvement with MAPI has enormous currency in the corporate hierarchy. Because your boss and his/her boss have been exposed to MAPI, they know that when you go to a MAPI meeting that you’re going to work and you’re going to learn. That is not always the perception held of the annual RIMS conference.

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The ONE decision you can make to improve your career opportunities by a factor of 10

Life certainly offers a series of trade-offs. You should consider that you might be creating your own glass ceiling by refusing to consider opportunities outside your present geographic comfort zone. Immutable laws of supply and demand prove that those willing to relocate (at some point) during their career are usually able to CHOOSE from a greater selection of opportunities.

Why Risk Managers DON'T Get Fired

There was a very thoughtful article in Institutional Investor some years ago entitled “Why Risk Managers Get Fired” (by Neil Osborne). It reported several technically related snafus that contributed to the ouster of the Risk Manager. It mentioned the RM’s failure to place separate insurance on the corporate jet for a flight to Mexico (resulting in a temporary impoundment to the exquisite irritation of the CEO/passenger). It further detailed other screw-ups relating to co-insurance shortfalls, gaps and lapses and failure to understand/anticipate how the insuring agreement would apply (too late) after the loss.

The common thread was a failure to execute the technical fundamentals of the job.

In the last 15 years I’ve often been cast in the role of the Undertaker (NOT the executioner). I can’t recall one case where the incumbent has been ousted solely because of shortcomings in the technical aspects of one’s Insurance/Excess Insurance program. People DON’T get fired because of they are not good insurance technicians.

I’ve yet to hear of a CFO comparing manuscript policies with his peers or competitors resulting in anyone’s demise. Similarly, I’ve never heard of a Risk Manager being fired because his loss conversion factor was a point above a similar company down the block. It just doesn’t happen!

Does this mean that you don’t have to watch the details? Of course not – That’s your job! Just don’t expect a lot of appreciation for the nuance of your craft. You are expected demonstrate “seamless competence” in the routine execution of your job.


The one book I always recommend

The ONE book I recommend for ANY middle or upper management aspirant or purchaser of search services: Rites of Passage at $100,000 — by John Lucht. This book is loaded with insider information about career leverage and how the entire job changing process works. If I can’t do anything for you other than recommend this book, I may have done you an enormous favor.

Why Risk Managers do get fired

With apologies to Cool Hand Luke – “What we have here is a failure to communicate” – It’s (almost) always a failure to communicate. That’s the short answer. … Stay tuned for the longer answer.

Jim Gunther, Principal
Harvard Aimes Group

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