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Risk in focus

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The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) asks Helen Hunter-Jones, MIRM and IRM board member group head of risk, Network Rail, what working in risk is really like and what hints and tips she’d share with people looking to move into the industry.

How did you get your job?

I joined Network Rail five years ago in an assurance role setting up second line audit and assurance within a department.  However Risk and Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) were really the areas I wanted to continue working in so when an opportunity came up to join the Group Risk team I took it. With my background and knowledge I took over the head role within a year.

My journey into risk is different to most I think as I come from a production/manufacturing background. I started off on the shop floor straight from school, moved into test and inspection and from there into quality assurance. I often worked for companies that produced equipment for the MOD so that gave me an understanding of compliance and assurance regimes far more rigorous than general manufacturing.

My foray into risk came from information assurance but it was through the various compliance frameworks I was responsible for (ISO9001, ISO27001, ISO22301 etc) and assurance against them that gave me a privileged view of the business and access to the most senior people. A Head of Risk role is a fantastic role as you can influence strategy and also play a key part in the success of the business.

What’s a typical day like as head of group risk?

Mainly meetings…. This can be frustrating when you have reports to write and would like at some point to read at least one of the dozen Economist magazines piling up. However, risk isn’t managed via spreadsheets and IT systems. People manage risk and therefore the more I can get people to talk and understand the environment, the current controls, the key causes and potential impacts the better. I see one of my key strengths as the ability to join people up with each other.

Sometimes we forget that we have an oversight that most others do not so they may not know who else is working on something that could help them.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love to know what’s going on, not just because I’m nosey (aren’t we all) but because I truly love business and love being part of business decision making.

What are the challenges?

There are many as with all jobs but in both a senior leader role and one such as head of risk you feel an enormous obligation to the business and ownership if anything goes wrong. With a business as complex as Network Rail visibility of risks and their management across and at all levels of the business is difficult.

The administrative side of risk is necessary but often done last or not at all as people are busy dealing with the day to day operational challenges. So providing people with opportunity (time) to step back and think more broadly and strategically is often hard but always appreciated.

In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?

Enormously – I took the Diploma and could not have got to the position I have without it.

What would you say to others thinking about joining IRM as a member?

Definitely join! This is still a relatively new profession and we need more people with more diverse backgrounds to input into debate. There are still many areas of ERM that need improving and there is a huge opportunity through IRM membership to improve and add to the tools, methodologies and thinking.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions? Has being linked to the IRM helped?

As you will have read on how did I find myself in risk? I started at the bottom and a career in risk management didn’t enter my head. Now there are great university courses and of course the IRM diploma – however real experience cannot be underestimated in the field of risk management.  You learn a lot from your mistakes in business but for a risk professional that learning is gold dust as you fully appreciate all the things that can go wrong as well as right!

You can often find yourself on your own in risk management especially in a smaller organisation so it’s often difficult to benchmark ideas or just chew the cud with other like-minded people this is where the IRM can provide access to many other practitioners and help build your professional network.

Top tips

  • Take one of the IRM qualification the Certificate is a good start.
  • Find out where the risk team sit in your organisation, how big the team is, what they do etc and make contact! Express your interest, many organisations find it difficult to find people who want to ‘do risk’. If you are enthusiastic and willing to get involved then they will probably bite your hand off.
  • Join a special interest group, local if you can so that you can meet others – IRM have details of groups already established.  If there isn’t one near you why not set one up?  That’s what we did in Milton Keynes and it’s great.

Helen has also appeared in IRM’s Enterprise Risk publication in a feature on how Network Rail is spending £40 billion on an ambitious plan to upgrade the UK’s rail infrastructure, where she explains how her team are building a risk platform to support the project. Read the full article here: https://enterpriseriskmag.com/departure-platform/

Find out more about the Institute of Risk Management and our Training, Membership and Qualifications. www.theirm.org


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