Next Generation of Risk Managers Focuses on the Changing Workplace

Summer is over, and with its end, students are starting to filter back into the classroom—including undergraduates who aspire to be the next generation’s risk professionals. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) spoke to Kristen Jaconi, the executive director of the Peter Arkley Institute for Risk Management at the USC Marshall School of Business, about the future torch bearers studying this evolving profession.

Source: WSJ Interview | Published on September 8, 2022

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The institute, which offers one of the West Coast’s leading risk management programs, was created as a program at Marshall after a senior risk manager at Walt Disney Co. and the-then head of Aon PLC’s Los Angeles office approached the school about creating a talent pipeline for the industry, Ms. Jaconi said.

Ms. Jaconi, who also works as an associate professor of accounting at Marshall, came to head the program after working as a senior policy adviser in the U.S. Treasury Department during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, and as senior counsel to Rep. Michael Oxley, famous for his namesake Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

WSJ: What kind of student does the institute attract?

Kristen Jaconi: Risk management is an elective, so you have to be searching in the catalog for this class. These are intellectually curious students. Two of the most important qualities to have to manage risk are intellectual curiosity and problem solving.

We really are seeing a range of students. Not all will go into risk management departments.

I tell them…the business owns the risks, so you may not be in a control function, like a risk management department, or a compliance department or a legal department, but you may be a front-line business person and you own the risk. [Graduates] are going into consulting, the insurance industry, but also to companies—Amazon and General Mills—in different functions.

WSJ: What is this current crop of undergraduates like?

Ms. Jaconi: Just from the past few class sessions this semester, the students are very engaged and curious. And they work. They want to learn. The students are increasingly thoughtful.

This generation, more than any generation that I’ve seen, has been exposed to risk. They were six, seven years old, during the financial crisis of 2007-08. They were born right around 9/11. And now they’ve lived through Covid. So they have lived through three significant risk events in their short lives. It’s a generation that really has had to come to terms with risks rather quickly.

The Covid experience has significantly impacted them, how they perceive the world, how interconnected it is.

WSJ: What kind of knowledge are you finding these students have brought to the classroom?

Ms. Jaconi: They’re very aware of social media and social media trends. What is different today from 10 years ago is how much more challenging it is to manage risk in this social media environment.

Your company might think you have a small risk, but as soon as it goes into social media, that risk becomes much more significant. We try to teach that.

This generation understands social media better than any generation. They never went without it—they’ve had it since they were small. They will just be very prepared, I think, to help the organizations they go to after graduation.

WSJ: How has the pandemic shaped their learning experience?

Ms. Jaconi: An issue I’ve discussed with the students is the future of office culture. If you’re in a fully remote environment, or nearly fully remote, how does that impact office culture? The students do have strong opinions on this. They realize that they learn by imitating and by seeing their supervisors conduct their day-to-day activities.

Many of the students who had more fulfilling internships were those that were able to go into the office at least two to three times a week. The students are really grappling with this, because there were students that had fully remote internships and they did not feel as connected as those who were able to go in. Think about how we learned, whether it was 10 years ago, or 20, 25, 30 years ago. We became competent in our positions by looking at others around us in the office. This next generation is going to feel the same way.