The Graduate's Perspective

Caroline McDonald


September 1, 2014

While there are many insurance industry jobs awaiting students, risk management jobs are fewer and farther between. RMI graduates who have landed those jobs say there is no particular formula, however. For some, it has been the help of teachers and mentors, while others found job experience and a certain amount of luck led to employment. But for all, there was a moment of realization that risk management was the path they wanted to take.

"I was on the track to be an accountant," said Angela Matherly, senior director of risk management for Snyder's-Lance in Charlotte, North Carolina. "The company I was working for put me in charge of insurance and, the more I got into it, the more interested I became." She found insurance to be "a great cross between accounting, finance, legal and operations. It got me out from behind my desk and gave me opportunities to learn new things, like being able to walk a plant floor and understand OSHA and safety, or how to negotiate a defense settlement budget." She quit her job and returned to school full-time at Appalachian State University in 1993.

Now at Snyder's-Lance, Matherly's risk management department oversees the company's insurance program, claims, safety and loss control, corporate security, business continuity, and enterprise risk management for 10 manufacturing sites, two support centers and distribution centers throughout the United States.
Matherly also believes in giving back. She served on the RIMS student involvement committee and is a member of the board of advisors for the Brantley Risk and Insurance Center, which supports Appalachian State's risk management program. Now in a position to hire for the risk management department, "I have employed quite a few alumni over the years and have one working for me now. We also get a summer intern from there every year."

What she looks for in an employee depends on the position. "If I am looking for an entry-level risk analyst,
I prefer someone coming out of a risk management program," she said. "Most students coming out of these programs tend to have one or two internships under their belts so they are coming with job experience."
She noted that educational programs are geared to help students in their career. "A lot of these programs approach the education, not just from an academic perspective, but from a real world interaction with current professionals," Matherly said.

Trends in Higher Education: Real World Lessons
By maximizing program relevance, schools are drawing in more students for a new class of risk managers.

Mike Eremchuk, vice president of corporate insurance with First Data Corporation, has been with the company for 18 years. Eremchuk's department of four purchases global property and liability insurance for the company. While attending the University of Georgia for a BBA in information systems, he was assigned as a work-study student for the risk management department. "I took the introductory course as an elective to complete my BBA and became interested, so I completed my MBA with a concentration in risk management," he said.
Since then he has never doubted his decision. "I love it. It was exactly what I was looking for. It's different every day, you get to look at different facets of the company and you virtually have to learn everything about the company, so it's a very comprehensive, complex kind of occupation."

He advises students, "Be open-especially if they are already in business school-to what kind of career and challenges they are looking for. It's one thing to know you want to be an accountant, but I would suggest that students take risk management as an elective to see what it is about."

Marcin Plonka, global risk manager for SAP since 2006, is a Temple University graduate with a double major in risk management and insurance and finance. During his first semester in Temple's business program, he took a required introductory class in risk management. "I found it interesting. I was considering a major in finance, but decided to apply for a second major in risk management and insurance," he said. He also earned his ARM and CPCU designations, which he started while at Temple.

During his senior year, he was assigned a mentor who worked for SAP. "We met several times a year and he would give me career advice," Plonka said. He went on to work as an underwriter for Aon until, eventually, his mentor offered him a position in SAP's risk management department. Once his mentor moved on to another company, Plonka temporarily took over running the department with a colleague and, over the years, his responsibilities have expanded from the United States and Canada to the entire globe.

Plonka pointed out that, as threats increase, there are a number of different areas where risk management can bring value. But most of all, "It is a helpful business when you think of the role a risk manager plays in preparing for and in the aftermath of a disaster. You are helping people get back to normal, helping the business continue its operations under challenging circumstances. It can be a very rewarding career."