Canadian Underwriter

Risk Jockey

April 2, 2019   by Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

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How does a radio guy become a leading Canadian risk manager? Steve Pottle, who serves on the global board of RIMS, says it all began
with Y2K…

cu | Your education is in radio-television arts. What did you do before you became a risk manager?

I was a radio guy after I graduated in the late 80s. I worked at Newstalk 1010. I enjoyed my time there. I was doing the morning show radio, which is fun, but when you are in your late 20s and getting up at four o’clock in the morning, it kind of kills your social life at night. So, I took a risk and went into a corporate communications opportunity for a year.

cu | York University in Toronto hired you in 1998 to work on Y2K (Year 2000). You were making sure that their computer systems could handle four-digit years after Dec. 31, 1999. What happened there?

My background was not in IT. My role was to manage the communications aspect of why we needed to become Y2K compliant. We were constantly sending information to the board about the risk of non-compliance. That’s when the board questioned the administration and said, ‘Do you have a risk management person?’ My new role sort of grew out of what was once somebody’s side gig of buying insurance. They formed the risk management unit at York. It was a second career for me, coming into the insurance and risk management field from my communications and radio background.

cu | How was the learning process?

I did not have an insurance or broker background that a lot of people in risk management have, so I took my Canadian Risk Management designation and my Charted Insurance Professional certification while I was working at York. In the fall of 2000, the university created a risk management and insurance unit in finance. I joined as their insurance administrator; later, I managed the department. Having that communications perspective has served me well. I can listen to what people have to say and understand their different perspectives on issues.

cu | You moved from Toronto to Kamloops, B.C. last year to become director of risk management services for Thompson Rivers University. Is managing risk for a university out west different from managing risk for York University in Toronto?

In B.C., I find the risks are a lot more climate-based compared to what I dealt with in Ontario. I am in the interior of British Columbia. For the past two years, we have had interface fire threat. After we had those large forest fires in northern B.C. last year, the smoke filtered down into the Kamloops area, where I am based. When we talk about interface fires in B.C., we are talking about large-scale fires that can literally jump rivers and roads. That is a big concern here. From a ground management perspective, we have to make sure that we are keeping the grounds relatively free of potential combustibles – trees, grass and that kind of thing.

cu | Are the risks at Thompson Rivers different in other ways?

This is a smaller university than York University; in my portfolio, I manage different types of risks. At York, I didn’t have security, I didn’t have health and safety, and I didn’t have enterprise risk. Those are now in my areas as well. That’s a welcome opportunity. At Thompson Rivers University, security, health and safety, and enterprise risk are all under one risk management cluster, whereas at some of the bigger universities in Ontario, they have sort of dispersed them into various sub-units.

cu | How has your personal experience with insurance evolved?

Over time, I have evolved from buying insurance and issuing certificates of insurance to where I am now. Right now, I’m not as heavily involved in managing insurance procurement because at this particular university we have insurance through the B.C. government. So I spend more time sitting down with students, faculty and staff to work through more strategic risk management issues such as risk governance, compliance and bridging the downside of risk with the opportunities associated with taking risks.

cu | You have volunteered with RIMS for more than 15 years in various capacities. Why?

If you put the time into it and volunteer, RIMS is great for meeting people on a more personal level. So, if you have business questions, you don’t feel that awkwardness of having to ask someone who you don’t really know for answers. My first RIMS Canada conference was in Ottawa in 2001 and I did not know many people around the room. I remember saying after that conference, “Wow, this is a very good sharing community.” One thing I find with risk managers, regardless of where you work or what kind of role you have, they are always willing to share best practices with other people. Back when I first started, someone said to me, “You don’t necessarily need to know everything. But it really helps when you know who you can call to ask that question.”

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