Sneak a peek into the world of risk

Source: NHE Nov/Dec 2018

The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) asked its members what working in risk is really like and what hints and tips they’d share with people looking to move into the industry. Here, we hear from Fiona Davidge, enterprise risk manager at the Wellcome Trust.

I came into the risk world as a second career after studying for a law degree in my early thirties. This followed an earlier career as a registered nurse and then a Royal Air Force nursing officer.

I studied for my degree while my children were still in their early education years. After graduation I rather fell into an emergency planning role with Thames Water, the largest water utility in the UK. To be honest, I was not too sure at the start exactly what the role entailed, but it sounded interesting and challenging. My manager really encouraged me to develop expertise in the field and then added business continuity to my workload. Two years later, the company asked our team to develop a corporate risk management framework and, at that point, I commenced studying for the Diploma of Risk Management with the IRM to support our knowledge in that area.

After nine years at Thames Water it was time to move onto other challenges, and I became senior corporate risk manager at London Underground – still part of the critical national infrastructure, but this one did not want water in its pipes!

My focus was integrating corporate, asset and project risk management, which had traditionally operated as separate frameworks with limited interaction. There were a couple of interesting years when Metronet Rail, one of two infrastructure companies in a public-private partnership with London Underground, had to be absorbed into London Underground after going into receivership. I managed the people and assets of a newly-merged risk function, including integrating two huge risk management information systems into one.

A desire to broaden my interaction beyond the corporate risk process took me to the Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation which funds and supports scientific research into human and animal health. Here I have gained responsibility for the insurance programme, a useful addition in knowledge for any risk manager I believe, and I am once again involved in the business continuity process. Variety is good: it broadens my interaction with differing teams and levels of personnel and helps me to get under the skin of Wellcome.

What’s a typical day like?

I am normally based at our London headquarters on Euston Road, so I suppose you could say I follow a typical office-based daily routine: working at my computer, attending meetings, and interacting with people. I do not manage a team here so I am free to plan my own time and fit in with the necessary meeting and reporting cycles of Wellcome. 

I also provide risk management expertise for our scientific research facility, the Wellcome Genome Campus near Cambridge. Every month I spend a few days there. It makes a refreshing contrast to London, working with people who manage the large academic campus, which is set in the Cambridgeshire countryside, and with the scientists themselves, who are busy working in leading-edge research into the human genome.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The fact that, as the risk manager, I have a broad visibility of most initiatives and challenges that Wellcome gets involved with. This can range from supporting the development of a public exhibition in India, providing risk management training to operations staff from some of our overseas-funded scientific initiates, working with IT staff at the Genome Campus who run one of the largest data centres in the UK, to facilitating discussions with our executive in respect of the strategic risks facing the organisation. It is a varied job and brings me into contact with a broad spectrum of staff and contractors.

What are the challenges?

The biggest challenge is getting people to view risk management as an enabler rather than a hindrance; that it is here to support the delivery of objectives, not to say ‘no’ to everything. All too often people are so busy dealing with the known panics of today that they fail to look ahead and anticipate potential uncertainties and manage them.

In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?

My Diploma in Risk Management has been vital to my career development, as it has provided objective evidence to potential employers that I have studied the subject they are considering employing me for. I am sure that I would not have been shortlisted and offered jobs without it.

What would you say to others who are thinking about joining the field?

I have recommended that many colleagues begin their understanding of risk management by taking the short IRM ‘Fundamentals of Risk Management’ course. Without fail their feedback has been positive, and I really think it is a perfect course for people who do not wish to be risk specialists, but want to increase their awareness and understanding of risk and risk management. It lifts the level of risk knowledge in an organisation and adds to an individual’s CV.

For those who wish to move into a risk career, then the International Certificate and Diploma in ‘Enterprise Risk Management’ still offer the most flexible and cost-effective suite of courses you can take. They can be studied while on the job.

Ongoing membership of the IRM for me has been an excellent way to maintain peer group contact, attend further focused specialist courses, and participate in thought development.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

You can see that my role has often expanded to fill a need in the organisation. Rarely has that expansion been planned, but instead resulted from restructure and change.

My current career ambitions are focused on consolidating a more integrated operational risk and resilience approach here at Wellcome, ensuring that interaction between risk management, business continuity, security, health and safety, and the insurance programme gets ever closer, reduces replication and shares knowledge.

What are your top tips?

For me, being a risk manager is working and interacting with others. I do not own risks in the organisation, they do; so you need to hone your people skills and be a good oral and written communicator.

Understand your business and its objectives. Risk and risk management is only relevant in that context and spoken in that language.

Support the delivery of options and solutions – be seen as someone who can facilitate change and deliver on commitments.

Finally, develop and expand your professional contacts and knowledge. I have always tried to give time to participating in professional special interest groups, British and International Standard Organisation risk management committees, and other groups. This may take commitment and energy, but you get back as much as you give, and you learn so much from others.


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