Risk. Avoid It? Mitigate it? Transfer it? Embrace it?


As a marketing professional in the insurance industry for the last 10 years, risk and risk management sure is a topic close to home. Since a small group of shipping merchants came up with the idea of insurance in a coffee shop in London in the early 18th century, insurance has become one of the largest industries in the world. And whilst reducing and mitigating risk for individuals and businesses through risk transfer solutions, like insurance, might sound like a boring topic (thanks for staying with me), imagine the world without it.

If a storm destroyed your house and you lost your entire life savings, would individuals and societies even take the risk of building housing or would we still be living in caves? If a business transporting goods from a factory to a retail warehouse lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to hijack and theft, would they even take the risk or would the financial limitations mean there was no trade? No innovation?

So when Andy Fennell, Executive Chairman of Bloom London and former CMO of Diageo opened the conversation at the Marketing Society’s dinner in Singapore in late January by declaring ‘we are hard wired to avoid risk and jeopardy’, my insurance-trained brain instantly thought, well yes, of course!

Over the course of the next 20 minutes or so, Andy then took us on the journey of his career, his inspiring highs and humbly, his significant lows – his failures as a leader and as a commercial decision maker.  Delivered with powerful simplicity and colourful anecdotes Andy covered some crystal clear messages to everyone in the room:

  • How corporate culture is naturally biased to reduce failure vs embrace it. Not a criticism, but a natural reality that stems from our human instinct to take flight from risk.
  • However unless we shoot for the extraordinary (and increase our risk of failure by doing so), we may remain in the land of the ordinary. Is it better to shoot for a ‘10’ and maybe, sometimes, accept the inevitable ‘3’ that comes from aiming high – or stay safe and compete with everyone else shooting for 7’s?
  • The opportunity, and responsibility as braver leaders, is to reduce the pain and impact of taking bigger risks - share your our own personal stories of failure that may not have been told, park the ego, battle the desire for self-preservation and focus on enabling growth - for your business, teams and yourself.

Failure is horrible - no one would probably honestly say they enjoy it. However, perhaps Andy’s inspirational story demonstrates an idea we can all continue to explore together. It’s somewhat of a given, that to grow and to innovate in our ever changing and dynamic world we need to shoot for 10s, take some risks (embrace them even). But that furthermore, as marketing leaders, maybe our own kind of insurance policy against these risks is an ingredient called ‘bravery’.  Through collaboration, story-telling and being bold enough to create a culture where it’s acceptable to hit the occasional 3.

By Yvette Templar, Vice President Marketing Communications Asia-Pacific at Allied World and The Marketing Society Singapore board member