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Introducing: Vanessa Thurlwell

risk management course at usb-ed

1. What is the highlight of your career?

I can’t really pinpoint a particular highlight as it has been more of a journey with key events. These include international travel (the most interesting being Northern Angola), having articles published in magazines, moving from internal roles to consulting and the learning curve that gave me and seeing long-term projects fulfilled, particularly the Risk Practitioner Curriculum and Qualification. And some of the lifelong friends I have made.

2. How is a Risk Management different in start-ups vs well-established companies?

Very interesting question. Startups are not necessarily as heavy in the compliance space, so often Risk Management is done for the value it adds and not merely as a tick box exercise. In well-established organisations, especially large ones, there are often many different departments dealing with risk management and often in silos. Risk reporting is often perceived as a “burden” because it is too detailed and frequent based on existing communication lines, but is not portraying the right information. But on the other hand, well-established organisations that are doing risk management well are sufficiently resourced and can be good thought leaders.

3. Any tips or advice for those starting their careers in Risk Management?

Read read read! There is such a wealth of information online and published. Create a network for yourself, of people in risk management, so that you can learn from other organisations. Keep your focus on the value of risk management and not just the process and ticking boxes and complying – the point is to reduce our risk and improve performance. Be innovative and creative – there is no blueprint for managing risks.

4. What book are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading the memoir of Wangari Maathai who is a woman from Kenya, internationally acknowledged for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. I always have a long list of books that are waiting to be read, but I just don’t get through them fast enough!

5. And finally, what is the one thing you can tell us about yourself that we won’t find on your resume?

I have a little business on the side – called Oh So Prettea, that is a range of Organic Rooibos Tea blends. I love the tea culture and one day I hope to have a tea blending/tasting shop that is filled with fresh herbs and spices for people to blend their own teas and tisanes with different health benefits.

Vanessa Thurlwell
(BA Honours: Environmental Management)

Has 14 years of experience in risk management, primarily enterprise and operational risk management, and graduated in 2000 with a BA Honours in Environmental Management from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Thurlwell’s specialist skills include advising and implementing all phases of the risk management cycle. These include: analysing risk management maturity; conducting gap analyses against risk frameworks and regulations, including King III and ISO 31000; developing risk appetite and risk management frameworks; facilitating risk management activities including risk assessments, reporting and control assessments; and conducting training at all levels in an organisation.

Other areas of risk management in which she is proficient include business continuity management; environmental risk management; and sustainability risk management.

risk management online course

Are you aware of your businesses risks?

business risk management

Risk management can be a laborious task, requiring the mental strength of a chess master calculating his next dozen moves, hoping it will bring success. While assessing your company’s activities, projects and strategies against all risk factors may be a necessary exercise, it is important to look at it as a double-edged sword. When looking at the launch of Facebook, many risk managers would’ve advised against it, with industry leaders MySpace and Friendster controlling the market.

So why do we do risk analysis?

Risk management is in essence project management. It increases the chance that your endeavour will be a success. By forecasting and predicting risks to your company’s ventures, you are able to answer questions like: what are the legal liabilities, what are the threats from project failures or what credit risks do we face? It may also help you minimize the impact of foreseeable but uncertain events like accidents or deliberate attack from a competitor.

A risk management plan cannot help you identify uncertain or unpredictable events but rather reduce the impact of an unfortunate event, such as a natural disaster, with a suitable crisis plan.

Risk management varies across the functions within an organisation as each business unit comes with its own set of unique threats, therefore, any plan developed needs to be approved by the appropriate level of management. For example, you wouldn’t assign a marketing manager to develop and monitor a risk management plan for the protection of computers against a virus risk.

The following are common risk management failures, in various business functions:

Management ignoring warnings

Often this comes down to a lack of proper reporting procedures, as opposed to blatant disregard from a manager. Employees will regularly report a possible dangerous problem that could lead to personnel getting hurt, or note that an employee isn’t operating equipment safely.

Managers in haste to an important meeting could note your concerns but later forget to follow up, leading to equipment damage and/or personnel that could’ve been avoided. Where necessary, a simple reporting procedure that ensures safety and security concerns are addressed and resolved, within an acceptable time-span, would help eliminate human error.

Routine quality checks

Much like the recent Tiger Brand’s listeriosis debacle, the lack of routine quality checks can result in devastating losses of stock, market share or worse – customers!

When thinking of quality checks you need to assess yourself honestly against the following questions: when was the last time that a qualified professional inspected your equipment? How do you know that your equipment isn’t about to malfunction?

Without these important checks, you increase your company’s risk, when a thorough plan to have periodic checks can easily help you maintain a low-risk profile.

Late-running projects

Prevention is better than cure, wouldn’t you agree? An integral part of any project management task should be risk management. An experienced project manager, will try and predict any potential threats to a project. They will put plans in place to overcome them, unknowingly developing and implementing a risk management plan.

Implement scheduled “risk workshops”, where team members can discuss any potential risks that they foresee arising from new developments in the project.

Risk Management advice:

There is such a wealth of information online and published. Create a network for yourself, of people in risk management, so that you can learn from other organisations. Keep your focus on the value of risk management and not just the process, ticking boxes and complying – the point is to reduce our risk and improve performance. Be innovative and creative – there is no blueprint for managing risks.

The importance of long-term project management

long term project management

Western Cape is synonymous with beauty and splendour, from Table Mountain to the scenic Garden Route stretching along the southern Cape coast. Recently attention has been shifted to the reality of a looming Day Zero scenario. Western Cape has been battling the effects of drought since 2015, resulting in the region experiencing severe water shortages. Capetonians, nevertheless, have remained hopeful that approaching seasonal rains might alleviate some of the damage caused by the drought. Their ingenuity and communal effort have pushed out Day Zero until 2019. In such a crisis, a project management plan needs to be sensitive to resources, critical of risks, and able to identify problems at their source in order to mitigate further damage.

Safety in methodology

Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step towards finding a solution, and while it is important to provide short-term relief, a permanent solution is vital. Any project, whether long- or short-term, must first observe certain regulations that ensure the methodology used is environmentally mindful. In the case of the borehole drilling near Steenbras, ecologists cautioned that the impact could have serious consequence for neighbouring settlements. An experienced project manager does not only consider the immediate ramifications of an action, he forecasts the potential to exacerbate the problem.

The political impediment to a drought solution

Head of ETM Macro Advisors, Russell Lamberti, argues that the Cape water crisis should not be blamed on a freak drought, a lack of adequate municipal planning and resource management, and on Capetonians who “use too much water.” Ill-defined market prices, state monopoly inefficiency, and excessive demand due to under-pricing are taking a toll on the supply of usable water. Water-preserving devices have become increasingly popular with over 2,000 water management devices (WMD) installed on properties on a weekly basis. Another WMD installation program called “indigent water leaks project” allows poorer residents who agree to have the devices installed to have their debt scrapped.

A crisis cannot be postponed

South Africa will run out of water by 2030 unless there is a major shift as to the true value of water, as well as an R899 billion investment into the sector for the next decade. Experts believe that the drought could have been avoided with early warnings coming in 2007 when the Department of Water and Sanitation issued a warning about Cape Town’s water supply, explaining that by 2015 the city would need new water sources. There is a strong case to be made for experienced practitioners and reliable data, but if the political system keeps interfering with the conditions necessary to handle the crisis effectively, pushing out a deadline, we will inevitably have to confront even larger problems.

Leading with heart

a good leader

A leader has many tools at his or her arsenal, but the greatest tool a leader possesses is their voice. Your voice has the ability promote a vision, and change the way people think and feel and act, a real difference maker. If you lead with your heart, you can can change your audiences perspective.

Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses, offices, retailers and airports. In this TED talk he asks us to pay attention to the sounds that surround us. How do they make us feel: productive, stressed, energized, acquisitive?

Good leaders know what it takes to gain an audience’s attention and in order to effectively do this, leaders should be willing to assert themselves and take centre stage with their voice.

Assertiveness is a key component as this is an indication of your self-esteem and certitude, which will in turn help you gain an audience’s attention, co-operation, and ultimately, their respect. However this open and direct approach can easily be conceived as “command and control” leadership and micromanagement.

Julian discusses this, the seven deadly sins of speaking and more as he explores the human voice, “the instrument we all play”.