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Thought Leader in Action: Chris Mandel

Back in the ’70s, Chris Mandel quite literally stumbled into insurance, as a result of a racketball injury at Virginia Polytech Institute when he suffered a detached retina. After two months of lying flat in a hospital bed, he had to forego his post-graduate job in retail management and start looking for employment in D.C. — he began an unexpected career in managing claims at Liberty Mutual.

Mandel excelled in his job but realized a career in claims management wasn’t what he wanted. So, in the early ’80s, he moved to Marsh brokerage for five years and set up a risk management program for an AT&T spinoff that evolved into what is now Verizon. He then left Marsh to be Verizon’s first risk manager — building its program from scratch.

By the ’90s, he landed in several top corporate risk management positions at the American Red Cross, Pepsico/KFC and Triton Global Restaurants (YUM Brands). Mandel also began his six-year volunteer stint as the president of RIMS (1998-2004), after serving in many different key RIMS leadership roles. He earned an MBA in finance from George Mason University along the way.

By 2001, Mandel was on several advisory boards (i.e. Zurich, AIG, FM Global and Liberty Mutual), before making a career and geographic move to the USAA Group in San Antonio. There, he built an enterprise risk management (ERM) program because he saw a “broken traditional approach” to risk management. After nearly 10 years of developing an ERM program lauded in the industry (including by AM Best, Moody’s and S&P), Mandel was promoted at USAA to head of enterprise risk management, as well as president and vice chair of Enterprise Indemnity, a USAA commercial insurance subsidiary. While at USAA, he was recognized as Business Insurance’s Risk Manager of the Year (2004).

His dream was to be a corporate chief risk officer, but he saw that title more often going to “quants,” (like actuaries), rather than risk professionals. So, as a well-known and sought-out industry spokesperson and visionary, Mandel moved on from USAA in 2010 to found a Nashville-based risk management consulting group, then-called rPM3 Solutions, which holds a patent on a game-changing enterprise risk measurement methodology. Then, in 2013, he moved to Sedgwick as a senior vice president. He is responsible for conducting scholarly research, driving innovation, managing industry relations and forging new business partnerships.

In early 2016, he was appointed director of the newly formed Sedgwick Institute, which is an extension of the firm’s commitment to delivering innovative business solutions to Sedgwick’s clients and business partners — as well as the whole insurance industry. In 2016, Mandel was awarded RIMS’ distinguished Goodell Award (see video below).

When asked what he sees as critical strengths for someone entering risk management, Mandel said: “I try to hire managers who can think strategically and who can convince C-suiters and boards of the value of being resilient in addressing a company’s risk profile. Progressive leaders understand the strategy to leverage risk for value.”

A holistic approach, as he describes it, “seeks a vantage point that can assess both the upside and downside of all foreseeable risks.” He believes true innovation evolves from a company’s risk-taking. “It’s not so much identifying what or when adversity is going to happen, it’s how a company responds to risk in order to minimize disruption,” he said.

In assessing his personal strengths and accomplishments, Mandel feels that a person needs to be “emotionally intelligent” — able to adapt to different people in organizations. He doesn’t consider himself a people person but says he learned to be one the hard way. He advises: “Team spirit is putting other people first and helping them succeed. … Admit your failures and build trustworthiness from your mistakes.”

Besides writing, teaching, speaking and (still) playing racketball, he serves an active role as an advisory board member of Insurance Thought Leadership. He and his wife also serve in church ministries, where he often plays guitar alongside his grown children, who are ordained ministers. Mandel said, “I’m blessed by a Creator who’s had my back.”