Mitchell Aucoin, Risk All-Stars

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Mitchell Aucoin
Sr. Director, International Insurance
Marriott International Inc.

What is your educational background?

I hold a Master of Business Administration with finance and management concentrations from Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business and a bachelor’s degree in finance from The University of New Orleans with an insurance concentration. I was also a recipient of the university’s Student Leadership Recognition Award.

Did you know you wanted to go into the risk profession? If not, what was your journey to get here?

No, not initially, but I had an encouraging “push” from a mentor. While going to college for my undergraduate degree, I worked in the banking industry. A college professor mentor with whom I had taken an insurance course encouraged me to consider a career in the Insurance industry because of my interest in financial analysis. He told me about what insurance underwriters did, and I took an interest in the industry. I was fortunate to join a well-respected insurance company (Hanover Insurance) as my first job out of college, where I was mentored by three industry-veteran underwriters. It was on-the-job training, and I was given my own territory in Louisiana to underwrite homeowners and automobile coverages. I was accountable for my own P&L, and it was in this job that I found myself enjoying the insurance industry. Five years later, I had the opportunity to join a well-respected offshore marine transportation company (Tidewater Inc.) in New Orleans, as an insurance manager and serve as part of its risk management team. Again, I was fortunate to be mentored by a 27-year maritime attorney, and it was here that I was able to learn about risk management in a marine environment. After four years and with me recently having completed a professional MBA, I was actively looking to move from New Orleans, when an opportunity became available to join Marriott’s risk management team as an international insurance manager. My Tidewater experience helped give me the best skill set to work in an international risk management environment. I’ve been with Marriott almost 20 years, and it’s certainly been the most rewarding career I could have asked for!

How long have you been working in the risk profession?

In total, I’ve worked in the risk profession for almost 27 years.

What do you love most about what you do?

The biggest risk to my organization is brand and reputational risk. When managed well, we can help influence our guest’s perceptions and show that our “Spirit to Serve” culture is truly unique and differentiating to those that stay with us. My team’s goal is to provide the best contractual risk transfer strategies and most cost-effective insurance solutions to help protect Marriott guests and our owners’ hotel assets around the world. This means that we’re challenged to find new insurance solutions in countries like Busan and the Maldives. Every country is unique and so are its risks. Working in so many different countries and cultures helps make my job exciting and very rewarding!

Has managing risk changed over the course of your career? If so, how?

Yes, definitely. In the early years of my career, efficiencies in risk management were defined by systems and financial tools, such as self-insurance through captives, reduction of workers’ compensation costs, understanding and refining loss-cost drivers, and installation of risk management information systems. A company’s risk management strategy was not necessarily aligned to its business strategy or risk appetite. In the 1990s, the concept of managing operational and financial risk management into one holistic approach helped to usher in the concept of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM). Today, successful organizations have risk management fully integrated within and as part of their key business processes. This may include building, refining, and defining a company’s risk management frameworks, risk culture, risk strategy and the board of director level. As a result, there is much more use of actuarial and statistical data to help drive decision making, so that companies can have a better understanding of their entire risk profile. For example, two entirely different risk strategies are needed for cyber and supply chain risk, yet risk managers need to be able to weigh and successfully manage both. These risks, in addition to workforce and regulatory concerns, are what I believe to be the most pressing risks facing our profession today.

What advice would you give to someone who is about to start their career in the risk profession?

First, I would say that the most important quality that a risk manager can possess is the ability to anticipate the problem and not wait for it to occur. Successful risk managers must be willing to take risk. This includes analyzing the issue and giving your opinion when you may not have complete information. Second, executive leadership sees risk management as guardians of the company’s assets and reputation, and they expect the risk manager to understand the company’s risk appetite. Hence, successful risk managers must have good analytical and communication skills and be willing to “manage up.” If the risk manager is not willing to communicate adverse information with leadership, then the risk manager is not serving in the best interest of the organization. Good verbal skills are a must, as often the risk manager is the one employee in the organization that may communicate with the highest level of the C-suite or board one hour, and then go into a meeting with frontline associates the next hour. Last, to be successful in the first two items above, a risk manager needs to completely understand the company’s business operations, as well as the events (internal and external) that could adversely disrupt or impact operational success.

Do you have a personal motto? If so, what is it?

Proverbs 21:21 states, “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity, and honor.” I’m a firm believer that when we give of ourselves unselfishly, whether through time or resources, God rewards us in ways we can’t imagine. We must be willing to mentor, share with others, and lead all with an unselfish heart.

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