Driving Transformation in 2021 – Airmic CEO interview

Published on Fri, 22/01/2021 - 11:40
John Ludlow, Airmic CEO
John Ludlow, Airmic CEO

After a year of unprecedented challenges, John Ludlow is beginning 2021 with a spirit of cautious optimism.  It is clear from consulting members that they have risen to these challenges and they are increasingly contributing to their organisations at a more strategic level, based on a deeper understanding of risks.

In a spirit of determination and confidence amid adversity, Airmic has plans for 2021 that build on the success of running a virtual organisation throughout 2020, which recognises that the start of a Covid-19 vaccination programme in the UK is welcome news, but does not herald that the pandemic is over. We therefore have to carefully manage and balance between the natural optimism the vaccine creates, driven by the desire to meet, network and learn in person, with the imperative of acting responsibly.   

We will deliver digital and hybrid events in the first half of 2021, while preparing for physical events in the second half of the year – headlined by the return of Airmic’s Annual Conference in October.

“Our key message is that we want to reintroduce physical events as soon as it is safe to do so. For now, the proposal is for events towards the beginning of the year to be digital, moving to hybrid events in the summer and then to physical events later in the year,” says Ludlow.

The plan is for the conference to take place in Brighton 4 to 6 October. Its objectives are to enable partner and member face-to-face networking and meetings designed to provide knowledge sharing and learning opportunities. The ambition is for an event in 2021 that is all about networking and understanding,” says Ludlow. “It’s important for our members to attend to understand how the risk landscape and the insurance market have changed and the options available to them. It’s not just about walking round seeing old friends – although that’s always welcome; it’s about sharing member needs with our partners and asking them what they can offer to risk professionals.”

The theme for the conference will be “Driving Transformation – Shaping the future”. This represents Airmic’s rallying call to risk professionals to increasingly go on the offensive in their efforts to improve future business performance against the headwinds and threats that surround us. It means overcoming adversity by meeting the challenges, supporting the achievement of their business’ vision, with an underlying confidence built on the knowledge we are working together to secure our leadership in the future world.

Core to the idea is that risk management maturity often accelerates in a crisis, spurring businesses to move from reactive, through to understanding a risk before it crystalises and taking action ahead of the curve, at which point you can begin to be more proactive.

“The next level involves actively shaping the future risk environment. That requires great confidence, a deep understanding of the trends, and being able to predict what the future might look like, so that in turn you know how to act to positively influence the future,” says Ludlow.

“You can’t always control every event, but you can influence events and trends, slow them down, bend them to your will, or even start a trend of your own,” says Ludlow. “As risk managers we can spot a need or demand, understand what’s driving a threat or causing a vulnerability, and develop our own ideas about what might form a solution, speak to people about it, and gain support for changing what was otherwise inevitable. That’s what leaders do,” he adds.

The relevance of this theme goes far beyond the pandemic and its effects, Airmic’s CEO stresses. For example, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2021, which came out this week emphasises taking ownership of challenges society faces, from working to promote social cohesion by setting and aligning business to a societal purpose, to our stewardship of the environment to combat climate change.

“The next big challenge is the environment,” Ludlow says. “As humans we have wanted to have our cake and eat it, but the world’s oceans are polluted and dying, biodiversity is collapsing at an alarming rate, and the more that diversity collapses, the more accident-prone humans are going to become. Now we understand that for sustainable development we need to protect the environment to sustainably grow the economy. It’s another example of shaping our environment, quite literally.”

Plans often need change, Ludlow acknowledges, and Airmic will be monitoring the health and safety situation as well as the risk landscape carefully. Postponing the 2021 conference from June to October has necessitated moving the venue from Manchester to Brighton. However, this delay also provides a greater leadup time for a return to large physical events, and means that partners will not need to commit financially to the conference until the end of June. Until that point, Airmic’s plans will largely focus on events that can take place digitally – or hybrid as circumstances allow.

Covid-19 has pushed organisations over a technology tipping point. There is no going back and some changes will transform organisations for ever. Given this quantum leap, the first major event in 2021 will be a virtual  Technology Forum on 13 May.   

“The Technology Forum will be a blend of keynote and panels, supported by insurance and risk industry and member case studies” says Ludlow.

The second Forum, a fastTrack Forum, will take place 8 July, focused on the upskilling, networking, and career development opportunities vital to Airmic’s member and partner organisations.

Following the flagship Annual Conference in October, an Enterprise Risk Management Forum is planned in November, with more details out soon. This will be followed by the return of the Annual Dinner on 7 December at the Hilton, Park Lane, London.

“We will take the lesson of the past and blend these with our desires for the future,” Ludlow added. “2021 will be my final year as Airmic’s CEO. As we remember those members of our families, friends, and colleagues we have lost to the pandemic, we must strive to be optimistic. On a personal note, I can’t wait to get everyone back again and do Christmas properly this year.”