Jessica Titherington talks to one of Airmic’s newest board members about the lessons from her career and how Airmic can raise the profile of risk management.
“The thing I love about risk management, is that every day is different,” Claire Combes, who became a member of the Airmic board in June this year, explains. An accountant by background, Combes is currently head of risk and internal audit at intu, owner and manager of some of the UK’s largest shopping centres, and has spent most of her career in retail.
“I started in finance but soon realised I preferred risk management. The thing with risk is that it gives you a chance to see all parts of the business and to really understand how the business is run. It never gets samey.”
Now as the new chair of Airmic’s risk management steering committee, she wants to help Airmic really raise its profile as a thought leader in risk. “I want Airmic to be a one-stop shop for risk managers to get insights about key risks and to learn techniques for managing them.”
This is part of a broader plan for Airmic to expand its output in the enterprise risk management field. With this is aim in mind, Airmic is holding its very first ERM Forum – a one day conference for risk professionals – in London this November. Combes is particularly excited about this event: "I really hope it will be a chance for those Airmic members who perhaps feel less engaged to learn and to see the benefits of what we have to offer."
The risk steering group comprises of 17 Airmic members with a range of professional backgrounds who meet three times a year to discuss and provide feedback on the association's latest projects, in part to ensure the association's output is in tune with its members’ wants and needs.
Thought leadership is important, Combes believes, not only for technical guidance but also to help Airmic members raise their profile internally. She cites Airmic's flagship reports Roads to Ruin (2011) and Roads to Resilience (2014) as two examples. "I was able to put these reports in front of my board and get them to sit up and listen."
Combes has good access to her board at intu, a company where they take risk management seriously. Not all risk managers are so fortunate but this is improving all the time. "For me, being able to show senior executives that risk management has added value has really helped."
And what would her advice be for those who feel they don't yet have a voice at the top table? "The key is in making them see that risk management is relevant and not just an admin task," she advises.
Claire Combes career highlights
2009 to date intu properties plc: Head of risk and internal audit
2008 Marks and Spencer PLC: Head of risk and internal audit
2006-2008 Lonmin PLC: VP risk management and treasury
2000-2005 Thresher Group: Various roles, including Director of risk management, Director of operational support and Director of financial accounting and risk
1995-2000 Whitbread PLC: Various roles, including operation manager and accounts managers