My journey: From American Footballer to Global Risk Manager

22/03/17

At the age of 14, if someone would have told me, I would become a Global Manger of Operational Risk, I would have thought they were speaking another language. To put it simply, I was not your straight ‘A’ student. My passion was American football and I dreamed of playing professionally for a team like the Baltimore Ravens; this was all I wanted to do with my life.

However, when I was 15, I had health difficulties which made my sporting ambitions seemingly unachievable. After bone reconstruction surgery on both of my legs, almost two years in a wheelchair and gaining an excessive amount of weight totaling almost 500 pounds; I was as far as I could be from becoming the person I wanted to be. However, after time, I gained the motivation to do something about it. I was told by my doctors that I couldn’t play football as I would be putting my body at too much risk, but this failed to stop me. I did everything I could possibly do to regain strength in my legs, lose weight and get into competitive shape. I played through a lot of pain, went through intense training physiotherapy and I even had a tutor visit me in hospital.

I can say my hard work paid off. I was given the opportunity to play American football at The Valley Forge Military College and then at Morgan State University; an NCAA Division one program. As it happens, my life didn’t turn out how I thought it would and I never played professionally. However, these experiences taught me an important lesson which still resonates with me today.


I can do anything I put my mind to

When I left school, I began to work for a defense contractor who provided technical and linguistics services to armed forces personnel. There, I started out as a data entry administrator but grew to become an integral member of the team and as I asked questions, did my research and gave my opinions on our critical processes; our executive reporting ran more efficiently and effectively.

After this position, I moved onto working for the leading commodities trading firm and energy supplier; reviewing, testing existing and designing new internal operational controls.

In 2008, the impact of a financial crash almost put my firm completely out of business. I witnessed the fall in front of my eyes; all shares had disappeared overnight and company morale was at an all-time low. At a time where the company received vast media attention and several management changes took place, I made an effort to understand what went wrong, why we were exposed, what the company dependencies were on and how this affected our business. I watched the industry change in front of me and I learned a key lesson in operational risk management.

The ability to adapt is essential

After the collapse, my mentor approached me about another job. I moved onto audit telecommunications programs for low income school districts. It became my responsibility to audit and analyse funding application requests while being impartial in documenting my observations and findings. Although I believe in being honest, I found this role particularly tough to navigate. Due to the crashing economy within local communities, educational institutions were operating with reduced budgets that made them significantly reliant on the funds from the program. The issues surrounding the funding that these schools received and the individuals that the funding would impact made this particular assignment particularly challenging.

Working in this environment eventually left me needing a break and, in 2009, I left this role to travel.

My next challenge

After my career break in 2010, I took on a role assessing and reengineering deficient internal business controls and creating process maps for several firms before later taking on a position as Senior Risk Lead at a mortgage firm and various other operational, portfolio and asset management positions. This was until I was approached by Bureau Veritas for a role as the Regional Risk Manager for the Americas. Within the first year in this position, I held an Interim appointment as the Head of Risk for the Americas. Later, I was unexpectedly promoted to Global Team Lead of Regional Risk Management. Although I had come from a financial background, Bureau Veritas recognised I had skills applicable to a much wider field.

I have always been highly productive in my jobs and this was no exception. In my new position, I made contact with employees internationally, implemented sophisticated risk management programs and initiatives as well as vocalised my thoughts on how business operations be improved. Due to my recognisable results and notable impact in this role, I was honored with an opportunity to take a position managing the Global Operational Risk Management Delivery for one of Bureau Veritas’s largest financial services clients in the UK. I’ve been privileged to be here for just under a year.

My experiences have helped me in my new role as our client changes its leadership and evolves its strategic plan. Here are some of my key lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. You can do anything you put your mind to

It’s not always easy but the will power is all you need. Mental toughness and the ability not to be swayed by adversity will get you through each difficult day. It is important to be tenacious, passionate while being a vocal leader that builds a network of other colleagues with the same attributes.

2. Having an underdog mentality is useful

My first day on the football field after my injury, I was not the best or even close to being competitive. I had to dedicate myself everyday to working harder than my peers until I became stronger, faster and a heck of a lot better at the game. Your self determination will always allow you to beat the odds. It is not necessarily the most qualified person in Risk Management who is the most suitable for the job – leadership, experience, positive attitude and a willingness to learn is just as important.

3. You need to be able to react and adapt to change and do this quickly

At some point or another, all industries experience change inevitably and this tends to happen dramatically and fast. It’s important to be open to change and to always be a team player. Adapting to change as a team is much easier than taking it on alone. When pre-empting change its is important to be on the forefront of proposing ideas’ and initiatives that way you have you have an increased ability to be in more control of how change is implemented.

4. You are never going to be equipped all the time

Don’t be afraid to your homework. In an ever evolving industry people are always discussing and promoting new ideas and new approaches to implementation. Your ability to network and discuss ideas with others in the industry will provide you different perspectives and help you rationalizes your ideas. This will also give you confidence when delivering your own proposals within your firm.

5. Don’t be afraid to take the first step

Without taking a first step, you cannot succeed. Growing up, my Mother used to say to me ‘success is a long journey almost like climbing a big mountain’. You can expect to get to the top of the mountain without taking difficult steps or even stumbling on a few rocks. Although I am nowhere near the top of my mountain, I have complete confidence that I will eventually get to where I’m going.

I am currently the Global Manager for Operational Risk Management within Corporate Real Estate for Bureau Veritas. I work directly with Bureau Veritas’s Financial Services Client to manage the day to Operations of the Global Risk Management Services provided by the regional Risk teams and the Risk Center of Excellence. Thus far, this role has been very exciting, challenging and fulfilling and has allowed me to exercise my potential. I really enjoy interacting with my teams, colleagues, and clients and being an inspiration to those who know my story. It has been an amazing experience relocating to the United Kingdom and an inspiring adventure.

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