A day in the life of: a Risk Management Consultant

Albert C Vd Vyver ResizedAlbert van der Vyver, SIRM
Risk Management Consultant, SheRisk (Bow Tie Analysis)
Mining and Metals, Pretoria Area, South Africa

How did you get your job?

I grew up in a small mining town in the northern part of Namibia, it was evident that I would end up somewhere in the mining industry. As a mining supervisor in deep level gold mining during the 1980 and 1990’s times were not easy. The mining houses had excellent “loss control” systems and I was part of the implementation side of the process.

Unfortunately on the 10th of May 1992 I lost a friend that was working for me in a fatal accident underground. It was the first major event in my career and within a month on the 16th June 1992 a second blow, another fatality. During the next month a position opened in the Safety Department and decided to apply. None of my colleagues would ever have dreamed that I would become the Risk Manager within three years and six months of the largest gold mine in South Africa (23 thousand employees). It was a challenge and I took it to heart, I wanted to make a difference. The rest was history, except the yearly reminder of those two fatal days, date and time.

Today, I am a Risk Management Consultant and have left the mining industry, although they form the basis of my clients. Professor Ronny Webber-Youngman from the University of Pretoria called me one day 1998 and ask if would be interested in providing material and lecturing risk management at the University at the Mining Engineering Faculty for the final year Mining Engineering students. Without any hesitation or any doubt I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime, it was payback time!

The next five years as consultant and lecturer sculpted my career to a next level in risk management. At this point I made a decision to join the IRM as a Specialist Member (SIRM).

What’s a typical day like as a Risk Management Consultant?

Let's start with a week: Monday’s will consists of a long three hour drive or a flight to another town/city, same with the return, some weeks will have two to three similar sessions, early up to the airport and late arrival. Part of this life is that the same amount of hours you devote to work will be absorbed by travelling

Any day can vary from consultancy, lecturing, conferences, auditing, directing critical control regimes, to formal software risk assessments. Greenfield/brownfield project risk assessments, bankable feasibility study assessments, normal run of the mill and product supply risk assessments, design engineering risk assessments, Major hazard management assessments and plans. Also consultancy mainly towards risk control regimes and strategies and included safety leadership development for board members, executives, middle management and facilitation of workshops.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The time occupied with managers, sharing expectations and operational demand challenges within the risk framework. Admittedly interactive lecturing remains one of the finest therapeutic risk measures for me, however designing new systems within a structured framework provoking “older” systems is as exciting.

What are the challenges?

“Understanding” in more than one sense. Appreciation of the magnitude and escalation features of risks, allocating resources for risk treatment strategies. Quite frankly, to inspire mechanisms that will ensure a practice of “getting the minds of managers into the hands of the workers”, not a laid-back undertaking for an underground claustrophobic mining environment.

In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?

Because of the late start of my risk management career I achieved qualifications through other institutions within South Africa and other countries. But, since I’ve been a SIRM and part of the South Africa Regional Interest Group I have become more comfortable with clients outside my traditional mining background.

I am more openly invited to address conferences and find my expertise obtained at IRM and contributions shared by other IRM members to be of immeasurable value. This platform of expertise is superior in the risk world and become more significant for the selection of consultants.

What would you say to others thinking about joining IRM as a member?

Be part of a family that has the same ambitions to allow you to lift your head in any discussion about risk, the institute provides education and support for any person to reach his or her personal gratification level. The educational framework at IRM is far superior and will equip any risk passionate person to become an assertive risk executive.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions? Has being linked to the IRM helped?

The preceding eighteen years, from a risk manager to a dynamic and competitive consultant. A few aspirations are still out there, but surely the primary craving for me in South Africa is a formal educational platform for risk managers at a recognized institution. Marrying the governance, compliance and assurance into the material risk is a massive lack in our exiting educational framework; each area forms its own silo and report to different executives. This leaves the risk manager with a “shot gun” approach, yet we report to stakeholders not aware of this issue. It would be of great value for me to partake in such a program.

Top Tips

Assertiveness: Develop an intellectual dynamism enabling you to function in any proven risk context.

Proclaim: Stay abreast of research in the risk world, read papers delivered by IRM members and become part of the educational program where possible.

Enjoy: what you are doing!! Take a photograph every now and then of the environment where you operate, as memory, but also to show your family that part of your life.