URMIA Matters

A Seat at the Executive Table

January 04, 2023 Guest Host: Eric Seaborg with guest Elliot Young Season 4 Episode 0
URMIA Matters
A Seat at the Executive Table
Show Notes Transcript

Join guest host, Eric Seaborg, VP for Education at Alliant Services, and a member of URMIA's Affiliate Committee, as he interviews Elliot Young, Kansas State University's AVP, Risk and Compliance Officer. Eric and Elliot share their advice for institutional risk managers who are considering obtaining a seat at the executive table one day. Elliot discloses his best steps to asking for a place at the executive table, how to become engaged in your institution’s community, and the key aspects to maintaining positive relationships at your institution.

Listening to this podcast will help guide you to making your voice heard at the executive table!

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Show Notes
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Elliot Young- AVP, University Risk & Compliance Officer, Kansas State University

Guest Host
Eric Seaborg- Vice President, Alliant Public Entity, Education, and Pooling (Alliant Insurance Services)

Eric Seaborg: Hi everyone. I'm Eric Seaborg, Vice President for Education at Alliant Services, and a member of URMIA's Affiliate Committee. I've been in broking since 2018, and prior to that I served as a risk consultant for an insurance carrier for almost a decade. Up until that time, I had the privilege to hold a number of leadership positions for a variety of colleges and a community college. Today's podcast is to provide some insight into what an institutional risk manager may want to consider if interested in obtaining a seat at the executive table. Joining me today is someone I consider to have a great perspective on this issue, Elliot Young, from Kansas State University, and Elliot, thanks for teaming with me on this talk. And would you mind sharing both your educational and work background?

Elliot Young: Well, thanks Eric. Appreciate it. I'm Elliot Young, currently, I'm Kansas State University's assistant vice President, Risk and Compliance Officer. Been in this position for almost three years now. Before that, I worked in risk management and insurance at Cornell University for a little under four years, and then before that I was a, actually a graduate student at the University of Kansas, where I got a master's in higher education administration, and then I also have a law degree. I graduated from law school in 2012, and in the middle of law school I started to discover the profession of risk management and compliance. And so, my journey's been a process of figuring out how do I pull all that together? Higher education. I love higher ed. I, I like the legal field. I like compliance, I like risk, but I didn't know always how to pull all that. Into a career that I actually really cared about until I found risk management and insurance and compliance. In higher education and I was like, this is perfect. So, it's a little bit about me, my background, and I just absolutely love the job I get to do every day.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah. So we've known each other for a number of years, and during that time, you and I have talked off and on about this topic of landing a seat at the executive table, and we continue to hear it from risk managers, especially those who are new to their job. And I think we both agree that risk managers should have their voice heard at the top level, but we also have talked about the experiences we've both have had getting to that point in our higher ed careers and what's involved yet, despite what it takes to get there. It is still a relevant topic for today's risk manager, don't you think?

Elliot Young: Absolutely. Yeah. No, it's, it's absolutely a relevant topic and I think, given the complexity of higher ed, the evolution of higher ed, where we are now and where the industry's going, I think having a risk manager or somebody you know who's really focused on risk and compliance and enterprise risk and strategic risk planning and those sorts of things. Business continuity planning, like there's a whole host of areas within risk management that given our climate that we're in and given the trajectory of higher education, I think now more than ever, we have to have somebody with that mindset at the executive table.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah. I think we both agree that it Covid really spiked a lot of that too.

Elliot Young: Yeah.

Eric Seaborg: Where it really, to me, broke down a lot of silos in higher ed because it was all about the campus, the university, surviving.

Elliot Young: Covid has provided us, sadly, with the perfect example of risk management in practice and continuity planning and pulled together crisis management and emergency response and the financial challenges. So yeah, it was a truly holistic risk area that we had to address, and it required executive leadership to come together, sometimes multiple times a day, certainly multiple times in a week over multiple years to address those issues, and that was the only way that we could do it, is if everybody got out of their silos and worked together to address those challenges.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah, so that's why I think talking now today about the executive tables a little bit different than if we had discussed it prior to Covid. I think a lot of risk managers were actually by osmosis driven to the executive table for their advice. That's a good. I wanted to just break down what the executive table's all about. Let me ask, do you have a seat at the executive table of K State?

Elliot Young: So, I do not. I am advised I am, excuse me. I'm invited on an as needed basis to the executive table to either bring forth proposals or recommendations or to address challenges that we may have. And I can provide a couple of examples, but I am a part of what's called the President Cabinet's Advisory Council, and that is a group that essentially sits one level beneath the people who do have a seat at the table. Uh, we look at things and then. Bring forth our recommendations or the issues that we feel we need to address to the president's cabinets.

Eric Seaborg: You're like assessing and mitigating, it's almost an ideal situation rather than being at that executive table. Now in my career, I have sat at the executive table at various colleges, and the benefit to that, obviously, is that you're interacting with the top-level administrators, and you are also understanding their needs. What's important to them, and you're learning quickly about all the elements of the university or the institution. But nowadays with ERM in place and crisis management teams and business continuity teams that are really effective and actually controlling a lot of the show, it's just as good. In fact, I would think it's better because you're not living at the executive table every day.

Elliot Young: Yeah.

Eric Seaborg: It really can take away from your other duties.

Elliot Young: I completely agree with that. And I think what you mentioned about it's important to bring things to the executive table, which to be clear, when I say executive table, the vice presidents-

Eric Seaborg: Yes.

Elliot Young: The deans possibly the ones who are making the decisions.

Eric Seaborg: Right.

Elliot Young: And that's the critical piece is they’re the decision makers for the university, ultimately the decision maker’s the president, with approval from the board. But on a day-to-day basis, implementing the strategies, it's the people at the executive table. It's the vice presidents and it's the deans.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: But like you said too, you can get lost in that level. And for risk management to be successful, it has to be integrated throughout the university. So, in a lot of ways, I like where I'm seated right now because I work as much with the executive folks and provide them information and provide them an analysis so they can make those decisions. But I also work with people at different levels of the university to actually implement those strategies.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: And I think there's often a disconnect between the executive table and everybody else. And I view my role as a kind of a way to bridge that gap.

Eric Seaborg: The titles are generally the same. We have presidents, we have deans, provost. Name some others that you can think of that belong to that table.

Elliot Young: Yeah, I would say it's Vice Presidents, the dean. It could be the President of Faculty Senate.

Eric Seaborg: Good point.

Elliot Young: It could be the Provost; it could also be somebody with an officer type title. We have a vice president, but he's the Chief Information Officer.

Eric Seaborg: Yes.

Elliot Young: So, it could be an officer type position. We also have one person who's our senior level facilities and campus planning person, and he's an associate vice president, so he doesn't have the title of vice president, but he's got a seat at the table. And you also have other people who don't necessarily have a seat at the table but advise the table.

Eric Seaborg: Their advisors.

Elliot Young: Yeah. Internal audit is an example. General counsel's office, although for us general counsel does have a seat at the cabinet's table. Some places they don't.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: The risk and compliance office. I've got a dotted line reporting structure to the president. So, I don't have a seat at the table, but I do have that communication channel where I can move stuff up as necessary.

Eric Seaborg: So, for a person like you that has a dotted line, that advisors, so to speak, it doesn't matter when you meet, when they meet, because you're called upon when they need you now. It does matter if you're gonna report to them,

Elliot Young: Right.

Eric Seaborg: Or you're going to sit with them regularly. And that does take a lot of balancing your professional and your personal life. Because there's a lot of time with being at the executive table. So, when we talk about the executive table today, I think what we're really talking about is getting that voice-

Elliot Young: Yeah.

Eric Seaborg: To the people who make those decisions and being respected.

Elliot Young: Well, and then I think that's a hundred percent right, is that if you don't necessarily have a seat at the table, but you do have a good way of communicating with those people where you can reach out to them in an email, you can schedule a meeting, you can bring something up and pull together a group of the people at the table. You can be effective; you can get stuff. And I do this routinely, so I don't wait for a monthly meeting if I discover an issue right now. I will raise that to my boss who does have a seat at the table, and we'll develop a strategy and I'll get on the agenda for the next cabinet meeting, and we'll get going on whatever issue we need to address. That could happen every month. That could happen every week. Just it's more about making sure you have that communication, and you have that ability to bring issues to light so that you can raise those issues. I think a mistake that risk managers can make, is to think, well, I only have to report annually or quarterly, so that's the only time I'm gonna communicate with them. I think that's a mistake because that's three months potentially where you might have an issue that you've identified and then you sit on it for three months without ever doing anything about it. We have to be willing to step up and take action when we hear about stuff.

Eric Seaborg: Exactly. You talked about communication and that's always a big thing for me as far as risk managers, because you'll hear, I want to sit at the table, I want this, I want that. And we do. We wanna move up, we wanna be recognized. But as you said, it's that ability to be able to inject when you feel the need is there from a risk management perspective, and you're listened to, and effective communication becomes so critical to one of the characteristics of a risk manager. So, I wanted to really get your take about personality.

Elliot Young: Yeah.

Eric Seaborg: Because that's important and whether we wanna agree with it or not. How you look, uh, are you dressed appropriately? Are you a good listener? You have strong feelings about that in regards to what a risk manager should be like from a personality perspective?

Elliot Young: Oh, I certainly do. No two people are the same, of course. But I do think that there are some common things that you have to have to be successful and people have to want to engage with you. They have to want to work with you. They have to want to reach out to you for advice.

Eric Seaborg: That's great.

Elliot Young: And they've gotta, yeah, they've gotta be comfortable with you.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: They don't wanna be seen as the scary person, like my wife jokingly calls me the fun police. Yes. And it's very sarcastic because I, I'm not that at all.

Eric Seaborg: No.

Elliot Young: Much more the you have a crazy idea for an event on campus, or you've got a new program that you wanna launch in your department. Great. I'm gonna help you figure out the safe way.

Eric Seaborg: It's that approach when you're-

Elliot Young: It's the approach.

Eric Seaborg: It's coming towards them and responding to something.

Elliot Young: Absolutely. You've gotta be a good listener. You've gotta be relatable and, but also professional at the same time. I like to crack jokes. Yes, I like to be funny and to break down that image they have in their mind that here comes risk and compliance. They're gonna tell me what I can't do. I wanna break that down as much as I can. You have to know what the project is or what the event is or what the new initiative. You gotta understand it but ask them a lot of questions to get them to talk about the new research project that they're working on or whatever. And then what that does is it breaks down those barriers and it, it gets people talking and it makes them feel comfortable. So then when it does come time for you to say, all right, here are the 10 things you need to do to mitigate the liability risk, the compliance issues, the operational risk, and maybe even the financial challenges that you have here are those things. They're gonna listen to you and you don't have to come in with a thou shalt not do this approach. You come in with a, I'm truly here to support you.

Eric Seaborg: Do you think that is learned or inherently, if you're a certain way, you really can't change?

Elliot Young: And I think people have to recognize their strengths and their weaknesses, but then they have to really develop those strengths. As far as I can remember, people have said, Elliot, you're such a diplomat, or you're so relatable, or you're a politician. And the bad side of that could be, oh, you're a people pleaser. Or you just say yes to everything. I figured out in college that a way to actually apply that is mediation is conflict resolution.

Eric Seaborg: Yes.

Elliot Young: Is to go through a, a process where you help people facilitate dialogue so that they can find a resolution. What I did is I took classes, I developed that skill. I took facilitative mediation classes, and I practiced. I was a mediator for a number of years in law school where I would go and instead of people going before a judge to have a dispute resolved, they would sit with me, and we would talk about it. And what I learned through that is if you help people find their own solutions, if you provide them the guidance, but ultimately, they adopt the rules, if they feel ownership in that, they are going to be much more willing to do what you would hope that they would. So, I think it's a combination of both. Like I naturally have kind of that diplomatic mindset, but I definitely had to work to develop more refined conflict resolution skills, which I use today to help move along projects that I'm working on for risk management.

Eric Seaborg: Leadership respects you more when you can challenge the authority with good basic dialogue facts. Being able to say, I know the culture well enough to. What needs to be done to help us move forward? I remember when I started out in risk management, my first objective was go around and meet people, talk to people, get on committees and all different types of committees. Cuz you'll learn all different types of things.

Elliot Young Yeah.

Eric Seaborg: Uh, whether it's in the athletic department or in academic affairs, it's a great way of meeting different people who have different skill sets on campus and to utilize those people, bring them along with you in a sense.

Elliot Young: To your point about just how you're getting involved on campus and meeting with people, I've taken both of those approaches. I met with 75 different people for everybody from the president to assistant VPs across the institution in one-on-one interviews to ask them about things. But also, I'm a part of a number of committees and working groups. Where that's essentially what we do is we sit and we talk about what are the problems that we're trying to solve, and then how in a collaborative manner do we work together to solve those problems? And I think that's extremely important. It's also interesting because risk managers are often sit located centrally within an institution, so they're not just in HR or they're not just in student life, they're in an administration, finance, or a general counsel or some sort of office like that where you have touchpoints with everybody at the institution. And I think that puts you in a position to build bridges and to pull people together and to creatively solve problems. I will routinely be sitting in a meeting about research compliance and hear about something where I think, you know what? I think we could actually benefit from having student life at the table here, and you would never think, what? What does research and student life have to do with one another? But there are issues where, yeah, you need your dean of students to help out with a matter that might come up in research.

Eric Seaborg: Relationships and people trying to somehow be a ringleader, trying to be somebody who can educate both sides. There are people in positions at at universities and institutions that may be in a certain position now, but you don't know what they did prior to that that could help you.

Elliot Young: Yeah.

Eric Seaborg: That could be that benefit, and that helps us get to the executive table.

Elliot Young: And I've seen that just focusing on the legal background, that a lot of the time people just don't know why they're being told they have to do something. There's probably a really good reason why they can't or can't do something. They're just looking for an explanation that nobody's ever told them. and then the second that you can explain that to them, because you do have that background of, and that knowledge, that wider range of information, you can explain that to them in an easily understandable way. Then they get it. So, I think it's something as simple as my communication style, whether it's written or speaking, can help people understand the why behind something that we're doing, which can help them move forward.

Eric Seaborg: I think we both agree that it's really securing the respect to be able to offer as an advisor or consultant to the table when needed to be looked at as someone that the other divisional leaders can say, Hey, I'm wondering if you can help me with this. Help me pull this together.

Elliot Young: I think it starts with having good relationships with the people who do have a seat at the table. And they should know what you can bring. And this happens frequently where they'll come across an issue and I'll get an email and it'll say, Hey, we need to address this or that, and I would like your perspective on it. And that's where really where it starts. And then I can bring forward the legal analysis, but also, maybe the legal or compliance risk isn't that difficult to deal with, but the reputation issues, or maybe there's a financial aspect that we haven't thought about or an internal policy that we haven't thought about. So, I think risk managers, a lot of the value we can bring for the people at the table is we bring a wide range of perspectives. Some people would only focus on one area of risk, say financial risk or legal risk. Risk managers have to think about all of those. And when you sit down to write a memo for a vice president, or when you have to go brief president's cabinet on an issue, they don't want just one piece of the puzzle. They want the full analysis. You have to pull all of that together, and that's one of an area where risk managers can provide a lot of value.

Eric Seaborg: Elliot, do you take into consideration that the character or the personality of the particular. Person you're dealing with on that high level, and I know the answer's yes. How do you go about doing that?

Elliot Young: Absolutely. The answer's yes. I think a starting point is to know what kind of information that person is looking for, and then, but how do they like that presented? So, do you need to provide a lot of charts and graphs? You need to provide pictures. Do you need to provide a memo ahead of time? So, what is the style that people are looking for? I think that's really important. I've sat in cabinet meetings where people will present 15-minute-long presentations with tons of text up on the, on the board and nobody's paying attention. So, you gotta submit your memo ahead of time as reference so they can read it. Then your presentation, you hit the three main points, it takes you five minutes and you're out of there. That's what you're really looking for or what they're really looking for. So, I, I do factor in personalities too. Some groups, some people, Three pieces of information. They want it basic and that's it. Others want to have an opportunity to have dialogue for 30 minutes and question and answer. So, you have to know that ahead of time and you have to prepare accordingly. But then when you go in, you've got to give them the information in a way that they want to hear it. It in my mind, it goes back to being a good facilitator.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: And a good listener. Because you're only gonna be effective if you know how those people are going to receive the information.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah. It's like teaching good teachers, a teacher that will try different approaches to make sure the information is being received effectively. Cuz we all learn differently. The more you interact with leadership, the more you understand what really connects with them, what's really important. You wanna be supportive and you want to be able to develop the trust, but you also don't want to be overutilized or taken advantage of. That's a tough balance.

Elliot Young: Oh, abs, absolutely. And I think one thing, one thing to keep in mind, this is getting a little specific. Oftentimes people who have a seat at that table, they are doing meetings and they're traveling, and they're meeting with people all day, which means that they catch up on the work, the emails, the stuff they need to follow up on at night. They work on it over the weekend, and they don't take vacations. They're like machines, right? They work all the time.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: So, what does that mean downstream? I get emails from my boss frequently. It's 7:30, 8 o'clock at night, and it's something that he's like, all right, I just had an opportunity to review this presentation for tomorrow. And then, so that finds me at 8:30 at night or six o'clock the next morning, going through what he emailed me and getting it ready to go. But you have to think about that and go, wait a second, this is not eight to five. This is, I have to be responsive to the people who do have a seat at the table and get them what they need when they need it. That's tough. Professionally, it's tough. Personally too, we all have families. We've got, I've got kids, we've got stuff going on. But you still, you gotta be responsive and that can be very challenging, and I think you have to be willing to recognize self-care is important.

Eric Seaborg: Yes.

Elliot Young: Because we want to be in this profession for a long time and we don't wanna burn out. So, you've got to find that balance. It's tough, but you've gotta find that balance and know that it can be very demanding.

Eric Seaborg: It's a life balance, it's a commitment if you wanna be successful in this particular occupation.

Elliot Young: Yeah.

Eric Seaborg: And social functions from the formal down to the informal softball and things like that. I participated in all that stuff. I loved all that stuff. I got into it. It gave me the opportunity to introduce my family to other folks. Let's talk about it in relation to a risk manager who wants to move up the ladder. How important is this?

Elliot Young: Yeah. Relationships. And it's not just people getting to know you professionally, but like you said, they want to get to know who you are.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: And you want to get to know them. So, I think the more you can engage with people and it’s gonna benefit you.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: So, whether it's a social function, whether it’s coffee with somebody or a softball game or you see somebody in the community, you sit next to 'em at a football game. You know what? They're a neighbor. Most of a lot of us live in smaller college towns.

Eric Seaborg: True.

Elliot Young: And I to people at the grocery store all the time.

Eric Seaborg: True. Yeah.

Elliot Young: It's not always those formal functions that you have to attend those dinners from seven to nine o'clock in the evening. It's the more informal stuff. Another thing, go early to meetings and stay late if you can, and just talk to. And just get to know them. I think that is extremely important. Cuz this is so much like we've already alluded to a relationship-based character. It is. It just, there's no way around that.

Eric Seaborg:  It rolls up to the, the importance of an URMIA. We go to sessions, and they present on topics and they're important, but it's really, how do I take that best practice and incorporate that, so that's really important.

Elliot Young: Yeah. I think the experiences and the networking opportunities you get at URMIA and other places are invaluable. You can't, like you said, you might go to a session and learn something, but then how do you apply that? How do you actually take that back to your campus and have it be something valuable? The chances are that there's people sitting right around you at a conference or in a Zoom webinar who have already done that.

Eric Seaborg: Yes.

Elliot Young: Are going through it right now. And you can reach out to them and network and through those relationships, they can help you along edge your own campus and how to bring things forward. Uh, I think that's extremely valuable. And you know what I, I find that the people that do have a seat at our table, they always want to know about that.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: They always want to know what are our other institutions, what are our peers, what are they doing, and how can we take what they're doing and adapt it to fit our culture? I get that question every time I bring up an issue or a new proposal or something that we need to move forward to mitigate risk. They always want to know what our peers are doing.

Eric Seaborg: Yeah.

Elliot Young: So, when you go to a networking session, or even if it's just, you know, after a, a conference session or if it's in the hallway, you start asking those questions and you go, this university and that university, they're all dealing with the same. And here's how they're approaching it. Then I bring that back to my campus and say, I talked to X, Y, and Z university and this is what they're doing. And that really helps you move things along.

Eric Seaborg: Are we missing anything?

Elliot Young: I think we've addressed the main points, but I think it's worth emphasizing how important it is to understand how to deliver information to the people at the executive table. And what I mean is, you have to understand that they have thousands of things going on. They have tons of priorities. They already have their goals in mind so that when you come forward with something else, you have to present that in a way that they understand why it's important to them, what is the value to them? And it can't just be, we've gotta mitigate risk. We've gotta reduce liability risk. Okay. What is that? Why do they care? Why do they care about that? So, you have to figure out how to make the information relatable to what they're doing, which ultimately comes back to tying to the mission and the strategic plans of your institution.

Eric Seaborg: You're right, the mission, we all say, well, the mission's just, it doesn't concern me. I'm so far down the ladder. Everybody's involved-

 Elliot Young: Yes.

Eric Seaborg: With the mission of the institution and the students are. As part of that institution and that growth. And you want them to have a good experience, not only academically, but socially when they leave, because those are the folks that are gonna give back to the institution someday. And what you were talking about was the understanding of what the other leaders outside of your division have to consider as their goals to contribute to that student success.

Elliot Young: Yes.

Eric Seaborg: And I think you made an excellent point regarding know the priorities and goals of the other leaders at the table.

Elliot Young: Yep.

Eric Seaborg: And not just bringing your information forward, and that's where networking with other folks can really help it out a lot.

Elliot Young: Yeah. You really have to understand what interests are at play. Right. So, your Vice President for Student Affairs might be really focused on retention, graduation, student mental health, sexual assault prevention, all of those things. But your vice president for research might not care at all. He might only be thinking about, you know, complying with grant requirements and applying for new grants so that you can move the research enterprise forward. So, when you go into a meeting, and you say, our liability insurance premiums have gone up and our coverage has come down, and they're gonna sit there and go, who cares?

Eric Seaborg: What does, yeah. What does that mean?

Elliot Young: Why do I care? That doesn't matter to me. And if you go into that meeting thing, oh my God, all I ever hear about is insurance premiums are skyrocketing and the coverages are getting worse, and I can't secure coverage. And that's a big deal to the risk manager. It's not gonna be a big deal to the provost office unless you can translate that into something meaningful to them. If, if we don't implement a new policy or if we don't invest in controlling a risk in this area, we might not have insurance coverage anymore. And that would have an impact on our ability to secure grants for the research enterprise. And now you've got your attention.

Eric Seaborg: Absolutely. Yeah. I think what we've talked about, having a seat at the table means a lot more than. I want to be recognized and I want to have the respect-

Elliot Young: Yeah.

Eric Seaborg: Of sitting at the table. It takes a lot. There's ups, there's downs, and there's a life balance that's involved in this to be successful. I'm hoping that people would want to engage with either yourself or myself or other members of URMIA after listening to this in regards to any issues involved with risk management health, I should say, which is being successful both professionally and personally. So, any closing comments, my friend before I let you go?

Elliot Young: No, I've enjoyed the discussion. I think it's not as about; it's not about having a seat at the table as much as it is finding ways to support your institution and to help your institution move forward. If that means you have a seat at the table, great. If it means you have a way to communicate with those that have a seat at the table, that's fine. But as risk managers, we have to be finding ways to engage with leadership and everybody else at the institution to find creative solutions to manage our risk. That's the most important thing.

Eric Seaborg: Thank you so much my friend.

Elliot Young: It, it was a lot of fun, and we have great conversations as always, and yes, I would encourage people to reach out to me. And, uh, happy to keep the conversation going.

Eric Seaborg: Always a great conversation with Elliot Young, who is the Assistant Vice President for Risk Management and Compliance at Kansas State University. And thank you all for taking the time to listen. So, on behalf of Elliot, myself, we hope you enjoyed this podcast discussing what is involved when asking for a seat at the executive table. Please take care and be safe.