Use Strengths to Attack, Not Just Offset Risks

On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, CFOs from several industries participated in a Roundtable Intensive on the topic of risk:  “What Else Could Go Wrong?”  Michael Best was our sponsor.  Two key ideas:  Use your strengths to resolve, not just counterbalance your risks, and use a systematic approach to risk analysis to find new ways to become even better.  See also term 6.6 Risk management in The GMs Index.


  • Beth Dettman
  • Dan Kelly
  • Randy Kyle
  • Mark Lenerz
  • Marcie Mahuta
  • Bill Mitchell, Michael Best (sponsor)
  • Rick Perrin
  • Glen Stiteley
  • Derrick Van Mell


Dan Kelly, CFO of American Family, shared two stories about risk.  Not reported to protect confidentiality.

Discussion questions

  1. How have the probabilities and consequences of last year’s risks shifted? 
  2. How have you helped the CEO or board keep current on the shifting risk position?
  3. What new ways are you managing the risk in your long-term plans?

Best practices

Identify top risks

  • Retaining top talent employees (see below)
  • Recession risks (see below)
  • Interest rate risks
  • Governmental/regulatory risks
  • Second-hand risks, i.e., those faced by customers and suppliers
  • Emerging risks:  epidemic, civil disturbance
  • Financial loss or weaknesses are resultants of risks gone bad
  • New risks and opportunities generate yet other risks and opportunities

Mitigate retention risks

  • A threat to retention with remote work is maintaining an attractive culture
  • That COVID forced remote work actually helped in retention and productivity
  • Increase efforts to create excellent and individualized opportunities
  • Book:  “Dream Manager,” by Matthew Kelly
  • Focus on wellness
  • Recognize stresses on employees, particularly those with children at home
  • Need to reset work/life balance
  • Working remotely has reduced current and future space needs
  • Remember to celebrate successes and team spirit

Understand recession risks

  • A lasting recession (e.g., “Pandemic Depression”) amplifies and creates risks
  • Recession will likely outlast introduction of COVID vaccine, yet…
  • Participants mostly optimistic

Follow general risk planning and mitigation practices

  • Every organization should have a system for assessing and communicating risks
  • Board members, owners and executives must know their business and keep current
  • A comprehensive review of risk and themes lets managers focus with confidence
  • Understand who controls the risks, though some are not controllable
  • Risks should be “stress-tested,” i.e., analyzed for financial effects
  • Need for disaster planning
  • Accept that some business units might need subsidy to offset their specific risks
  • Use analysis of risks to spot new opportunities to improve
  • Keep board, CEO and executives informed about risks
  • Need to build awareness

Make your business as good as it can be is the best way to prepare for risks

  • Maintaining customer diversification protects against being affect by their risks
  • Keep developing new products and services
  • Continue to adopt new technologies to create efficiencies and share information
  • Invest in the talent to deploy and use that technology and information
  • CFO needs to be much more generalist manager than finance specialist