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Business Officer Magazine

Back Story

Profiles of individuals in roles that support the work of the chief business officer—and who represent the majority of the Business Officer reading audience

By Margo Vanover Porter

Nakeschi Watkins
Nakeschi Watkins

Risk Manager 
Yeshiva University
New York City
6 years in higher education

Risky Business

If you don't want to know the answer, don't ask Nakeschi Watkins the question.

"I am a straight-up person," says the risk manager at Yeshiva University, New York City. "I don't like beating around the bush. Anyone would tell you I am direct and to the point. When I'm asked about something, I lay all the facts on the table."

After spending 12 years in military logistics and police work, Watkins moved to the Big Apple, gaining experience in various risk management positions until she joined Yeshiva University in 2006. This private not-for-profit institution offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs at four campuses in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Israel. It also operates a medical school, a secondary school for boys, and a high school for girls in Queens.

When Watkins isn't busy with her two sons, Jon and Jarrett, she spends her time studying for her MBA. She also enjoys watching football and basketball.

What claims might arise from Hurricane Sandy?

Fortunately, we didn't suffer too much damage. Two of our campuses in New York City—one in Midtown and one at 12th Street and 5th Street—were without power for an entire week, so we had to cancel classes.

We experienced some loss of revenue to our patient clinics in the Bronx because they were unable to function at full capacity for some time. But overall, we fared very well compared to other schools in the New York City area, which suffered not only property damages, but huge research losses.

Have certain insurance premiums increased more than others?

Within the last few renewals, property insurance increased significantly due to storms and hurricanes. We also noticed an increase in the directors and officers lines of insurance. Some of my colleagues were hit with 20 percent increases in D&O lines because of claims being filed for wrongful termination, which falls under the employment practices liability portion of D&O.

What do you wish were different about your job?

The perception of the role of the risk manager. There have been instances where some bypass my department because they view my role as the person who is always going to say "No." However, with certain guidelines in place, there has been a slight shift in perception. Now people know that my role is to help protect not only the university from adverse risk, but to keep them safe. Once people talk to me about risk management, insurance, and potential exposures of the university, I become the first person they e-mail. I've been here long enough to know what the university's tolerance for risk is.

Which is?

The university is open to taking risks as long as we have the right mitigation in place.

Can you give an example?

Allowing minors on campus. That's a hot topic right now because of the issues surrounding the potential risks of inappropriate behavior by some university staff. We allow minors on our campus because our medical school runs a program for high school students to work in our labs two or three days a week. However, we put procedures in place limiting where they can go.

How can business officers help protect their institutions from risk?

Work with your risk manager and look at all types of risks when making decisions. Take into account financial and strategic risks and those associated with reputation and hazard. Business officers need to understand that buying insurance is not risk management. At some point, business officers, in conjunction with the president, have to determine the university's risk appetite, keeping in mind that not all risk is bad. Opportunities can come out of risk.

How can institutions protect their reputations from unnecessary risk?

By paying closer attention to what's going on in and around the university, learning from the mistakes of other institutions, following best practices, and embracing enterprise risk management.  

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

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