BEGINNING WITH A CONVERSATION
“Career talk” with dad leads to success and volunteer opportunities
By Christopher W. Cook
Everyone envisions where their life will go, but sometimes that path can change. And this change can begin with a conversation. Our former graphic designer for Rough Notes magazine had previously worked with my mother at a photo lab. They remained in touch, and through a conversation they had, I found myself applying for an assistant editor position with the magazine. For Cameron Alford, assistant risk manager at Evonik Corporation in the metro New York City area, his career path in the insurance industry also started with a conversation.
Talking with his dad when he was 15 years old about what he wanted to be when he grew up, Alford said he “wanted to be someone who predicted the viability of an athlete coming back from injury using statistics,” he says. “My dad was reminded of a friend of his who became an actuary. I reached out to her, she provided me some information, and I ran with it all the way to college where I attended Butler University, majoring in risk management and insurance.
“I graduated in 2016 and became an underwriting trainee, but I didn’t like underwriting,” he adds. “I always wanted to be a risk manager, and now I’m here.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what people do and why they do it. … [L]earning what something is and why people do it really can provide a frame of reference for how you can contribute to your organization.”
Assistant Risk Manager
Prior to college, Alford was introduced to risk and insurance when he attended the Minority High School Scholars Actuarial Academy at Illinois State University—now called Midwest High School Scholars Analytics Academy (MHSSAA) for Underrepresented Groups. “That allowed me to understand what it would look like to be an actuary,” Alford says.
“While attending Butler,” he adds, “I had two insurance internships, one with Liberty Mutual Insurance in Irving, Texas, as a client services intern and the other with Burns & Wilcox in Indianapolis as a specialty underwriting intern.”
Additional preparation for his career was made by starting courses for the Associate in Risk Management (ARM) designation while still a student; Alford attained the designation in 2018.
“It was a challenging experience, but one that was well worth it for me because it provided me the foundation that I needed to understand the value of risk management and the tools used to address and support risk management decisions,” he says.
For people new to the industry and studying for a designation, Alford advises: “Take stock of what you learned in the books and apply it to the work you do every day. Being able to see the concepts play out in action in your work or seeing how your role connects to the people you serve, truly makes a difference when going through the test-taking process. It helped me tremendously.”
After graduation, Alford accepted a position as an underwriting trainee at CNA before moving to Evonik Corporation, where he started as an insurance coordinator in May 2017. He climbed the ladder to insurance specialist before advancing to his current position.
Along his journey, he had numerous mentors who were instrumental in his development.
“Willa-Jo Peterson served as a mentor to me throughout my internship with Liberty Mutual,” Alford says. “She introduced me to risk managers, took me to claims reviews, allowed me to sit in on her meetings and presentations to risk managers, and even facilitated an intern exchange day with one of the risk management organizations she had as a client.
“Throughout my career, Robert Cartwright has served as a risk manager mentor for me. He considered me for speaking on panels with him and has provided me with advice about navigating my current career. He has been instrumental in me learning the value of risk management decisions by encouraging me to stay at my current company during a time that I was frustrated and wanted to leave. His advice allowed me to truly understand my organization from the inside out and to really value the people I worked with.
“Noelle Codispoti was one of my biggest supporters as I was leading [he was also a founder of] Gamma Iota Sigma’s GammaSAID (Solutions for Authenticity, Inclusion, and Diversity),” he continues. “Noelle gave me the freedom to lead that initiative, create sessions for students, and sit in rooms with chief diversity officers who wanted to invest in the future of insurance talent by encouraging and embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Noelle challenged me to work smarter as a leader but allowed me to embrace my most authentic self in ways I never could have imagined.
“Sharla Floyd, who was another great supporter of mine from Gamma Iota Sigma, allowed me to see the world of risk and insurance in new ways,” Alford notes. “She helped me see the corporate connections and dynamics that gave me insight into what I call ‘the supply chain of risk and insurance.’ Sharla played a huge role in how collaborative I’ve become with anyone in any space because she facilitated conversations that lead to ideas flowing and making sure those ideas were heard.”
With support along the way, the industry has taken notice of Alford, as he was named the Gamma Iota Sigma Alumnus of the Year in 2017 and was featured as a Rising Star in an industry publication in 2020. Alford names receiving his Master’s in Risk and Insurance in 2020 and becoming a part of the Academy Board for The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research as additional career highlights.
Involvement and advice
Alford keeps busy volunteering with a variety of organizations in the industry.
“I am currently involved with RIMS (Risk and Insurance Management Society), serving as part of the Annual Conference Planning Committee as well as serving as a judge for the Spencer-RIMS Risk Management Challenge for students,” Alford says. “I’ve served previously in RIMS as a committee member on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council.”
Previously mentioned, Alford was one of the founders of Gamma Iota Sigma’s GammaSAID initiative and a leader from 2016 to 2020. He is also a member of the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA).
As a member of the Academy Board for The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research, Alford also oversees the CISR (Certified Insurance Service Representative) High School program, which provides students with an opportunity to earn a designation before leaving high school.
“In each of these organizations, I’ve either had or continue to have a great opportunity to learn from other insurance and risk professionals that help me understand my role as a risk manager and how I can be of great service to the industry overall,” Alford says.
Words of encouragement for young professionals starting their careers, Alford advises: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what people do and why they do it. Whether it’s a question about a process or their journey within the industry, learning what something is and why people do it really can provide a frame of reference for how you can contribute to your organization.”
Outside of the insurance industry, Alford is involved with his church’s youth choir. “Being involved with that means a lot to me because it allows me to connect with and encourage the children to have fun singing,” he says.
When he isn’t doing “insurance stuff,” Alford enjoys going on road trips to hang out with friends or family, attending concerts and watching some of his favorite TV shows or YouTube videos.
Alford’s insurance career started with a conversation. I’m having one with myself in my head right now. How will I end this article with the phrase I’ve used to end every The Young Pro-Files feature? What phrase might that be, you ask? “Keep watching the skies.”