Christopher Rivera: My Experience as a Young Leader in Resilience
Christopher Rivera is a certified project manager specializing in communication strategies, with experience in business continuity, disaster recovery and emergency management. Starting his career in financial services with J.P. Morgan Chase and Merrill Lynch, Chris eventually began his pursuit of hands-on emergency management experience, and later joined the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), one of the nation’s largest municipal organizations. Eventually moving to Ernst & Young, he developed his skills as a consultant and advisor, and eventually became attracted to the unique approach Lootok offers the BCM industry.
How did you become involved in resilience and its related industries (business continuity, disaster recovery, emergency management, information risk management, etc.)?
I first became involved with resilience starting in 2006. At the time, I worked as an IT disaster recovery test coordinator for a global financial services organization. In my role, I was responsible for planning and executing DR tests with a team of developers. During these tests, it was exciting working side-by-side with them because we collaborated productively as we simulated a recovery of key business applications. This was a great learning ground early in my resilience career because I experienced the value of teamwork.
My role then evolved from a test coordinator to test manager where I was responsible for enhancing the complexity of our DR tests. As I gained the confidence of my management team, I was asked to report the results of our DR tests to the Chief Technology Officer of my organization. As a new manager, I realized that this was an important career opportunity. I was no longer viewed as a coordinator just for testing. Instead, I was growing to become part of the management team – serving the role of a leader on the issues with our DR environments, responsible for implementing the necessary improvements.
I’m fortunate that this role was seen as valuable by my management team. This allowed me to see the career path in resilience. I have moved to different senior roles working in numerous disciples from business continuity to emergency management. But it was this first role that truly influenced my passion. To this day, I encourage anyone looking for mobility in their career to join our industry because it certainly offers the necessary development of strategic skillsets to join the ranks of any management team.
What is your current position?
I am an Account Executive at Lootok – a boutique operational risk management consulting firm specializing in crisis management, business continuity, supply chain, and business partner risk. As an account executive, my role involves working with our clients to help them mature their operational risk programs, namely business continuity.
I’m also involved in the development of new BCM product offerings at Lootok. Most of the products are designed to help our clients create a more engaging end-user experience for their BCM programs.
I love working with my Lootok team because we are able to serve our clients as well as form great relationships outside of work. We frequently have company outings to try new things out as a group. From trivia night to skydiving, we’ve had some amazing team development experiences.
How would you describe your job to someone who is unfamiliar with the industry?
Great question! I’ve found that keeping my explanation as simple and relatable is the only way to properly describe resilience to someone who is unfamiliar. For instance, we certainly know how to describe what a teacher’s job entails because we have been students in a class before. In resilience, we don’t have this luxury with every person we meet.
Before diving into a long description my line of work when I’m asked ‘what I do’, I start with a question. I ask them if I could see their smart phone (note: a client of mine thought of this and I use it every time). The person agrees and shows me their phone. I then see that they have a case on their phone. This is my moment to explain what I do.
I usually say, “Do you see this case that you use to protect your phone? Why did you put it on your phone?” Generally, they say, “Because this phone is important to me. It contains my contacts, apps …” and so on.
I then explain, through this analogy, that my job in resilience is to help clients protect the things they care about, just like your phone case is designed to help protect your phone. As a resilience professional, I help clients build layers of protection for their employees and all the other things they care about most. Try it! It’s helped bridge the understanding for a lot of conversations.
What do you consider the greatest advantage of being a resilience professional?
The greatest advantage of being resilience professionals is proving that our role adds tremendous value to the organizations we serve.
Resilience spans a wide range of topics from new product development to strategic operations and an organization’s sustainability. When the company or organization views our role as a key part in helping to mitigate vulnerabilities to these areas, we are able to position ourselves in a new way. Rather than being seen as the “worrywarts” or “purveyors of doom and gloom,” our strategic insight can help others who are involved as heavily as we are see things through a different lens. Over time, I’ve found that I am invited to observe the “behind-the-scenes” action that an organization values most. Why? Because they trust that a true resilience professional is only working to help them protect what matters most.
As a trusted resilience professional, I am privileged with vital information, which allows me to maximize value to the organization in engineering resiliency. However, it is extremely important to understand that the access to information must always be safeguarded.
What is your biggest challenge as a resilience professional? As a recent entrant to the field?
The biggest challenge as a resilience professional is sustaining involvement on the topic. Typically, when I join a team and provide a business case for the need to address key issues relevant to the area of resilience, there is a lot of interest. During this initial phase, I find that building interest and educating stakeholders on the importance of the subject is fairly easy.
Once we get past the analysis of key risks and implementation of resilience, this is where my job has to go back to the starting line. After stakeholders have seen the success of mitigating key risks, the topic of resilience has to compete with other priorities or initiatives in the pipeline.
Getting stakeholders to think about resilience as an ongoing effort can be difficult. They tend to realize it is important but there is still pushback because it is an investment of time on their part. Through several awareness and education techniques, I help them understand that true resilience is being in a constant state of readiness. The mindset of knowing how to respond and react is equally as important as the infrastructure they rely on to maintain the operations of the organization. A reliable technique is to provide frequent training or exercises.
What advice do you have for those who are interested in joining this field?
Ask yourself if you are the type of person who wants to expand your skillsets. What is unique about this field is how many different opportunities there are. One month you may be focused on delivering a key presentation to management on the state of resilience and the next month you may be working on building out new software for your resiliency program, and the following month you are preparing for an important business continuity test with regulators. There is so much room to improve different skills in this craft.
My other parting advice would be to speak with potential mentors in resilience. For me, it has been invaluable to my professional development. I’m always learning first hand from the best in their practice with years of experience. I don’t limit myself to particular industries in resilience – all areas offer tremendous value. From first responders to directors of risk management and chief security officers, I’m always seeking new resources to learn from. Also, finding the right platform to meet these individuals is important. I’ve made specific goals for myself to actively participating in YLR as a networking platform, which is a great way to meet public and private sector leaders.