Interview with Carl Leeman: Winner of the Special Award “Outstanding Contribution to Risk Management”

FERMA organized the European Risk Management Awards in December, where Carl Leeman received the “Special Award Outstanding Contribution to Risk Management”. An award for years of commitment to risk management.

But who is Carl Leeman, what does he do, and what is his vision on risk management today and in the future? We asked him.


Carl, what company do you work for, and what is your role there?  

I am Chief Risk Officer at KATOEN NATIE. I am responsible for the risk management department for the company. And I am board member of Katoen Natie International s.a. This implies, amongst others, the creation of a risk profile, where we specify what is accepted and what is not in commercial contracts with both clients and suppliers . We use a clear risk tolerance in our group of companies. If a deviation has to be made , the consequences are taken into account. The risks are calculated, standards are set and these standards are then also monitored. For example, certain contractual liability risks cannot be accepted. There must always be a balance between the liabilities we accept, and the returns that are generated. If a certain risk actually occurs, the company must be solvent enough, or correctly insured, in order to bear the consequences.  In a number of the acquisitions we did over the last years we noted that in a lot of companies certain risks have been accepted without that company being able to bear those risks. I call this bad management.

In our case It sometimes happens that a company initially will not do business with us because of the strong standards of risk tolerance we apply.  But it also happens that the same company, after a couple of years  wants to work together with us and accepts our policies because they have seen the benefits of good risk management. In other situations we did sign a contract after we had explained in detail why we can, or cannot accept certain contractual liabilities in our contracts.


How did you get in contact with BELRIM?

I first came into contact with BELRIM about 33 years ago. My manager at the time was a member of BELRIM. A few years later, when I myself took on a responsible position as risk manager at Katoen Natie, I also became a BELRIM member. I have been a member for 30 years now, and the last years  as vice president in the board of BELRIM. Together with BELRIM, I am committed to Risk Management in general and I am committed to the growth and survival of BELRIM. Each member of the board is responsible for organizing 1 Exchange (now webinars) every year.  I have helped to organize a lot of them over the years, always on different topics. Meetings on Intellectual Property, State of the Market, Climate Change, Corporate Social Responsibility, Takaful insurance …. and more


What is the importance of risk management nowadays?

Risk Management is becoming increasingly important in today’s society. Everything is changing at a much faster pace than before. The news and social media have a lot to do with this. Information circulates very quickly. You are constantly informed of everything and you are not only expected to be up to date with everything, you also have to react faster than before. In addition to the fact that everything moves much faster nowadays, we are increasingly involved in things that happen on the other side of the globe. Companies are operating globally, supply chains are very extensive these days. On the one hand, this ensures that certain risks are spread, however, on the other hand, it also means that if something happens on the other side of the world, we can be affected right here. For example, a tsunami in Asia can cause a stop of supply chain in a car factory  here in Europe.

Crisis management has also changed completely and has become very important. It has become more and more important for a company to tell its own story and to respond to a certain crisis situation not only in the right way but also in a very quick way. Being the first to communicate is much better than having to correct certain rumours. Risk management therefore also involves managing the flow of information in and out of your company. What is currently very much alive is the Social Corporate Responsibility story. The environment, human rights, your behaviour as a company, employee wellbeing, etc. are becoming increasingly important. Especially during the lockdown period, it is important to take care of the mental wellbeing of your employees. Working from home can be pleasant, but for some people it is a painful isolation. All of these items (and many more) can affect a company in a positive or negative way. It is up to the risk manager to assist in proactively addressing these risks in the right way.


As a risk manager, how have you experienced 2020?

As a company, we’ve done ok so far. We are a logistics company and this industry has been an essential sector that has never been completely closed. In the first wave, some departments were partially less operational. But at the moment we are fully operational. Our Pandemic Contingency Plan has also been a success, with zero covid-19 outbreaks at our sites, which we are very happy about. We actually jumped into action very quickly to keep the sites in Belgium corona- free. For example, we very quickly adjusted transportation for staff, at the very beginning of covid-19. Four times more buses, adjusted driving schedules with decontamination moments in between trips,… We immediately did everything possible to adapt the working environment and we have fortunately not experienced any hotspots of contamination among employees.


What does risk management bring in 2021, in your opinion?

Actually it is very difficult to predict , but geopolitics will play an important role together with cyber and climate change and all its consequences. What will happen in Russia, China, America,… nobody knows. But a lot of things are potentially going to happen. Europe will do well geopolitically , although we will have to wait and see the consequences of the Brexit and Corona. Brexit has certainly not been a success story, neither for Europe nor for the UK, and that is also the reason why there are currently no others lining up to leave Europe. We hear continuously that the world wants to be less dependent on supply chains of China, but the question here is, how consistent will they be? Will they choose to strengthen the supply chain in their own region, or will they choose the quick money? And return to old habits?


What are you personally looking forward to in terms of evolutions, challenges in the future?

 We are currently rolling out a global IT system in risk management. It incorporates all aspects: life insurance, operational permits, commercial contracts, HSEQ etc. It has been well received internally. Other things I will certainly be following in the coming period: the evolution of the vaccine, the ability to restart our inspections of our sites abroad (because scheduling this via a digital meeting is not really the right approach), and finally being able to go on a holiday abroad again.

I also think that the insurance world will have to change, with much more efficiency in their work process, more captive involvement and eventually more parametric insurances.


Carl, thanks for the conversation and congrats again on your award!

 Thanks a lot. It is an honour to receive this award, especially from professionals that are active in the same industry. I enjoy dedicating myself to Risk Management, and I’m delighted that this is also appreciated!




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