Even 15 years after he earned his bachelor's degree in economics, some of Luke Figora's greatest career achievements continue to be on college campuses. As the senior associate vice president and chief risk and compliance officer for Northwestern University, he leads its enterprise risk management (ERM) program, which has been credited for evolving the university's operational and financial portfolios of risk, reaffirming its reputation as a top-tier school and providing fulfilling experiences for students, faculty, staff and visitors. His leadership status in the higher education and risk management industries has taken him all over the globe and his success handling all these responsibilities rightfully earned him the title of 2019 RIMS Risk Manager of the Year.
With annual revenues of approximately $2.5 billion (reported in 2018) and nearly $700 million in sponsored research annually, Northwestern is among the country's leading research universities. Northwestern has more than 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students and 13,000 faculty and staff across its two Illinois campuses in Evanston and Chicago and one in Doha, Qatar, and is currently ranked #10 on the U.S. News & World Report ranking of U.S. colleges and universities.
"We are a city-within-a-city comprised of 35,000 people," Figora said. "No two days are the same in higher education to begin with, and Northwestern stands out from many of its peers because it is so complex, and we are willing to take smart risks to support our strategic goals."
At Northwestern, Figora oversees risk finance--which includes insurance, claims and captive operations--environmental health and safety, business continuity, and student health insurance. He also leads the internal audit and compliance functions, as well as a portfolio of business services. At any given time he manages between 50 to 70 employees, which includes an 18-member risk management team, and his department's work touches every facet of the university.
Taking the Lead
Figora's career in risk management began in 2004, following his graduation from Lake Forest College, when he joined Chubb and spent six years in underwriting, including as a senior underwriting officer in the public directors and officers space. The end of his time there coincided with receiving an MBA in finance and strategic management from the University of Chicago in 2010.
Shortly thereafter, the University of Chicago recruited Figora as its director of risk management. He rose through the ranks, being promoted to executive director, under the unofficial mentorship of the senior vice president and CFO whom Figora followed to Northwestern in 2015. Hired as the assistant vice president of risk management and environmental health and safety, Figora's primary' responsibilities included traditional risk finance and claims and occupational health and safety issues. Throughout his time at Northwestern, Figora was taking on more tasks and solidifying his credibility among Northwestern's executive leadership, faculty, staff and students.
Like many risk managers, his insurance analysis skills allowed him to take the lead on several projects. A prime example occurred in 2018, when Figora utilized Northwestern's captive to...