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Aristargos Christodoulou: Rethinking Risk While Discovering New Passions

Before he enrolled in Columbia's Master of Science in Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) program, Aristargos Christodoulou, '18SPS, already had a background in the subject. As an undergraduate in his native South Africa, Christodoulou (who goes by Harry) earned a degree in insurance and risk management and went on to practice law at the global firm DLA Piper, litigating cases in the United States, Europe, Africa and Australia. But what he encountered at Columbia was a far more comprehensive and dynamic approach to risk than the "old-school way" in which he had been trained.

What surprised me was how little I actually knew about risk... The program itself is so comprehensive. What I’ve learned compared to traditional risk management is phenomenal."

Aristargos "Harry" Christodoulou, '18SPS, Enterprise Risk Management

Characterizing a more traditional approach to risk as "siloed" and too often focused on "when things have already gone wrong," Christodoulou began to understand risk management as a more expansive and proactive discipline. "So instead of being there to help clean up the mess, you aim to get ahead of it and prevent them from actually walking down that road."

He credits the ERM program with inspiring this "enterprise-wide" mindset for managing all forms of risk—whether financial, strategic, or operational—and the crucial role that communication plays. "As a risk professional, it is key for you to be able to communicate at all levels of an organization—specifically, the management, the c-suite, as well as the board," he said. "You really get equipped with tools to do that."

W​hile he found the caliber of the faculty to be exceptional in their dedication and passion, Christodoulou​ particularly appreciated​ that​ ​the professors were active practitioners in the industry. ​"You’re not just learning things from a textbook​," he said. "​The professors are there​,​ and they’re helping you relate the materials to real world examples.​

It’s more than just teaching you—they really want to help you succeed in your business endeavors.​"

​Not only was he impressed by the degree to which t​he professors, from the academic director on down, made themselves available to students, Christodoulou found the program as a whole to be genuinely invested in the students' success. "​It’s more than just teaching you—they really want to help you succeed in your business endeavors.​"​

Christodoulou was also grateful for the opportunities to connect and exchange ideas with his fellow students through group projects, both via on-campus and online courses. "The value you get from interacting with individuals from all around the world," he said. "You're learning different cultures and ways of approaching a problem, and you pull together as a team. It’s a phenomenal learning experience."

It all added up to a fully immersive education that dramatically expanded his understanding of risk management. "For as long as you’re in this program—be it a year, two years—you are eating, sleeping, drinking risk—by the time you leave, your neural pathways have been rewired to think risk!" he said. "Despite coming in with a lot of legal experience, I was able to shift my mind from a legal way of thinking to a risk-based ways of thinking."

Moreover, the ERM program inspired a shift in professional focus for Christodoulou. After taking the course in Information Security Threats & Defenses, a professor helped him to secure an internship working with a cybersecurity team. Despite having "zero technical background," the course not only gave him the confidence and ability to "speak the technical language" with the team members, it opened a new career pathway in cybersecurity. 

"There’s a spark that ignited inside of me. It’s really a passion now that the course has brought out in me," Christodoulou said, adding that he encourages prospective ERM students to see the program as an opportunity to discover new career possibilities.

If risk management itself appeals to you, you can easily find a career path and direction through the program.

"​Y​ou get exposed to a full spectrum of risk management courses, and in that you can find something that you’re passionate about and a direction. And that’s something that happened with me—specifically around cybersecurity. ​It’s something now I’m really passionate about​,​ and I had no idea coming in. So,​ if risk management itself appeals to you, you can easily find a career path and direction through the program.​"​

Since earning his Master's, in 2018, Christodoulou has explored further opportunities in cybersecurity while continuing his law practice, as counsel, mediator, and risk advisor for the firm Scarola Zubatov Schaffzin PLLC. But he hasn't left the ERM program completely behind: in fall 2019, he joined the faculty as a part-time lecturer

"My experience at Columbia is something I’ve really enjoyed and that I can’t get enough of," he said. "They can’t get rid of me!"

Learn more about the M.S. in Enterprise Risk Management program.