Karthick Dalawai had been working for twelve years in internal audit and risk management in Dubai when he came across a book that would change the direction of his career: Corporate Value of Enterprise Risk Management. “The simplicity in approach and effectiveness of the value-based ERM methodology in the book instantly triggered my interest in ERM. That is when I first learned about the Enterprise Risk Management M.S. program at Columbia,” he says. He relocated his family to New York to enroll full-time. After graduating in 2017, Dalawai began working for The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, where his career has since skyrocketed. In January 2021, he was appointed as the life insurance company’s Chief Risk Officer. Dalawai recently reflected on how Columbia’s M.S. in Enterprise Risk Management Program helped to accelerate his career.
Why did you choose Columbia?
I had worked in several ERM roles, so most of my knowledge and expertise was gained through job training and self learning. But I was lacking in the technical capabilities I needed to progress in the field. In the winter of 2015, I was living in Dubai and came across a book by Sim Segal, the founder and director of the ERM Program at Columbia. The comprehensive curriculum is taught by faculty members who are risk professionals by day. This galvanized my interest, and I decided to apply. It was a life-changing decision to make the move with my family from Dubai to New York City, and to transition from a working professional to a full-time student.
What was your favorite course, and how did you leverage what you learned?
Of course, the star of the program is Value-Based ERM,” he added, “which is Columbia’s key differentiator. I was fortunate to sit through two consecutive semesters of this course, the first one as a student and the second as a Teaching Assistant. I still apply the concepts that I learned in that course to my work, and this approach helps me in my career.
How have you integrated what you learned into your career?
The program prepares you to not only enter the ERM profession, but enables you to advance in it as well. Students get a good balance between technical courses and those that build the right interpersonal skills for ERM, especially strategic communication. In my current role as CRO, I utilize the value-based ERM approach alongside other concepts that I acquired from courses. My degree has helped me to evaluate external stakeholder requirements. I am also a better communicator and manager of strategic risk.
Students get a good balance between technical courses and those that build the right interpersonal skills for ERM, especially strategic communication. In my current role as CRO, I utilize the value-based ERM approach. I am also a better communicator and manager of strategic risk.”
What is your impression of the professors?
The fact that almost all of the faculty are working risk professionals is certainly a differentiator. The knowledge and real-life experience they discuss in the classroom enables better understanding of the technical concepts being taught. The professors’ grasp of the subject matter and their ability to illustrate their insights through real-world examples connects theory to practice, providing a holistic experience.
Tell us about your current role.
I currently serve as the Chief Risk Officer at The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company. It is one of the oldest firms of its kind in the United States. In my current role, I lead the enterprise risk management function, along with the corporate insurance program, third party risk management, and model controls. I joined the company as Financial Risk Manager in October 2017, upon graduating from Columbia. Each year since then, I’ve advanced to a more senior role. I think utilizing the value-based ERM approach played an important role in my progression.
What would you say to someone interested in the ERM program at Columbia?
The decision to enroll in Columbia was a life-changing one for me. In hindsight, I can confidently say that it has been one of the better decisions I have made. I encourage anyone interested in ERM to apply to Columbia. This master’s program prepares you like no other. The rigor of the curriculum and the experience of the faculty, along with Columbia’s standards, makes this a clear winner. The knowledge and the experience you get from your time in the program will serve you well for years to come.