Expert Commentary

I Will Write No More Forever

On October 5, 1877, at the village of Bear Claw, very near the Canadian border of what of would less than 2 years later become the state of Montana, the Nez Perce Indian chief known to history as Chief Joseph—his native name meant "Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain"—surrendered to U.S. Army General Oliver Otis Howard.

July 2008

Stepping back from many years of warfare waged to maintain his tribe's ancestral homeland, and striving now to give his warriors respite after several months of exhausting retreat, while also giving his people some hope of again prospering in peace, Chief Joseph pledged, "I will fight no more forever."1

My Pledge

Borrowing from Chief Joseph, I realize that the time is now right for me to pledge that I will write no more forever—at least not about risk management. Nor will I speak, give advice, or even raise questions about how to best fulfill personal or organizational objectives despite the probability that future events may be significantly different—either much worse or much better—than expected.

There are two reasons why the time has come for me to step away from a career in which I had been privileged to help others understand how they can succeed in a risky world. First, many other fine professionals now are exploring more frontiers of risk beyond my expertise. For example, the pioneers of enterprise risk management have penetrated the boundary that for me has always defined the line between pure and speculative risk—the boundary that set the limits of the territory which I have tried to help others master. To these new pioneers, I wish "Godspeed!"

Second, I choose to now step beyond my former career of teaching risk management so that I can enter a new phase of my life. Inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi, I wish to be a student—a new, hopefully humble, yet eagerly excited student of theology. I hope to study each person’s relationship to God in order to better understand the first cause, true purpose, and final end of all existence.

In some important ways, theology and traditional accident-centered risk management are alike. They both can help us find security, certainty, and ultimate fulfillment in an otherwise potentially daunting world.

Three General Guidelines

Let me conclude this column and my risk management career with three final thoughts for those who will manage tomorrow's risks. First, remember that risk—the probability of an outcome significantly different from the expected—can produce both surprisingly good as well as surprisingly bad results. Be as ready to seize the wondrously good as you are to shield yourself and others from the horrendously bad.

Second, in dealing with exposures to loss, put risk control before risk financing. It is always better to prevent losses, to minimize losses, or to make losses more predictable than it is to pay for potentially large and unforeseen losses. Good risk control makes more efficient use of a company's or a country's resources than does any kind of risk financing.

Third, in managing risk in either gains or losses, be as self-sufficient as you can. Here, the "you" can be an individual, a household, an organization, public entity, a country, or even a continent. The more you are self-sufficient, the less you have to pay someone else to safeguard you from, or to indemnify you for, unexpected losses. Likewise, when unforeseen opportunities for gain arise, being self-sufficient enables you to keep more of the gains for yourself or for those you serve.


Here, at the very end—in the last brief paragraph of my final writing about risk management, I find it difficult to simply say "good-bye"—or "adios"—forever. Therefore, as I turn to studying theology, seeking to do whatever (if anything) God wishes for me, please let me bid you a special "vaya con Dios!" For my many friends and students, from whom I have learned much more than I have taught, I pray "May God be with you—and with us all!"

1For further historical background, you may wish to see

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