Meet a man of rigor who can deliver; Michael Turcotte is not only director of risk management for one of Canada’s largest media companies, he’s also credited with being the brains behind RIMS Canada’s Web strategy
When colleagues and peers think of Michael Turcotte, the 39-year-old risk manager in charge of managing risk for the media division of Quebecor Inc., they think of a bright and dedicated man whom they consider an inspiration to them–and to the risk management industry.
“He always wants to learn; you can see that in everything he does,” says Mike Maida, corporate risk manager for Agricore United of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Craig Rowe, former risk manager for the City of St. John’s, Newfoundland, describes him as quiet, yet “instrumental” in bringing the practice of risk management into the 21st century, through his technical smarts and plain hard work.
Turcotte is not only director of risk management for Quebecor Media, one of the largest electronic communications companies in Canada, but also widely acknowledged as the brains behind Website development at RIMS Canada and its chapters from one end of the country to the other. He’s also an expert in the growing field of cyber risk and the largely uncharted waters of network security, customer confidentiality, identification theft and the liabilities that these pose for the business community.
“We see this stuff all the time,” says Turcotte. “The question is how big is it going to be out there? Is there really potential for catastrophic risk? Those are the questions that the industry wants answers to.”
Back in 1986 the furthest things from Turcotte’s mind were lingering questions about the risks posed by an emerging technology. A revolution was underway, and he, a lover of math and formal logic in high school, wanted to be part of it. “Back then computers were the big thing. No one had a computer at home. And that’s what attracted me.” Turcotte had his heart set on a career as a computer programmer, a decision made easier by a unique post-secondary education system that streams graduates down one of two career paths: a prequalifying program for university or advanced technical training.
Turcotte was excited. He stood at the cusp of a brand-new profession that came with enormous rewards. Top-flight computer programmers were making six-figure salaries and were the new gurus of the age. Enrolled in a program that virtually guaranteed him a good job at the end of three years, he, like others before him, figured he had it made.
Then, it hit him. After one year of full-time attendance in the program, Turcotte’s excitement about a career with hand over mouse and eyes glued to the computer screen had waned.
“Very simply, I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life sitting in front of a computer, so I decided to stop everything. That’s when I decided to go to the University of Montreal and do a Bachelor of Commerce degree.”
The change in direction came as something of a surprise. Three years later he was surprised again–this time to find himself far away from the large cosmopolitan city he had called home for so many years. Turcotte had taken a job with Manulife in the largely agricultural community of Waterloo, Ontario, working as an underwriter in health, dental, life, long- and short-term disability. “This wasn’t enough for me either, so I decided I needed another change, but in the same field.”
A new job, this time as senior underwriter at Canada Life, was one of the enticements that brought him back to the city of Montreal. The other was his marriage in June 1992 and the prospect of a family.
“I wanted to have kids, but I didn’t want them to grow up in a small farming town,” he says. A third draw was a chance to advance his career by upgrading his education beyond his Bachelor of Commerce degree.
“An MBA is broader. It touches marketing, production, accounting, computer technology and a lot of different fields. I felt that it would give me more tools to do something more on the management side.”
That move to the management side occurred in 1996 when the MBA graduate became risk manager for Provigo Inc., the owner of more than 300 supermarkets and discount stores in Quebec.
Turcotte was buoyant. Applying underwriter guidelines had been a largely dry exercise. Risk management gave him the chance to get directly involved in loss prevention. Then, when his boss left after less than a year, Turcotte found himself managing the risk department on his own, a baptism by fire that he says was worth more than a dozen degrees.
“In the three years I spent at Provigo, I learned more than a lot of people do in 10 years,” says Turcotte.
His learning began that year when the roof of a Provigo warehouse in Quebec City collapsed under two feet of snow during a major storm. Turcotte’s job was to work with the engineer and adjuster to get that warehouse back up and running again. The biggest charge, says Turcotte, was that at the end of the day, the buck stopped with the risk manager–and he’d managed to get the warehouse back in business quickly again.
It was a fortuitous experience, because less than a year later the infamous Quebec lee storm descended on “la Belle Province.”
“When the ice cracked on the roof in this big warehouse, the noise was so big it appeared as if the roof was collapsing; so everybody got out of the warehouse because they were seared the same thing would happen that happened in Quebec the year before. People didn’t want to go back in.”
Union workers were eventually persuaded that the risks were minimal and returned to work. A bigger problem was that half the power in Montreal had been knocked out, threatening many of the items in Provigo’s produce and frozen food departments. It meant organizing convoys of trucks to move these items to a local warehouse equipped with a generator.
In December 1998, Turcotte’s career came full circle when Provigo was purchased by Loblaw Cos. Ltd. Loblaw had no risk management department of its own, instead depending on its parent company Weston Foods for that function. The writing clearly emblazoned on the wall, Turcotte began to look around. He lighted on Quebecor Inc. With more than $11 billion in yearly revenues and 35,000 employees worldwide, Quebecor Inc and its media division Quebecor Media needed someone to head their risk management department.
“We were looking for someone who was risk management savvy, who could work on his own and still be a team player,” says then vice president of taxation, real estate and risk management Marc Dore. “We were looking for someone with a lot of rigor who could deliver.”
Quebecor Media is made up of about 25 subsidiary companies that range from newspapers and cable distribution to video clubs and TV stations. “It was a pizza,” says Dore, “a large all-dressed pizza; and the right candidate had to manage a program that would fulfill all our needs.” The company needed someone who understood technology and who was also adaptable to different technical environments. Dore decided they needed Turcotte.
Turcotte now had his chance to apply his earlier love of computer technology with his new skills as a risk manager at the company’s flagship cable distribution company Videotron. The risks–and the questions–were quite unlike anything he’d come across in the food industry. Should an electronic server like Videotron be liable if the Web site of one of its clients features offensive material? How does it protect the confidentiality of its clients’ Web sites? What if a Videotron client is accused of stealing proprietary information from someone else’s Web site? Is Videotron, and by extension Quebecor Media, vulnerable to lawsuit?
“For me, those were more interesting issues,” says Turcotte, “than making sure a can of peas doesn’t fall on someone’s head.”
“But Michael also had to make sure that our risks were controlled across the board with many different companies and different size revenues, different needs and requests,” says Dore.
ADVANCING THE PROFESSION
Rowe and Agricore United’s Maida have both worked with Turcotte at the national education and conference committees of the Canadian RIMS. “He’s very thorough,” says Maida, “but at the same time, a genuinely nice individual who tries to see the best side of people.” More importantly, adds Rowe, he’s committed to advancing the profession of risk management. “He’s the type of guy that if you ask him to take something on, he’s going to get it done and get it done well. People like him are inspirational.”
For his part, Turcotte would like to see an industry that is more nimble in dealing with the new risks arising from the cyber landscape, to eliminating time-wasting spam, to apprehending viruses before they strike, and to addressing data and identity-theft issues. The trouble, he says, is there are some companies that continue to ignore the risk.
“There are a few industries that don’t realize the extent of the risk, or perhaps until something dramatic happens, people are not sure if those risks are real. My message is they do exist. We need to be more aware of them and take steps to deal with them.”
“It’s very important that the risk management community hear about people like Turcotte,” says Rowe, president of Canadian Risk Intervention Inc., a dispute-resolution company. “There’s a very small percentage of people out there in this business or any business who actually give of themselves the way he does. The more people know about people like him, the more they’ll be inspired to do the same.”
DAVID KOSUB is a writer based in the Canadian province of British Columbia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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