Podcast / Episode #2

#2: How adding resilience to a CEO’s agenda started with a coffee

By renae hanvin

Jul 27 2021

This episode

In this episode, Renae is talking with James Richie,  director of Thamani and he’s a principal consultant with our corporate2community collective.

They are talking about how adding resilience to a CEO’s agenda started with a coffee.

“James and I connected nearly a decade ago and he has been part of the C2C narrative since the very beginning. It was James who listened to my very first idea of advocating and activating greater private sector contribution towards building a nation of all-hazards disaster resilience. And it’s James who’s still listening to me over a coffee today.”

key moments from the conversation

About James

James brings diverse senior executive leadership experience from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. He has previously worked in senior positions across diverse sectors including international development, environment, water, Australian State Government Public Service, community mental health and mining sectors.


James has also had executive leadership accountability and expertise in disaster risk and resilience, governance and strategy.

James holds a MBA and a Commerce Degree in Business Management and Industrial Relations. James also holds an International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IHDA) from Fordham University, New York, USA and has completed expert training in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in Berlin.

James is a recently accredited International Resilience Advisor for the European International Resilience Advisors Network.

I’d like to start with where we met...

We met about 8 years ago in the disaster space when he was presenting at a course I attended. A few years later I reached out inviting you for a coffee and five years later we haven’t stopped talking!

Here are some questions I asked...

1. What was it about my C2C concept that you were most interested in when we started speaking about it so many years ago?

I’ve always had a premise I want to work with good people doing good things to get good outcomes. The first thing I recognised many, many years ago with you is how do we actually start to solve these problems and issues that we’re seeing across the sector? Across the community, across government and the private sector?

Firstly was your passion for me. It was about the passion of we’ve got to do something we’ve got to improve. We’ve got to look at how do we fill these gaps?

So for me, we’re aligned in that. We come from very different perspectives and training and expertise and experience. I liked your systematic thinking about it, but also that knowing that we had to reform and that there’s practical and systemic and institutional change has to happen.

That was exciting to me because you’re sitting there going we might not have all the answers, but how do we get everybody in the room and how do we actually get the things to try to solve?

What are the strategic issues for communities, businesses, governments and how do we link them up? How do we talk better?

It begun from the notion that there’s a greater role for businesses to play in helping communities before, during and after disasters – but the business model has grown from there hasn’t it?

2. Do you think a two-fold focus on resilience (organisational resilience + community resilience) is more or less important for CEO’s today?

I think whether it’s small business, medium business or a large entity, the reality is the two-fold focus is more important because at the end of the day if you think of business strategy or planning, and I’ve been in executive management and large corporations in the private and not for profit sectors, as well as government, if you do not embed things like resilience into your business planning and you think about the scenarios that may impact your business. I think one is you’re not looking at some of the biggest critical risks, but also you’re missing some of the critical opportunities for your business, both at a cultural level and also at an output level or an outcome level for your business. I think they’ve got to break down the silos.

And what’s fascinating is it’s often looked at through a lens of just a silo – compliance that could give me a box to fill out, can we have something to tick? Have I done all my 50 papers on being prepared if I got my service level agreements, right. Have I got recovery times right? Have I ticked the box that I’ve done my risk management framework to ISO 31,000?

I don’t discount those things, but I don’t think CEOs and executive teams are using that information strategically to embed resilience into their business.

3. When it comes to CEOs, resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction hasn’t been a strategic priority. Why not?

Well, I think there’s a couple of reasons. I think one is just not being part of the normal conversation, particularly in Australia. I suspect in Australia, particularly, and in smaller markets, CEOs are more worried about what happens in the next two weeks. How do I get my profit running? How do I do the day to day stuff?

They just get pushed out of thinking about these things because they’re just focus on short term vision. The pressure from the board, pressure from stakeholders, pressure from shareholders.

I think it’s overwhelming for some CEOs and some executive teams, but I think it’s remissive if they don’t start to think about that now.

4. If CEO’s were looking at disaster resilience, what is it they need to start doing right now?

For me it’s looking at how do you put an all-hazards, resilience approach across your business? How do you look at the strategic priority? Get rid of silos. You have to have silos from a structural point of view for reporting lines, but you don’t have to have silos to understand strategic issues.

And it’s time to move into that holistic position across your whole business. This applies whether you’re a small, medium business or a large corporate. You have to start to think about your whole business.

One thing I’ve noticed here in Germany where I am currently, you talked to a CEO here, they’ve heard about the Sendai framework. They’re sometimes not sure about what it means to them, but it’s actually on their agenda. You go to talk to them about sustainable development goals. Most of them, the majority of them will know about it and it will be embedded into their business.

5. Is there a benefit to CEOs and Executive Teams to better understand the disaster landscape to contribute to shared responsibility?

Well, I think they do. I think they need to learn about that. It’s like most things you don’t have to be an expert in it, but I think you have to have an understanding of it. I think it’s beholden on the CEO and the executive team to understand the environment and understand the landscape. I think that’s imperative.

6. We’ve created the Resilient Ready ™ methodology, why does it resonate with CEOs and Executive Teams?

It’s about us throwing a lens onto the different areas holistically across the business. And are they prepared? Are they promoting good resilience? Are they protecting it? Preventing?

So most disaster readiness and risk management and business continuity practices, you know, I’ve said many times is there in that silo approach and they sit within separate business areas.

The four P model of resilience of how do we prevent it, how do we prepare for it, how do we promote it and how do we protect it? I think that’s a really simple approach.

With my final question always…

What 2 things would you like to be done differently in the disaster space?

1. We’ve had this conversation a few times about the semantics of it all, but at the end of the day, the things that I’d like them to do differently about disasters, whether it’s individuals, businesses, CEOs is to start thinking about what is, what does disaster mean to me? How do we actually broaden that all-hazards approach? How do we think about these things strategically instead of operationally and tactically?

2. And I think the other thing for me is I just hope what we don’t do is recoil. Australia’s handling of COVID up to this day has been pretty effective and efficient. I don’t want us to celebrate it saying, oh, it’s all over now.

Connect with James Ritchie