If there is any broad lesson we have learned over the past decade of global developments, it is the extent to which risks are connected and the shocks that can result if we do not acknowledge their linkages. Issues that were previously seen as distinct are now considered in tandem – cyber and geopolitical or environmental and security concerns, for example. This realization is leading major global enterprises to unify their risk functions and encouraging the rest of us to learn from leaders who puncture arbitrary barriers between risk disciplines. Inge Huijbrechts is one such leader. In her role as head of Radisson Hotel Group’s Responsible Business and Safety & Security, she is in the rare position of seeing how disparate risks interact firsthand and what it means to develop holistic risk management and mitigation strategies. In the following interview, she shares her insights:

What are some of the main ways in which responsible business and security concerns are intertwined for today’s global business enterprise?

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019, environmental risks accounted for three of the top five risks by likelihood and four by impact. Equally, in a recent Canadian report, actuaries ranked climate change as the top risk for 2019, before cyber, terrorism or financial instability. Major geopolitical crises or even wars have also been, at least partially, attributed to the effects of climate change. In this context, from a global threat assessment and risk mitigation point of view, security and sustainability go hand in hand for a large company like Radisson Hotel Group. Similarly, on a local level, meaningful, consistent local cooperation with and contribution to the local communities raises their standard of living and therefore increases the overall safety and security situation.

What is Radisson Hotel Group (RHG) doing to address these linked challenges head-on? Are there any examples of local sustainability or community engagement practices that have already played a role in bolstering security for RHG?

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, where we opened a brand-new hotel three months before the Ebola crisis hit the country in 2014, application of our ethical and socially responsible principles contributed to continuity of operations by encouraging staff to stay. Furthermore, the necessary hygienic prevention measures kept employees safe. We continued our support for the community during tragic incidents such as the October 2017 mudslide. This combination of actions gave the hotel an excellent reputation with the local community and country government alike and bolstered our security. As an illustration of this standing, the opposition leader and victor in the March 2018 elections was sworn in at the hotel without any incidents.

A similar excellent reputation was built over many years of consistent support to the local community by the Radisson Blu Chattogram Bay View, in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Recently, after a devastating fire broke out in a slum area, the hotel worked together with other businesses to visit the area and distribute fresh clothes, blankets and other essential daily necessities to the people who have been badly affected by the incident. Thanks to this continuous engagement, the hotel has become known in Bangladesh for its continued efforts to support local schools, orphanages and slum communities. It is likely a safer place because of this trust.

In terms of sustainability, we are continuing to lessen our impact on the environment while managing risk for our enterprise. For example, we have reduced our energy intensity by over 25 percent since 2011 and our water use by over 30 percent since 2007. In the near future we will also look at  our long-term carbon footprint reduction goals to keep in line with global targets set at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Our sustainability initiatives help manage risk at the local level as well. For example, during the Cape Town water crisis in the beginning of 2018 we took drastic and creative water use prevention measures such as closing down our hotel swimming pools or taking out the guestroom bath plugs, asking guests to prefer a quick and water efficient (but still luxurious) shower.

Have you experienced a case where responsible business goals and security considerations have clashed? If so, how did you navigate these competing demands?

I believe sustainability and security policies and actions are complementary, but if priorities need to be set, the security of our staff and guests always needs to be our prime focus. Although we have never seen conflicting interests between both, one could imagine, say, the aftermath of an earthquake, where the responsible business reflex would be to immediately go and help the local communities rebuild but the associated security risk would require staff to stay at the hotel.

Since assuming the safety and security portfolio at RHG, are there any insights you’ve gained from the community of security professionals that you see as especially valuable? Conversely, do you have any insights from your background to share with security professionals?

What I see in both the sustainability and security is an excellent and strong knowledge-sharing network at the hotel industry level. Two separate but similar collaboration platforms exist: the International Tourism Partnership for sustainability and the OSAC Hotel Security Working Group to advance security. Both groups develop tools, exchange best practices and share training resources with each other. The other common ground is engagement: the need and drive to engage every single team member and even guests in our sustainability and safety and security programs. Both fields rely on our teams being attentive and responsive to everyday sustainability and security concerns.  

The difference between the two and an area where I’m applying sustainability approaches to security is in the willingness to promote and advance work within the organization. On a strategic level, security should demand to be at the table. Often, security professionals are technical specialists who come from specialized police, military or national security backgrounds. What is needed in a top management and strategic context is an understanding of the business, financials and what drives the company’s revenue.

Can you offer any career advice to individuals who hope to bridge disciplines as seemingly different on the surface as responsible business and security?

I definitely consider myself lucky to be leading both Sustainability and Safety & Security worldwide for Radisson Hotel Group. When I was asked to assume the leadership of the Security department, I must admit I first mainly saw the differences between the two fields. It took a few weeks of reflection during runs, walks and conversations to see the similarities and benefit for the company’s strategy to combine both under one leadership umbrella. For candidates aspiring to work on the intersection of sustainability and security, I suggest keeping an open and keen mind, learning to connect the dots and seeing the links between the two fields, and positioning yourself at the level of the strategic direction of the company.