Maggie Sun has worked hard to embed risk into the DNA of Cummins, China. She spoke to Trevor Treharne about her latest challenge – finding the balance between mitigating risk and accepting that, sometimes, a little risk is a business necessity.

“It took me quite a long time,” Sun says of the period needed to feel fully comfortable as regional risk manager of Cummins, China – a role she assumed in 2015.

Plucked from the world of insurance broking and younger than almost all of her peers, Sun says there was a period of observing and learning before she felt fully accountable for her risk role within the organisation.


“At that point I realised that being a risk manager is not only a job about representing your company and its insurance demands, but about being a business partner to find solutions,” she says.

“In my first three years, I was still talking like a broker and increasing insurance cover where necessary. I needed to better understand our business priorities and find alternative ways to accept risk instead.”

Sun grew up in a small city in China — Xining inthe Qinghai Province — and despite it being the capital of the province, there were limited choices for students. “I wanted to go to Shanghai. It is an amazing city,” she explains.

She had finance industry heritage from both her mother and father’s side, while Sun’s grandfather was an accountant. Influenced by this, Sun opted to major in insurance at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.

“I felt that accounting would be too boring and other areas of finance were too based on pure statistics. However, everyone needs insurance, so I pursued that,” she says.


After graduating in 2007, Sun quickly entered the world of insurance broking, starting an eight-year run in the industry working for its major players.“I started at AIG, before moving into Aon where I stayed for over six years, then a year at Marsh ahead of joining Cummins,” says Sun.

“I was most fortunate in terms of the mentors I had during my broking career. Those people have become close friends since and in that sense they have become my teachers for life.”

Her time in broking added practical knowledge to what she had learned at university, while enabling her to obtain further relevant qualifications, including as a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU).

“My first role at AIG saw me servicing a lot of multinational accounts,” says Sun.

“I was most fortunate in terms of the mentors I had during my broking career. Those people have become close friends”

“So, for the first three to five years of my career, all of my dealings were with these multinational companies. This really enabled me to understand highly sophisticated insurance programmes as I comprehended how these large firms manage their insurance.”

She believes this was ideal grounding for a future in risk and after five years, the scale of the undertaking no longer seemed quite so challenging.

“My focus then shifted and I found myself working with local organisations and several private businesses in China. This, in turn, was challenging as I had got used to the multinationals. These new local clients did not know much about arranging a well-organised insurance programme,” she adds.

Despite this, working with the local clients gave Sun the perfect platform for her next role, her first in risk.


“When Cummins selected me as its candidate, I remember the interview very clearly. The leaders interviewing me were asking very specific questions - Cummins was one of the first US companies toinvest in China, and its success has been highly contributed by its joint venture companies, so the complexity of business needed an experienced risk manager,” says Sun.

“However, China has become successful as we work well with each other and are able to form strong business partnerships. This has helped many overseas joint ventures to succeed here, too.”

Sun’s responsibilities at Cummins are split across three major areas: arranging insurance, risk mitigation and contract reviews.

”The first area, insurance arrangement, is a very traditional responsibility for a risk manager. Risk mitigation often covers areas such as fire protection and natural hazard risk control.

“As a risk manager, you try to be the bridge between the overall risk standards and understanding that the business has to accept a certain amount of risk to succeed.”

”The third area, contract reviews, involves looking at any contracts with related insurance clauses. My function is to review these and recommend whether the business can accept them or needs to push back.”

Within these areas, Sun feels her biggest challenges are related to appropriate risk mitigations. “We need to align our risk mitigations so that they comply with not only local standards, but also Cummins’ internal risk standards,” she says.

“For example, on Cummins’ approach to fire protection, the business has many priorities and has invested in sprinkler systems and fire pump houses. But the business priorities go beyond this and include building market share and growing as an organisation.

“As a risk manager, you try to be the bridge between the overall Cummins’ risk standards and understanding that the business has to accept a certain amount of risk to succeed.”

Sun says that as she grew into her role, she became more understanding of the business growth priorities and was better able to balance when a risk is acceptable or needs to be addressed.


While being based in Beijing and chiefly focusing on the expansive Chinese market, Sun also assumes responsibility for Singapore, Japan and Mongolia “Those three countries do not have a business volume anywhere near China, of course,” she says.

”However, each of those countries is unique and has its own challenges. In Singapore, for example, this is a very mature market. So the support I provide is quite straightforward.

”In China, the business scope and complexity is so vast. However, Singapore presents challenges inother areas, such as around leasing, which is not as well-developed in Asia as it is in the US or Europe. Landlords in Asia do not accept certain insurance requirements and clauses.”

As for Japan and Mongolia, these are even smaller markets for Sun to manage as they do not feature Cummins manufacturing plants.


When I spoke to StrategicRISK back in 2017 and had been at Cummins two years, I talked about embedding risk DNA into our business,” says Sun. “To add to that, I now believe that a good risk manager also needs to think about the business and be that bridge between the philosophy of risk and what the business needs.”

Sun says looking back over her time as a risk manager at Cummins, a vital development has been an increased willingness to step into “constructive conversations”.

“In my earlier years, I avoided conflict. I tried to avoid the fight between the risk function requirement and the business reality. So I compromised a lot,” she says.

“However, as trust between me and the business grew, we could have deeper conversations and better understand each other.”

”We have built a chain throughout the business where risk is taken seriously by everyone. We share risks and look to mitigate them as an organisation.”

Sun explains that when she first arrived at the business, she focused on building awareness of risk management across all levels of the organisation. “This involved discussing risk with everyone in the company, not just the leadership team,” she says.

” We needed to ensure that our people are safe and identify where we could improve. Ultimately, the tone comes from the top though and they wanted to encourage everyone to take ownership of risk management.”

Sun believes this enabled risk awareness to build throughout the business, from all working levels, right up to the management team.

“We are proud to have a management team tha tis so supportive of risk management. We have built a chain throughout the business where risk is taken seriously by everyone. We share risks and look to mitigate them as an organisation.”


Sun was appointed to the board of the Pan-Asia Risk & Insurance Management Association (Parima) this April, having been a contributing member for a number of years.

Looking to the future, she states that climate and sustainability risks are the key focuses for Cummins. “Our first female C􀀈O, Jennifer Rumsey, took the position last year and we now have a company strategy called ’Destination Zero’,” Sun explains.

“We are trying to support decarbonisation and reduce emissions to build a cleaner world. We are producing cleaner power and that is a major focus of our research and development.”

This focus is creating new risk challenges. For example, Sun explains that as hydrogen has such a high risk of explosion, she needs to find the mitigation solutions so that the business can reach its future green targets.

However,as Sun has shown, she understands thatovercoming such challenges is all part of the risk manager’s mission.