It may not seem like very good risk management to break two teeth from the same preventable cause, but Peter Berring is convinced that the pleasures of pork crackling justify the risk.

In other ways, too, there are some unusual things about the new chairman of AIRMIC. Although raised in England and educated at a major English public school, he is actually Danish by origin and at least partly so by sentiment, and he is bilingual. He has spent much of his career as an underwriter and abroad, working for the US-owned CIGNA and its predecessors as well as Hartford and AIG. He returned to the UK about 18 years ago.

After finishing school, Peter took a year off before going to university.

Wanting to perfect his French and German and go back to Denmark, which his parents had left when he was four, he found himself in Brussels with a job in a distribution warehouse, "where I first learned a lot about what goes wrong and what goes right on the shop floor."

That job came to an end fairly quickly, but instead of heading back to England and university, Peter took a job in insurance with what was then Union Atlantic. It was the beginning of a career as an underwriter that lasted 20 years and took him to Copenhagen, Madrid, Paris, Frankfurt and New York

"It probably makes me more internationally minded than most and less frightened by the boundaries between countries," he says. Fortunately, he adds, he was always a local appointment, rather than external staff, so he got to know the local environment rather than being part of an ex-pat community. "A lot of successes in my underwriting career came from taking ideas from one country and transferring them to another."

Bank notes

Having worked mainly for large US insurers, today Peter is director of group risk for a medium sized UK company, De La Rue, which is the world's leading security printer. Nevertheless, he says, there are many similarities in the way companies work, whatever their size.

Peter's role started mainly as an insurance buyer, but he is now involved in all aspects of risk, including security, health and safety, and business continuity. De La Rue prints bank notes and other high value, secure items, so it needs to control not just the finished products, but much else in the production process, including the paper and thread that go into their making and the printing machinery. He describes his job as "A very exciting role in a great company, with fantastic people. There is an enormous breadth to the risk profile. I've never found myself half wondering what I am going to do next."

This came, he admits, as a bit of a surprise. Leaving underwriting and joining risk management, "I wondered what I was going to do with the other 50 weeks when we weren't renewing our policies. But at no time has it been like that because there are so many different things to do."

The role of the risk manager, Berring believes, is as a facilitator. It's essential that there is commitment from senior management. "The risk management policy is set by the board whether it is conscious or unconscious."

He is, of course, very excited to be chairman of AIRMIC but stresses that he has "a very, very talented council" backed by a solid secretariat team to work with. "There's a lot of energy, focus and drive." The council is driving forward the process begun under Andrew Cornish's chairmanship of updating AIRMIC's business practices. "If we don't do that, we won't be able to deliver the value that members require, our partners expect and the industry needs. This is what we have to have in place if we are going to continue to have a voice."

It involves unglamorous tasks like redefining some of the support services role for the secretariat, enabling the organisation to do original research to support its members in their jobs. As the role has become more involved, the risk manager needs objective evidence to support the advice that he or she gives, Peter explains.

Trust and teamwork are his theme for his year as chairman, and he demonstrates his liking for teamwork by regular references to the work of Andrew Cornish, and then fellow vice-chairman Geoff Lingham. "Last year, Andrew chose progress through partnership. I am continuing a lot of what he started. We need to get trust back into the business, and the teamwork continues with our business partners."

Even in these days of enterprise risk management, brokers and insurers remain among risk managers' most important partners, and there is, Berring says, a need to restore trust in the relationship between commercial insurance buyers and the industry.

"I believe that risk is the process by which you generate reward. A lot of the process of risk management is making people more comfortable in their capacity to take risk and to transfer what they don't want to retain. Individuals and organisations need to be able to trust in their own capability to manage risk and trust in those who are assuming the risk that has been transferred."

He adds, "Quite a lot of businesses are still risk averse. They lack confidence in their own ability to manage the risks. Of course, in risk and reward, there is the possibility of downside risk. But the fact that the business has taken a risk that was foreseeable and the outcome was adverse, doesn't mean that it was bad risk management." Even if it does mean a visit to the dentist.