EDITOR’S NOTE: The DRJ Career Development Committee is supporting this series of articles featuring the career paths of industry professionals. Throughout this series of candid interviews, we hope to provide career advice to our readers by highlighting lessons learned, highs and lows, opportunities and challenges. The DRJ Career Development Committee promotes education, opportunity, inclusion, and excellence surrounding the exploration and evolution of career paths in all aspects of business continuity and risk management. Key elements of our mission include promoting open and candid discussions of career opportunities, providing mentorship, resources, and guidance to equip our membership with the necessary knowledge, best practices, and tools to succeed in their chosen career path.

Roger A. Stearns says there is no one single job that started his career in business continuity. Years ago, there was no such thing as an education in risk management or business continuity. Later, especially after 9/11, colleges began to offer courses. Today, one can obtain a degree in risk management or business continuity.

“My path, like many, and my leadership roles in business continuity today came from life experience and trial by fire,” says Stearns.

Stearns is global business continuity manager at Philips. His responsibilities include program office and oversight, program and tooling training, mass notifications system administration, and crisis management.

When Stearns worked as a police officer years ago, his training came in crisis management in the form of emergency response. He worked as a 9-1-1 dispatcher and communications specialist for several years. In fact, he considers those days as the foundation of his long experience in crisis management and communications.

During his time in the U.S. Army, Stearns gained risk assessment, business impact analysis, and continuity strategies experience. This time in his life is where he developed the foundation for many life and work skills. From command structure to leadership of teams, reconnaissance, mitigation, and security, these were all foundations that became Stearns’ base for risk analysis, risk treatment, and impact analysis. Developing pre-planned and on-the-fly response and recovery were skills he acquired during his days in the Army, in addition to fortifying candor, honesty, and integrity.

In the 1990s, Stearns was hired to do assigned contingency planning. After years of experience, career advancements, recognition, and hard work, this led to other dedicated contingency planning, continuity planning, and resiliency planning jobs with different levels of ownership.

Stearns has overcome challenges during his career, including finding a champion to support the initiative (push down and finance); recognition of the efforts; staffing and distributed networks; and risk management vs. business continuity.

Over the years Stearns has had successful planning, response, and recovery for several occurrences that he is most proud, including Y2K; 9/11; 2003 regional blackout; 2004’s RNC convention in Boston; London bombings in 2005; the 2006 contagious illness planning of H5N1; the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing; and crisis management programs over the years that he has worked on or with. In addition, he was the global director of business continuity for Fidelity Investments from 2002-2008. He achieved his master’s degree in emergency and disaster management in 2003. Stearns was Fidelity Investments’ Risk Manager of the Year in 2006. He also opened his own BCM consulting company, was adjunct professor at Boston University, and met James Lee Witt and John Lay in person.

Stearns concludes with a few lessons learned that are still leveraged today:

  • No one has all the ideas, and the least knowledgeable person may have the best idea or solution.
  • The view from the top is not the same as the view from the bottom.
  • Keep it simple but be able to explain your choices and outcomes.
  • All-inclusive is not always better.
  • Take the all-hazards approach.
  • Test, test, test.

“Take the small victories and always have a champion for your program,” says Stearns, “and the staff involved in business continuity have the best view of the organization. They can see the strengths, the gaps, and a complete view of their organization more so than anyone else.”

For more information on the DRJ Career Development Committee, contact Tracey Forbes Rice. Rice is a member of the Disaster Recovery Journal Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) and chairperson of the Career Development Committee. Rice has 20 years of experience in business continuity and risk management. As vice president of customer engagement at Fusion Risk Management, Rice brings customers together, partnering with them to develop innovative solutions and to achieve new levels of program success. Rice welcomes your feedback at trice@fusionrm.com.

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