Having revamped Redflex’s risk culture, Catherine Garde won StrategicRISK’s New Starter of the Year award. What’s her secret?

To say that Catherine Garde has been living life in the fast lane in recent years is a bit of an understatement. Not only has she expanded her legal career by branching into strategic risk, she has also led the charge in helping to create a global risk and compliance management system for a multinational organisation, relocated across Australia, given birth to two children… and picked up the 2017 StrategicRISK Risk Management New Starter of the Year award along the way.

Garde is senior legal, risk and compliance counsel at the Redflex Group, which specialises in traffic enforcement products such as speed cameras.

Her role includes everything from implementing, co-ordinating and monitoring her company’s risk and compliance program, policies and processes, to legal matters and supporting the group general counsel, executives and the board with global risk and compliance matters.

Speaking to StrategicRISK while on parental leave, Garde explains that her main challenge on joining Redflex was to assist the company with working through and growing from historical business issues. That’s all in the past now, and Garde’s work has been a significant contributor to this. Not that she’s taking all the credit.

“I’m personally very proud not only of my own efforts but also Redflex,” she says. “Having the full support of the board and entire global leadership team meant that we could actually move forward.”

Garde adds that the StrategicRISK new starter award “acknowledges good teamwork within the company and gives recognition to the hard work not only by me but also the entire Redflex team”.

“It reflects the fact that there has been a cultural shift, and we’re now seeing the benefits and rewards coming out of it,” she says. “We did a lot of things in a very short period of time and, in my personal opinion, working together we did them well. We are now set up for an exciting future.”

Working out of the Redflex headquarters in Melbourne, Garde drove the development and implementation of a global risk and compliance framework that, she says, “assisted with significant cultural change in attitudes towards risk and compliance”. She also conducted workshops at group executive, senior management and operational level for the Australian, Malaysian, Saudi Arabian, UK and USA offices. These focused on identifying material risks and rating the likelihood and consequences of inherent, residual and target risks.

One of her first objectives was to develop a group risk appetite statement, which she insists was “essential for Redflex to set the tone about the amount and type of risk that it was willing to take to meet its strategic objectives”. But “this was just one piece of a much bigger puzzle, so it can’t be looked at in isolation”, she adds. “What I was there to do from the beginning was to be an in-house lawyer, but also to review the risk and compliance framework and develop a new one that was aligned with the strategic objectives of Redflex. This meant going back to basics.”

So, in consultation with the director of compliance in the US office and the group general counsel, Garde spent a lot of time meeting with people to understand which risk and compliance aspects touched on

their day-to-day operations. “Then we implemented an electronic platform where we could record and regularly assess the risk and compliance obligations that face Redflex,” she says. “Lastly, we embedded all of those ideas in policies and processes within the company and created reporting mechanisms to give the board oversight of the risk management practices across the organisation.”

One of the most impressive aspects of Garde’s work at Redflex has been her desire to be a champion of cultural change by promoting awareness and responsibility of risk through group training and regular communication.

“I have three main objectives,” she explains. “First is to educate everybody at all levels on risk management principles and processes. Secondly, it is to advocate: to promote risk awareness and the key benefits of risk and compliance. And thirdly, it is to facilitate. I’m there to assist people in evaluating risk, and identifying the opportunities that are available to them.”

Garde stresses that top-level buy-in and collaboration was required to drive such cultural change, and that she had that in spades. “I was lucky enough to have full support of the board, and entire global leadership team, so I wasn’t faced with too many adversities,” she says. “We dealt with a big challenge with regular communication, transparency and keeping everybody involved with what’s happening, why it’s happening and how it can benefit them.”

Back in her university days, Garde could never have envisaged where her career would take her. “I honestly would not have known what a career in risk management was back then,” she admits. “When I started at university, I was doing a double degree in science and law, then I went on to do an honours degree in pharmacology. Whilst I really enjoyed the scientific aspect of pharmacology, my skill set and interest was really with law and I was hoping one day to combine the two. In a sense, I’ve done that because science is about processes and following process to get a result, and so is risk management.”

After her studies, Garde went on to work as a commercial lawyer at a law firm in Melbourne, then for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in Perth. “I was working in the markets team, looking at corporate governance issues and market manipulation, so I was able to see what compliance means and how important it is,” she says.

From there, Garde went straight into litigation as a barrister at Francis Burt Chambers in Perth, where she advised on corporate and commercial matters, often on corporate governance issues. In addition, she says, completing an MBA, undertaking a graduate diploma in applied corporate governance and serving in director roles on boards in the industries of mining and theatre gave her “additional perspective to see from the top what you need to know when making good strategic decisions. I was able to see the benefit of risk management”. In hindsight, she adds, “many if not all of my roles have touched on risk management”.

Being a risk management professional “exposes you to multiple levels of an organisation”, she says.

“Not many positions can do that. So, if you like working at multiple levels of an organisation, and facilitating and helping other people, then it’s really an exciting industry to get involved with.”

However, she cautions, “we have to be careful about the way we deliver risks management principles”.

“At the end of the day, risk management isn’t there to hinder people’s day-to-day work, it’s there to help them,” she says. “You need to think about the commercial reality. It’s really about knowing how you can help individuals, business units, executives and the board in whatever organisation you work in.”