No. 1-ranked RMI program, supporters consider view from the top

December 1, 2021

When you’re No. 1, you see everything from a lone and lofty perspective.

“You’re on top of this mountain,” explained Dr. William T. Hold, a 2012 inductee into the FSU College of Business Alumni Hall of Fame. “If you can be No. 1 enough times, you become the mountain. That’s where you want to be.”

Hold considers himself, together with College of Business faculty members, students, businesses and alumni, the mountaineer who aims to become Everest.

He does so as namesake and benefactor of the Dr. William T. Hold/The National Alliance Program in Risk Management and Insurance, which this fall scaled the U.S. News & World Report rankings and took the top spot – for both public and private schools – in the country.

It took years of scratching and clawing, approaching the summit and falling just short. The previous two years, the program earned the No. 3 spot among public schools and the No. 5 spot among all schools.

That prompted the program’s supporters to remind themselves why they began the climb in the first place.

“I said our goal is not to be No. 5. It’s not to be No. 4,” Hold said. “It's to be No. 1.”

College officials and faculty members credit faculty and staff members and the students themselves. They also point to alumni and industry members who network, mentor, hire and give the program a reputation for preeminence, including a near 100-percent job placement for RMI students.

They salute the program as an example of the heights you can reach with an engaged, generous and visionary donor respected for excellence in his or her field. Nearly a decade ago, Hold and The National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research, which he co-founded and for which he remains executive chairman, donated $5 million to the college to further build its highly ranked RMI program.

The program took on its current name, plus a new attitude and altitude.

“Dr. Hold allowed our RMI program to think bigger and to become even better,” said Michael Hartline, dean of the College of Business. “His gift, along with his name and the great organization he built, created a new posture and swagger in the program. It marked a vote of confidence that provided immediate recognition and credibility, and it gave us the money for our dedicated world-class faculty to start doing some truly great things.”

For starters, the program started providing scholarships and increased its support of professional development opportunities, including attendance at industry and educational conferences.

It also inspired continued growth of Insurance Days, its annual job- and internship-placement event for RMI majors. The event in October saw participation from about 30 companies, and the next one is planned for Feb. 9.

“Everybody wants to be associated with a winner,” said Kathleen McCullough, the college’s associate dean for academic affairs and the Kathryn Magee Kip Professor in Risk Management and Insurance. “Dr. Hold and the naming of the program helped solidify that winner mentality, and other people joined the cause and the fight.”

McCullough expressed appreciation for professors who have been in the program for years, even before Hold made his gift. They teach with passion and persistence about topics that some people might find mundane and monotonous before they understand risk management and insurance, she said.

About the program

Hold’s namesake RMI program prepares future insurance and risk management professionals in the areas of enterprise risk management; financial planning; employee benefits; life and health insurer operations and products; and property and casualty operations and products.

“When you have industry folks partnering with you and talking about the claims stories, talking about the way they've helped businesses to stay in business after some type of tragic event, it's interesting and it’s inspiring,” McCullough said. “The information really comes alive and is much easier to teach.”

Many students show up for their first course without a foundation in risk management. As McCullough explains it, risk is uncertainty, and risk management emphasizes how to deal with uncertainty.

Take your personal life, she said. You practice risk management every day when you look both ways to cross the street, fasten your seatbelt in your car or wear a mask during the pandemic.

The insurance industry thereby sees risk management as far more than catastrophic events such as fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. It sees risk management in everyday matters such as personal injury, automobile accidents and serious illness.

“All those things can be transformational depending on what happens to you and your family,” McCullough said. “Our goal in the industry is to remove the big risk so that a business is resilient and can keep functioning regardless of what happens to it and so that families are able to keep functioning if some tragedy happens. You remove that financial uncertainty. You also give people the chance to dream bigger and to grow because they can take smart risks.”

The field has seen rapid growth, change and retooling.

Consider Sept. 11, 2001, McCullough said.

After the terror attacks of that day, she said, “the possibility of mid-air collisions or two planes hitting a building became much more real, so the maximum possible loss and what we planned for became much larger.”

Likewise, McCullough said, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes in the industry, including the risk of business interruption. Timely and relevant considerations in risk management, among countless others, also include climate change, cybercrime, workplace harassment and even self-driving automobiles.

“It’s a field that always stays fresh – all those new risks and exposures that change daily,” McCullough said. “Our students actually end up on the leading edge of solving those problems because they're young. They're innovative. They can take all of this in and help the companies they go to work for find solutions.”

Myriad possibilities

Cassandra Cole, the Dr. William T. Hold Professor in Risk Management and Insurance and director of the college’s Top 10-ranked online Master of Science in Risk Management and Insurance (MS-RMI), hails the overall RMI program as one in the few in the U.S. that offers degrees in risk management and insurance at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels.

Program leaders recently saw a growing demand for professionals with strong analytical skills and an understanding of the importance of data in the industry, she said. That prompted a new Insurance Data Analytics course in the undergraduate and graduate curriculum.

Graduates get jobs as insurance agents and brokers, underwriters, claims adjusters and risk analysts, among others. Students who double-major in areas such as finance, real estate and actuarial science have been securing positions at organizations including consulting companies and investment firms, Cole said.

Some students roll with their passions. A baseball fan in the program a few years ago works today as risk manager for the New York Yankees. A current student who loves horses identified multiple companies that insure the animals and aims to become an underwriter in that area.

“Seeing those success stories opens your mind to possibilities,” McCullough said.

Ted Ostrander, a 2021 College of Business Alumni Hall of Fame member who graduated with a degree in business administration in 1970, said the college offered courses but not a program in risk management when he attended.

Before retiring as chairman and CEO of Lassiter-Ware Inc., one of the largest independent insurance agencies in Florida, he would attend Insurance Days and hire interns from the RMI program.

“The interns working in our company gave me a sense of what the program was like,” he said. “And then going to Insurance Days and seeing the quality and the commitment of the students really just frankly astounded me.”

Ostrander today mentors RMI students and chairs the panel that guides the program, the RMI Executive Council.

He also remains a major contributor to the college, funding a space in Legacy Hall, the college’s future home, and later giving a gift that benefited Legacy Hall and the RMI program.

“Our people, our staff, everyone does such a great job,” Ostrander said. “I’m glad to be just a small part of it.”

People involved with the RMI program trumpet this as an especially exciting time, especially since news of the No. 1 ranking.

“We have received an overwhelming number of calls, emails and acknowledgements on social media from alumni, current students and program supporters,” Cole said.
She said faculty members and program supporters see the ranking as recognition of all their hard work, including creation of events and experiences that help students grow and become successful professionals.

Of the program and No. 1 ranking, Hold said with a smile: “It’s wonderful, and luckily it's got my name on it.”

He made his comments in early November during Legends and Leaders Day, which provides business students the opportunity to meet the college’s Alumni Hall of Fame members and hear about their career experiences.

Hold spoke to students of accountability and a lack of guarantees in receiving or maintaining a No. 1 ranking. He also spoke of teamwork, hard work and persistence.
“Sure enough, we kept on pushing and pushing,” he said, “and here we are.”

To learn more about Dr. William T. Hold/The National Alliance Program in Risk Management & Insurance and degrees offered, visit business.fsu.edu/RMI.

– Pete Reinwald