An interview with Karen Clark, president & CEO, AIR Worldwide


What four adjectives best describe yourself?

Passionate about quality and excellence, optimistic, inquisitive and self-motivated.

What qualities do you most admire in other people?

I admire integrity, high energy levels, a positive attitude, being a team player and having an overall passion for life.

What qualities do you most dislike in other people?

An unwillingness to accept responsibility, a lack of attention to detail and a negative attitude. Basically, people with generally low energy levels; those who do not have a "can-do" attitude.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started in this industry?

AIR is a pretty unique company, and in order to develop scientifically-advanced catastrophe models, I have had to bring on board many highly educated, experienced, but very diverse individuals to work together.

This can be a big challenge, because most of the professionals we need to hire typically work independently, or with others in the same discipline.

So it took me a while to build, develop and motivate the right team with the right qualities, and I don't mean just their academic credentials.

So that was a big learning experience, but obviously a worthwhile one.

What was the last thing that completely surprised you?

The last thing that completely surprised me, even though it was not that recent, was September 11. It made everyone painfully aware of how vulnerable our society is to acts of terrorism. It has certainly changed the way we live, and we are still looking at ways to develop a long-term solution to the problem of terrorism. In relation to the insurance industry, this means looking at how we can work hand-in-hand with government to mitigate future risks.

What motivates you on a Monday morning?

My primary motivation is striving to provide our clients with the most advanced and accurate models for decision-making.

I am also motivated by the fact that I know that every day is going to be different. There is always something new to learn at AIR, be it in the fields of science, engineering, managing people or whatever. Every day is a new day and that makes it fun, and something to look forward to.

Whose job would you most like to have and why?

I already have a great job so this is a hard question to answer. However, believe it or not, the only other job I could imagine enjoying half as much as this is dancing. I love to dance, so it is the only other thing I could imagine doing full time.

What is your biggest regret?

I really don't have any regrets. I am so fortunate to thoroughly enjoy every aspect of my life. I enjoy coming to AIR every day, and I don't feel I have really sacrificed anything, because I also have a wonderful family; three wonderful daughters. I have a lot of fun with my family as well as having a lot of fun at work. I really have no regrets about anything.

Although this is not to say that I haven't made mistakes along the way.

But any mistakes I have made I have learned from, and they have led me to where I am today.

What are you most proud of having achieved?

Going back to the early part of my career, I am extremely proud of being the first person to identify the need for risk modelling and to introduce the first fully probabilistic catastrophe model for the insurance industry.

The company that I formed in 1987, AIR was the first catastrophe modelling company.

I am also really proud of having developed the business applications that have become global industry standards. Our technology is used all over the world for assessing and managing catastrophe risks.

What factors have enabled you to get where you are today?

There are really three factors. One is my own personal drive, determination and hard work. Also I have a good sense of humour, which allows me to laugh at myself, which I have had to do over my mistakes, so I could learn from them.

There were also several individuals who supported me in the industry in those very early years. I do not think AIR could have survived in those early years without those particular individuals.

Finally, of course, I had the wonderful support of my family, and that has been instrumental in getting me where I am today.