The Value of Risk

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In my opinion, few business people recognize that risk has a very real (and substantial) value. The lack of recognition is understandable – it’s hard to put a convincing numerical value on a risk that may or may not occur. But every now and then, an event comes along that provides a quantified glimpse of risk’s value. I was a witness to one of those rare events. Here’s the story…

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A high tech manufacturing company, let’s call them “WidgetCo”, won a very large and very challenging contract for a new product. Life was good at WidgetCo. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for WidgetCo’s product development to fall significantly behind schedule and exceed budget. WidgetCo’s  management decided that they needed to outsource part of the development effort to an outside company.

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WidgetCo put together a very attractive bid package. Many companies submitted aggressive bids in an attempt to win the business. As WidgetCo reviewed the proposals, they soon realized that some of the companies did not fully understand the scope of the project or just plain low-balled the estimate in an attempt to win the business. The company whose proposal was most complete and demonstrated a full understanding of the task at hand was also the most expensive – more than 20% higher than the next lower bid. WidgetCo management had a problem.

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So how does the story end? After much thought and discussion, WidgetCo selected the most expensive proposal. Why? Because they saw that proposal as the lowest risk solution to their problem. WidgetCo paid a 20% premium to reduce their perceived risk. They valued that risk to be worth more than $2,000,000.

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Does that result surprise you? I’ll be the first to admit that it’s unusual in today’s short-sighted, manage-for-quarterly-results business environment. But if you can put aside the pleasant novelty of the management decision, it is a great example of risk’s value. (It’s also a great example of risk awareness playing a big role in a major business decision.)

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My story deals with the value assigned to risk by a corporate customer, but the same principle applies to individual customers like you and me. Think about people that buy Volvos. What about people that buy Macs? Both groups are at least somewhat concerned about risk (personal risk and malware risk) and are willing to pay a premium to minimize that risk. There are lots of examples of products marketed as ‘lower risk’. There are lots of people who gladly pay more to buy those products.

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So let’s accept that there is significant value associated with the risks perceived by your external customer (i.e. external stakeholder). Doesn’t it stand to reason that there is significant value associated with risks perceived by your internal stakeholders – the risks faced by your business? Don’t you think it’s about time you start managing that value?

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OK, I know what you’re thinking… “Great, Tom. My risks have value. But how do I figure out what that value is?” Funny you should ask. You can check out these posts for evaluation methods that you can use to quantify the value of your risks:

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I would love to hear some of your stories about value being assigned to risk. Leave me some comments and let’s talk about them.

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I’ve put together a compilation of how-to posts to help guide you through the risk management process (“How To Manage Risk”) . Check it out!

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6 thoughts on “The Value of Risk

  1. Pingback: Thomas M. Bragg
  2. Great article, Tom. Thanks. I was thinking of an indie musician having to determine merchandise volume purchasing. There are times when they just have to spend a little more money to see a better return on the other side. It is often hard to see the immediate benefits of some risks going into them.

  3. Great example from a couple of points of view, Gregory! First off, it’s a very good example of a risk’s quantifiable value. It’s also a good example of what I’ll can an “induced” risk – or a risk that is the result of a conscious decision. In this case, if the musician decides not to deal with merchandise there is no risk. The risk only exists as a result of the musician’s action. Sounds like a blog post waiting to happen!

    Thanks again for the comment, Gregory

  4. Pingback: Thomas M. Bragg
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