No Risk Here

USC Leventhal’s Risk Management Program hires securities attorney and senior policy adviser Kristen Jaconi to build the program.

April 17, 2019

It’s a good time to be in risk management. Or rather, it’s a good time to be the one who gets to introduce smart college students to the field. Just ask Kristen Jaconi.

Jaconi is the director of the risk management program, a minor course of study housed in the Leventhal School of Accounting. The program launched in 2018 after risk management leaders from around Southern California came to USC Marshall and asked for help training the next generation of professionals.

Jaconi, a longtime attorney and policy maker with extensive experience in the securities industry, came onboard as program director in July 2018. She had been serving as a risk management consultant for a boutique DC-based consultancy when a mutual acquaintance introduced her to Dean Ellis.

A change of pace, perhaps. But also a chance to work on the same coast as her husband, as well as a chance to try academia.

She took the opportunity. But then there’s no chance of Jaconi ever being a B Personality.

“Building out the risk management program does align with my skill set,” she says. “But building a program from the ground up is a lot of work, and I do tend to push myself.”

The Classics

Growing up in a Trojan household in Los Angeles, she studied French and the Classics but always had her eyes on business. “I read the Wall Street Journal nearly every day since I was 12,” she says. “It grounded me in the practical.”

After early professional experience in the financial services industry, she earned a law degree from Stanford (“Classics trains you in analytical thinking and attention to detail.”) before joining O’Melveny & Myers, where she specialized in corporate governance and securities law.

But she felt compelled to try her hand on the policy side of things. So she made what might look from the outside as a risky move: She quit her well-paying corporate law job to volunteer as an intern in Washington.

The move paid off, and Jaconi ultimately became senior counsel for the Committee on Financial Services as it worked to implement the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

When Rep. Michael Oxley (R-OH) retired in 2007, she took a senior policy adviser position at Treasury…just in time for the 2007 financial crisis.

Building a Program

Academia is a different world than Washington. But just as Jaconi successfully made the shift from corporate law to public policy, she’s already scored some big successes for the Risk Management Program.

One is industry recognition. The program is supported by an advisory council of more than 30 companies, many of them household names (Alliant, Berkshire Hathaway, The Walt Disney Company, Fox), so perhaps it wasn’t a surprise for the program to garner a two-page write-up in the trade publication Insurance Journal, expanding its recognition across the industry.

As an adjunct professor, the depth of her experience is reflected in the curriculum she’s created for her students in her class “Introduction to Enterprise Risk Management.” Students read and discuss current issues in risk management (from the risks Tesla, Facebook, and Boeing are confronting to cutting-edge board-level risk reporting) augmented by in-class presentations by C-suite principals.

“It’s the USC name that brings them in,” she says. “Deans Ellis and Holder have also been elemental.”

If one thing has changed, it’s her commute. She and her husband live in Laguna Beach, from where she takes the train to campus. “I’ll take it,” she laughs. “It beats getting on a flight from LAX to Newark.”