Centre for Risk Studies

The Cambridge-McKinsey Risk Prize 2015

Ramgopal Rajan, Siobhan C. Sweeney, Martin Sonntag

Congratulations to the 2015 Finalists

First Place Finalist

Siobhan C. Sweeney, Cambridge Judge Business School MBA Candidate

The Creation of the Contrarian Director and Their Role in Achieving Workable Board Independence & Better Risk Oversight (pdf, 203KB)

In the current economic climate marked by volatility and uncertainty, risk oversight by boards is increasingly important. The function of boards to ensure a healthy balance between risk-taking and risk avoidance is critical to the success of the company and the stability of the economy. This paper notes the significant failings of boards in this regard. The changes suggested by this paper go directly to improving this position.

The paper examines the economic, social and psychological forces propelling directors on boards towards collegial consensus and deterring real independence from each other. The paper offers a highly innovative yet simple solution. It develops the concept of a 'Contrarian Director', inspired by the Advocatus Diaboli ('Devil's Advocate') of 1587 but modeled more closely to the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice. The paper provides a structure and process to appoint and support this director. The result of these proposed changes would be a change to culture on boards and a radical improvement in the risk oversight function by boards.

Honourable Mentions

Ramgopal Rajan, Cambridge Judge Business School MBA Candidate

Reducing Coordination Risks around Communication Infrastructure Protection during Disasters: An Alberta Floods Case Study (pdf, 156KB)

Telecommunications and mobile networks have become key to modern lifestyle. Matt J. Duffy, in his report Smartphones in the Arab Spring, talks about how the increased availability of mobile smartphones made a huge impact on the reporting of the Arab Spring revolution. Despite this growing importance the disaster recovery procedures across this industry remain fragmented and isolated compared to other critical services like power companies.

This report uses the Alberta Floods of 2013 as a case study to highlight the deficiencies in the critical response readiness of telecom companies. Power companies have mutual aid agreements and work in close collaboration with local governments to carry out extensive drills to remain ready for disaster response. For telecom companies these aspects are not well developed yet. There are no pre-determined agreements amongst telecom companies even within neighbouring geographies to respond collaboratively to disasters. Local governments in many cases do not see telecommunications as a critical service and hence do not invited these organisations for regular tests and drills.

The report looks specifically the steps TELUS took to successfully respond to the Alberta floods and come up with suggestions to help telecom industry get better prepared for disaster recovery.

Martin Sonntag, Cambridge Judge Business School MBA Candidate

Production & Supply Chain Induced Health Risks in the Fruit Juice Industry (pdf, 1.28MB)

With a global market volume of US$150 billion, fruit juice and fruit drinks are an integral part of our daily diet. The juice industry's production process are decentralised and the ingredients are sourced on a global basis. In Europe, fruit juice is readily available to everyone in supermarkets and through online purchases alike.

As the demand in Europe is shifting towards healthy products, suppliers are innovating new product lines and concepts. But product variety and the scale of the market contain risks to the health of the consumers and in consequence to the business of the suppliers.

This report examines the origin, management and potential consequences of such risks from a systemic, technical and marketing perspective. It concludes with recommendations to the industry and regulatory bodies to mitigate the health risks to the consumers.


The winner of the Prize was announced on Monday 22 June 2015 during the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies 6th Risk Summit, by Dr Sven Heilitag, Principal, McKinsey & Company.


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Media coverage

Some press coverage of the 2015 Cambridge-McKinsey Prize:

Jul 2015

Financial Times: "Give the devil a voice in the boardroom"

Who will say "That's wrong" in the boardroom, without damaging his or her position irreparably? An award-winning new paper from an MBA student at Cambridge Judge Business School offers an intriguing solution: the appointment of a "contrarian director", whose job it is to test and challenge board decisions. Siobhan Sweeney has won this year's Cambridge-McKinsey Risk prize for her paper, which presents a crisp view of the problem of "challenge" in the boardroom. She makes her case well.

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