Saturday, June 28, 2008

Risk goes way back

There's a lot of talk today about risk mitigation on projects. It's an important field and hugely important, but no one should that that it is new. Almost all financial services is really about mitigating risk. A great example of this comes from founding Virginia.

In 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh, one of the wealthiest men in England at the time, privately funded the founding of Roanoke. There were issues and threats (think storms, Indians, the difficulty of supplies) and by 1590 the endeavor was lost, one of the colonies was entirely lost and Raleigh lost a huge amount of money.

It took another sixteen years for the British to take another run at founding a colony. The Virginia Company was set up as a joint-stock company. Many people invested money (bought shares) and the risks were spread (mitigated) across a large number of people. Likewise, the gains would accrue to that same large number of people.

Now, one might say that this has nothing to do with risk mitigation on projects and directly, it probably doesn't. But you better believe buying ships, equipment, supplies, sailors, colonists and then sailing the Atlantic and founding a colony was a huge project. And you better bet there were some people very interested in how things were going. Remember that dueling was a valid way of settling disputes!

My point is simply that people have thought about how to mitigate risks for a long time. Spreading the risk, giving people participating in the project an opportunity to buy into the project and share in its success or failure have a long history of success.

I wonder was a risk register would look like for the founding of a colony?

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