Nate Talks Growth, Leadership and Keeping Your Team Excited

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Nate Zelinske worked for Protiviti from 2004 to 2013, most recently as an Associate Director at Protiviti St. Louis. He is currently the VP of Operational Risk at Scottrade. He likes getting outdoors with his two boys, reading comics and attending concerts. Connect with Nate on LinkedIn.

How would you describe your time at Protiviti?

When I joined the St. Louis office, there were only eight of us. By the time I left, they were just cracking 50 people and now they are north of 60. Being part of the management team and seeing the growth of Protiviti the company, especially the St. Louis office, was really exciting. It was rewarding to see kids who started fresh out of college go on to become managers and associate directors. And just knowing that you’ve been part of their experience and they’ve been part of yours is a neat feeling.

Zelinske NateWhat did you learn at Protiviti that that has contributed to your success today?
One of the biggest lessons I took from Protiviti wasn’t technical – it was the people-side of the business. It was learning how to take care of your associates to create a team environment that promotes engagement, keeps everyone excited and gives them a reason to come into the office every day and stay involved.

What has been most challenging about your current role?
The main reason I joined Scottrade was to have an opportunity to build enterprise risk management from the ground up. We’re still in the building and implementation phase. I always say it’s almost like another consulting project. I was the first person in ERM and now we’re a team of over 20 people. To build that team has been really exciting. Trying to build risk management into a private company that never had a true focus on risk has had its challenges, but it’s rewarding to see the strides we’ve made so far. We had to overcome everyone thinking we were just another audit or compliance function. As we like to say, “ERM doesn’t say No, we say Whoa!”

What’s it like building a team in such a short time frame?
It’s an interesting thing because risk is a newer field. We’re not graduating kids out of college with risk experience. Even seasoned professionals, it’s not like there’s a plethora of people who have this experience. We look for people with control or audit backgrounds and see if they’re able to think the right way and answer the question, do we really understand the risk? Where auditors look to squash risks, we in risk are more open to taking risk as long as the business understands it. We look for people who are builders, not maintainers. We try to find people with talent and get them on board with our vision. Then we keep them engaged by following through on that vision.

How do you see risk evolving in the next few years?
Risk is evading everything we do – maybe too much at times. Risk has always been present in business, but it’s often lived in individuals’ guts versus out on the table in transparent discussion. Some companies are doing it better than others, but what I think we’ll start to see is companies coming together and investing in a second-line of defense like ERM. Businesses will begin to see the value in acting more like Evel Knevel v.s. Johnny Knoxville. As it evolves, people will start to understand that it’s really the business owners who need to be the risk experts. My goal is to create a nice little mothership of risk here that does our job at the enterprise level. Then, we’ll build out field risk teams that support the business on day-to-day functions, understand the risk issues and report those issues up.

What has been the best moment in your career thus far?
One of the projects I was most proud about was at Protiviti. My team of four spent a couple years working on a large conversion between two banks. It wasn’t one of those things that Protiviti has an out-of-box solution for – it was us getting the right people together, devising a solution and giving the clients more than what they were looking for. I felt proud of what we were able to accomplish and that my team was able to survive those two years.

Who has influenced you the most?
I am really big on mentoring, both formally and informally. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good, solid mentoring network both at my level and above my level. And I’ve tried to make it as diverse as possible because I like to get different viewpoints from different people. I have mentors who I work with on a daily basis, mentors who are academic professionals, and mentors who are peers of mine who have never held a nine-to-five, but have an interesting outlook on life. It’s not one person I can point to as my biggest influence, but instead a coalition of mentors.

If you were to meet yourself fresh out of college, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I think I would tell myself to make sure that you’re always challenging yourself and never get complacent. Whether it’s professional or outside of work, always make sure that you’re trying to make yourself better. Always strive to get better and try new things, and never be afraid to ask questions.

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