Female Disruptors: Chloe Demrovsky of DRI International On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine
10 min readSep 25, 2022

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A lot of my work is about applying the concept of resilience, or the ability to bounce back, across various spheres of influence, whether personal, professional, organizational, or systemic. On the systemic level, I work on disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation. For example, I am working on a research project right now about how operational resilience can help companies disclose the impact that climate change is and will have on their finances and operations.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chloe Demrovsky.

Chloe Demrovsky is the President and CEO of DRI International, a senior Forbes contributor, has authored numerous articles, appeared on Bloomberg TV, MSNBC, CNBC, Cheddar News, and Fox, and has served as an expert source for The Associated Press, BBC, USA Today, The Financial Times, ABC News, and others. She has presented at dozens of events across five continents and has conducted on-site briefings for government bodies. She is a professor at NYU, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Board Director for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) ARISE, the DRI Foundation, Bard College at Simon’s Rock Board (Vice-Chair), and Plastic Omnium.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

As the youngest and first female head of the globally-recognized nonprofit Disaster Recovery Institute, I help organizations prepare for and recover from disasters, both natural and manmade. I started with the institute as a temporary employee and was named President and Chief Executive Officer in just nine years. I have worked with the public, private, and nonprofit sectors across five continents to promote resilience and sustainability.

My tale is much the same as those told by the thousands of resilience professionals I’ve met over the years in that I wound up here almost totally by accident. I dropped out of high school at the age of fifteen to attend Bard College at Simon’s Rock and graduated with a liberal arts degree at nineteen. From there, I at least knew that I wanted to work for an organization that made a difference, but I wasn’t exactly sure what form that would take. Over the next few years, I founded a nonprofit arts organization and worked for several others. Eventually, that background in nonprofit work led me to DRI. Our mission is so important, and I can see the impact every day.

On a personal note, I’m a third-culture kid who speaks four languages, which has made me adaptable to change and complexity, as well as an avid reader, which helps me process the world with perspective and humor. You need both in ample measure when you’re talking about disasters every day.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

A lot of my work is about applying the concept of resilience, or the ability to bounce back, across various spheres of influence, whether personal, professional, organizational, or systemic. On the systemic level, I work on disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation. For example, I am working on a research project right now about how operational resilience can help companies disclose the impact that climate change is and will have on their finances and operations.

In my academic life, I actively seek exciting challenges and explore opportunities posed by new ideas and disruptive technologies. I earned my Master’s in Global Affairs from NYU while working full-time and am proud to also be the first alumna invited to be an adjunct professor, teaching public-private partnerships, private sector solutions for economic development, and social enterprise. I help my students create practical pitches for partnerships that will make the world a better place by leveraging the ideas and energy of the private sector to address social and environmental challenges. It challenges their thinking and the conventional approach to pursuing social good. For example, I’m excited that this semester I am advising a couple of student projects related to leveraging non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for social good.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is more of a personal anecdote but just as relevant and much funnier in hindsight than it was at the time. My wedding nearly got rained out, and it wasn’t even outside. Two days before our big day, an aging sprinkler system soaked the venue, leaving it unusable and not up to code. I didn’t panic. Instead, I got to work because disasters are what I do for a living. Running DRI, I get asked all the time how companies can become more resilient — how resilient organizations can adapt to changing political, economic, and environmental realities. The simple answer is to expect the unexpected. Know that you’re going to get thrown a curve — that you can get rained out even when there’s not a cloud in the sky. In the case of my wedding, I applied my business continuity training and got to work. We found a new venue, coordinated with our vendors, and relocated the whole affair in just under 48 hours. In DRI speak, we focused on the effect rather than the cause, identified our major obstacle as a facilities problem, and executed our plan. Sounds romantic, huh?!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Without question, my predecessor at DRI Al Berman has had a huge impact on my life. He transformed DRI into the thriving organization it is today and gave me a front-row seat along the way, always making time to coach me and answer questions. He has more talents than any one man should, and I am humbled by his example and faith in me. We are very different in our approach as well as in our leadership style, but it is by having a dialogue to bridge those differences that we have grown this organization together. I’ve often heard the adage, “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and while there is some truth to that, I also found that the most influential mentors I’ve had were very different from me and often challenged my thinking. Really listening to them, while not always easy, is more likely to make me grow as a person. That’s the power of diversity — we must cherish the difference, make space to listen and understand, and learn from each other.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption is my every day — we plan for it, respond to it, and recover from it. We at DRI observe how crises shape organizations and what they need to do to respond to those disruptions effectively. That advanced planning coupled with exercising the plans enables them to react in such a way that they can protect their core competency and maybe even come out stronger from the incident.

Collectively, we all just went through a major disruption with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations implemented changes at lightning speed in order to safeguard their businesses, employees, and customers from the pandemic. We partook in a stunning global experiment in work-from-home and the widespread adoption of remote work tools like videoconferencing. We witnessed swift changes to business models and online offerings across diverse industries, from retail to hospitality. We’ve seen the healthcare industry adopt new practices and technologies. These changes were made at organizations of every size and in every sector and country.

People generally hate change, and so do organizations. Big crises can serve as a catalyst for long-delayed and much-needed changes to be implemented. Some of the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are worth keeping, others not so much; however, the decision-making process should be approached with thoughtfulness and intention. Not every strategy is suitable for every organization. Leaders should take a good look at what has worked, what hasn’t, and perhaps most importantly, how they can expand on this stunning wave of global innovation rather than reverting to caution and inertia.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?

I keep a list of little pieces of advice that have resonated with me over time, and I review it periodically. One of those is to be where you’re at because you’re already there. I have a habit of living too much in the future, taking on too much at once, and sometimes that can make life difficult. I’ve received the advice not to bite off more than I can chew many times, but it’s not always easy to follow. There is so much to explore and accomplish that it can be hard to say no to something you really want to do. But who knows? Maybe the geniuses working in biotech and robotics will find a way to extend our lifetimes, and I’ll get a chance to do more!

One way to do more is to make yourself dispensable by training and empowering your team. They are the force multiplier. It’s important to be a cheerleader for your team and shine a light on their successes when they do well. If your team excels, you will also. Fortunately, this is an easy one for me at DRI — my team is amazing, and they make it easy. I learn from them every day.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

People call us when they are unsure how to prepare for or respond to various crises. We get questions on everything from the difficulty of moving to cloud computing to the dark side of artificial intelligence to planning for the threat of nuclear war. It’s our job to determine best practices and how companies can address these myriad challenges. I enjoy the intellectual and practical challenge of finding solutions to the most difficult problems we face as a society. We can’t predict the future, and we don’t know what will happen next. What we can control is our preparation for it and our reaction to it.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The continuity and resilience space has historically been male-dominated. The number of women pursuing careers in business continuity is growing, although it is still low at around 35–40% of the total. The increase may be in part because the role is changing within organizations as senior leaders up the level of responsibility assigned to business continuity professionals to prepare for and respond to challenges growing in number and complexity. The COVID-19 pandemic also laid bare the absolute need to lead with empathy, and many women have had more practice with leading in this manner. Behavioral norms in the workplace are changing, which may create moments of discomfort and confrontation. It’s important to create an open and caring workplace culture where your employees feel valued, motivated, and supported as they face these very human challenges. Women leaders are disruptors just by their mere presence in leadership roles. It is important to be mindful of that fact, to understand the shape you make in space, and then leverage that with intention. I try not to dwell on the added adversity of this fact but get up and seize the day I’ve been given and take advantage of the opportunity I have to make the world a better, safer, and more resilient place for those who follow.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I read and listen to a diverse range of books, articles, and podcasts, but I always go back to the classics (I did mention that I studied liberal arts, right?). I find that narrative fiction takes me out of my head and daily circumstances. It invites me to reflect on the world through different eyes and to empathize with the struggles of the characters. And I like to reread. Each time I find something new because I am a different person and can engage with the text with the benefit of the new perspectives that time brings. Whether it’s The Fellowship of the Ring or Sense and Sensibility, there’s always something new to learn.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

We all need to invest more in building our resilience across every sphere of our lives, of course! In designing resilience strategies for organizations, it’s also helpful to have a reserve of personal resilience. In DRI’s glossary, we define resilience as “the adaptive capacity of an organization in a complex and changing environment.” Good leaders also possess this adaptive capacity in the face of complexity and change. In this space, we focus on heavy subjects and see many terrible things over the course of our careers, so having the ability to bounce back emotionally is essential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Sometimes a particular quote finds you when you need it most. That happened to me today. A high-ranking military official said in a meeting that you shouldn’t make strategic decisions based on tactical problems. That resonated with me because I was ready to hear it. It just goes to show that sometimes a moment of serendipity can have an outsized impact, so it’s important to show up, bring your whole self, and pay attention to whatever you’re doing. You never know what you could learn.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can read my Forbes column, follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter, or sign up for a free DRI Account to get all the latest information on risk and resilience.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.