Filed Under:Risk Management, Corporate Risk

Experts Relate: ‘How I Got Into Risk Management’

If chance favors the prepared mind, as the saying goes, then it’s no wonder these risk managers have had such successful and rewarding careers. When presented with an opportunity or the possibility of a job, they begin their preparations—and they don’t give up.

When asked how they got into the discipline of risk management, here’s what members of the National Underwriter Risk Managers Advisory Board had to say:

* * *

Gary Pearce
Vice President of Risk Management
Kelly Services Inc., Troy Mich.

While securing my MBA in Finance at the University of Michigan, it was my hope to get into corporate risk management and someday be the risk manager at a Fortune 500 company.

I spent the first nine years of my career at Marsh in risk consulting and as a broker. While at Marsh I was the team leader for a broker “beauty contest” on the Kelly account, and although we didn’t win the business, Kelly tracked me down a couple of years later and asked me to work for them. 

I’ve been with Kelly for 19 years and stayed in risk management because I enjoy the mix of skills and activities that it calls for, such as customer service, technical knowledge, negotiation and problem-solving.

Dan Kugler
Assistant Treasurer, Risk Management
Snap-on Inc., Kenosha, Wis.
Director of Student Involvement
The Risk and Insurance Management Society

I ended up in the risk-management profession based on a talk I had with my best friend’s dad, the risk manager for Marquette University, when I was a young insurance adjuster right out of college.

The job description he relayed to me piqued my interest, and I started taking Associate in Risk Management classes. I kept in touch with him and landed my first risk-management job at Snap-on in 1979. I am still here and loving all the opportunities Snap-on has allowed me to pursue.

The job is still exciting. There is always more to do for  continuous improvements of the risk-management function and a constant focus on reducing risks. There is always more to learn personally and professionally.

I am a true believer that risk management can and does make a difference with the support of the company and its leaders. Risk management is the best job out there, from my perspective!

Tim East
Director of Corporate Risk Management
The Walt Disney Company, Los Angeles, Calif.

I started working at the Disneyland resort as a college job while I was a student at Cal State Long Beach. I majored in Internal Communication, and about the time I graduated I was promoted into an operational role in Disneyland’s Safety and Health department, where I was introduced to one area of risk management.

I went on to obtain certification in [Occupational Safety and Health] from U.C. Irvine and then moved from Safety to set up the first self-insured claims administration office at the resort, and gradually became more aware of risk management as a discipline.

After obtaining my certification as a claims administrator, I studied for the ARM designation and received it in 1995; at the same time, there was an opening in The Walt Disney Company’s corporate office for a manager of Risk Finance, and I moved to this role in 1996.

I’ve worked there ever since, and the role has expanded to include all of Disney’s construction insurance, new theme parks in Asia as well as risk finance and other roles in the company’s insurance program.

I love risk management, as it’s always a new challenge and is certainly never routine. Also, it keeps me involved in the company’s new businesses—and that’s a very exciting space to work within the Disney organization.

William J. Montanez
Director of Risk Management
Ace Hardware Corp., Oak Brook, Ill.
Director of Technology Advisory Council
Risk and Insurance Management Society

I am an accountant by trade and worked as one for about 13 years. My areas of expertise were fixed assets, financial analysis and budgets.

When my boss, then executive vice president, was promoted to president, he asked me to assume a new position: risk and contract administrator. This position was responsible for all the stuff no one wanted to handle: P&C and group insurance, contract review and analysis, labor and union relations and fleet management.

I can still remember the cash-flow model I set up for the Arkwright Mutual Insurance policy, which was a deposit premium model. It was my first experience with an alphabet-house broker, which saved the company a considerable amount of money and brought credibility to my work within the company.

At that point, I was not completely convinced to slide over to risk management, so I accepted an accounting position overseas with a multinational company for two years. As it turned out, I was heavily involved in the insurance programs there, due to my past experience.

I came back to the U.S. and accepted a position comprised of 60 percent risk management and 40 percent financial and accounting management responsibilities.

The more I worked in risk management, the more I enjoyed it. I use my financial skills every day, along with interacting with people—not only inside the company but externally as well. So for the last 25-plus years, I have enjoyed working in the industry and giving back to the RM community by active participation with the Risk and Insurance Management Society.

Michael Liebowitz
Director of Insurance and Risk Management
New York University, New York

I came through the claims side as an outside claims adjuster right out of college. After spending several years on the road, going in and out of dark tenements and seeing some horrible scenes, I decided it was time to come inside and sit at a desk. I became a claims examiner for a now-defunct major carrier, where I learned a lot about how companies assess risk and their approach to risk.

But sitting at a high-volume claims desk can be extremely stressful. I decided my skills were best used working directly for a company, and I wanted to manage their risk. I became an insurance specialist in a risk-management department at a large health care entity in New York City in the mid-'80s.

I gained a lot of experience handling general-liability claims and professional-liability claims. I started to do some underwriting and managed a self-insured workers’ comp program. So now I was looking at it from the other side, able to exact changes within an organization that would have a positive impact [there].

After that I took a second position at another health care entity that never had risk management. I was director of risk management there and spent 18 years building a full risk-management program. It isn’t until you get to that level in an organization that really appreciates the management of risk, that you get some appreciation back. There, I was able to look at risk from all different aspects.

I’m still a director of risk management for a major institution of higher education—with both domestic and international exposure—which has an understanding of risk and risk tolerance. Now all of that experience has helped me to advance my current employer on a path of strategic risk management.

Sarah Perry
Risk Manager
City of Columbia, Mo.

I got into risk management by accident—or luck, depending how you look at it. More than 20 years ago, I worked in loss control for a major insurance broker. While most of my work was focused on claim-prevention programs, I frequently was asked to work with the underwriters and learned how the prevention has side effects on coverage availability and premiums.

Prevention programs were something carriers wanted defined, and loss history was also important. All of this was during the early days of “going self-insured” to combat premium increases and in an effort for organizations to have some control of their insurance future.

The first true “risk manager” job for which I was hired was at an Iowa hospital, where I had provided risk-control services. The finance person at this hospital, who had absorbed much of the insurance-purchasing responsibilities, had actually left for a job as a risk manager.

After numerous visits and many hours helping them, I met with the administrative staff and told them they really needed to hire a risk manager. They asked if the person should be an attorney, a nurse, an accountant, a property-maintenance expert, a claim adjuster, or an insurance broker. I suggested that if they could find someone with all those skills, they would be very lucky, but wouldn't be able to afford the person. They offered me the job.

After the hospital, I worked again for an insurance broker, then for a workers' comp insurance trust, an insurance company and then the City of Columbia.

The reason I stay in risk management is because I can make a difference. While my early years as a loss consultant were interesting, the successes and even the failures belonged to the companies with whom I worked. Being a risk manager allows me to find what works for my employer. Add to that a promise that nothing is ever boring and the necessity to creatively handle whatever challenge presents itself, and it’s hard to imagine anything more exciting and fulfilling.

Sarah E. Pacini
ice President of Risk Management and Insurance
Advocate Health Care, Oak Brook, Ill.

My background is not what you would traditionally expect to find in a risk-management professional; however, I have found that my unique background affords me a different perspective and serves me well as a health-care risk manager.

I began my career as a trauma nurse in the emergency department of a Chicago hospital. While working in this capacity, I recognized the impact that an organization’s culture has on patient care, health outcomes and operating margin.

In order to effectuate a greater influence on that culture, I decided to go to law school. After graduating, it seemed only natural to practice in a courtroom, and I wanted to be on the front lines of litigation, so I accepted an assistant state’s attorney position in the criminal division of McHenry County.

When the opportunity arose to meld my clinical experience with my legal experience, I did not hesitate to accept a position at Advocate Health Care.

During my tenure at Advocate I have grown in my role as well as my risk-management experience. I have found the risk-management community very supportive of mentoring new talent—and that is one of the many reasons I am committed to remaining a risk manager.

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