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2014 Risk All Stars

Universal Risk Management

The 2014 Risk All Stars overcame challenges through exceptional problem-solving, creativity, perseverance and passion.
By: | September 15, 2014 • 2 min read

Risk management theory and practice fascinates — and can also appear so complex — because it resides in so many different professional realms and takes such different shapes.

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Some of this year’s Risk All Stars work for widely known companies with billions in assets. Others work for a nonprofit that cobbled its solutions together with government grants.

In some examples, winners of the award were armies of one, who either through specialization or a unique perspective effected sweeping change. But creativity, passion and perseverance, the traits that we base this award on, are found in every winner.

In the person of Dr. Mike Tomecek, of the Oklahoma Spine & Brain Institute, Risk & Insurance® gives an award for the first time to a neurosurgeon; perhaps it won’t be the last.

Dr. Tomecek uses electrodiagnostic functional assessments to determine whether medical hardware removal surgery is really necessary. His specific knowledge of nerve function, coupled with technology, allows him to determine whether the movements that are actually causing pain or immobility are connected to medical hardware or are coming from some other place.

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With his assessments, Dr. Tomecek acts as a patient advocate who is reducing surgeries and recommending site-specific physical therapy, a far less costly and intrusive treatment.

Risk All Stars winners Chris Chathams and Latitia Estrada are working-class heroes. These safety and human resources specialists work for the Timber Products Manufacturers Association.

The association is a trade group for smaller operators in the extremely hazardous timber industry in the Pacific Northwest. Using massive, unforgiving chain saws to bring down big trees, workers in the timber industry get hurt badly when something goes wrong.

The forestry companies that depend on the association as a safety education resource don’t have the resources to offer safety training on their own, even though such training is drastically needed.

Using grants from OSHA, Chathams and Estrada created a safety training program that in a three-year span reduced injuries for some member companies by 75 percent. That’s a lot of workers and their families suffering less trauma.

Richard Pcihoda, the director of risk management for the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, moved with speed and effectiveness when Superstorm Sandy struck. One of PREIT’s shopping malls suffered millions in damage when the storm hit.

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But Pcihoda had planned ahead, lining up a reconstruction contractor so he didn’t have to wait in line for help after the fact. Pcihoda’s planning, and his great relationships with his adjusters, resulted in the Hudson Mall reopening a mere 17 days after the storm.

Business interruption was lessened and many jobs saved as a result.

Risk management can be a thankless job. It demands hard work and attention to detail that some people would rather not think about.

But we think about it. The 2014 Risk All Stars awards are our way of saying thanks.

Complete coverage of the 2014 Risk All Stars winners begins here.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

The risk manager for Boyd Gaming Corp. says curiosity keeps him engaged, and continual education will be the key to managing emerging risks.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

I was trained as an accountant, worked in public accounting and became a CPA. Being comfortable with numbers is helpful in my current role, and obviously, the language of business is financial statements, so it helps.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Working in finance in the corporate environment included the review of budgets and the analysis of business expenses. I quickly found the area of benefits and insurance — and how “accepting risk” impacted those expenses — to be fascinating. I asked a lot of questions. Be careful what you ask for — I soon found myself responsible for those insurance areas and haven’t looked back!

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I have found the risk management community to be a close-knit group, whether that’s industry professionals, risk managers with other companies or support organizations like RIMS and other regional groups. The expertise of the carriers and specialty vendors to develop new products and programs, along with the appropriate education, will continue to be of key importance to companies going forward.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

As I’m sure many in the insurance field would agree, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 changed our world and our industry. It was a particularly intense time and certainly a baptism by fire for people like me who were relatively new to the industry. This event clearly accelerated the switch to the acceptance of more risk, which impacted mitigation strategies and programs.

Bob Berglund, vice president, benefits and insurance, Boyd Gaming Corp.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

The fast-paced threat that cyber security represents today. Our company, like so many companies, is reliant upon computers, software and IT expertise in our everyday existence. This new risk has forged an even stronger relationship between risk management and our IT department as we work together to address this growing threat.

Additionally, the shooting event in Las Vegas in 2017 will have an enduring impact on firms that host large gatherings and arena-style events all over the world, and our company is no exception.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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With the various types of insurance programs we employ, I have been fortunate to work with most of the large national and international carriers — all of whom employ talented people with a vast array of resources.

R&I:  How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

We use brokers for many of our professional coverages, such as property, casualty, D&O and cyber. We are self-insured under our health plans, with close to 25,000 members. We tend to manage those programs internally and utilize direct relationships with carriers and specialty vendors to tailor a plan that works best for team members.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I have been fortunate to have worked alongside some smart and insightful people during my career. A key piece of advice, said in many different ways, has served me well. Simply stated: “Seek to understand before being understood.”

What this has meant to me is try everything you can to learn about something, new or old. After you have gained this knowledge, you can begin to access and maybe suggest changes or adjustments. Being curious has always been a personal enjoyment for me in business, and I have found people are more than willing to lend a hand, offer information and advice — you just need to ask. Building those alliances and foundations of knowledge on a subject matter makes tackling the future more exciting and fruitful.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Our benefit health plan is much more than handing out an insurance card at the beginning of the year. We encourage our team members and their families to learn about their personal health, get engaged in a variety of health and wellness programs and try to live life in the healthiest possible way. The result of that is literally hundreds of testimonials from our members every year on how they have lost weight, changed their lifestyle and gotten off medications. It is extremely rewarding and is a testament to [our] close-knit corporate culture.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

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Some will remember the volcano eruption in Iceland in spring of 2010. I was just finishing a week of meetings in London with Lloyd’s syndicates related to our property insurance placement when the airspace in England and most of northern Europe was shut down — no airplanes in or out! Flights were ultimately canceled for the following five days. Therefore, with a few other stranded visitors like myself, we experimented and tried out new restaurants every day until we could leave. It was a very interesting time!

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

I am originally from Canada, and I played ice hockey from the time I was four years old up until quite recently. Too many surgeries sadly forced my recent retirement.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

That’s a funny one … I am a CPA working in the casino industry, doing insurance and risk management, so neighbors and acquaintances think I either do tax returns or they think I’m a blackjack dealer at the casino!




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]