Column: Risk Management

A Brand, Cracked but Intact

By: | December 1, 2013 • 3 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, is having issues. His situation raises an interesting point about appearances versus actions and how they affect reputation and job performance. Apart from Ford’s foibles, we know that public figures have a tough life. Politicians, celebrities, athletes and business leaders are examined, analyzed, hailed and demonized — sometimes all on the same day.  Every image, every statement, every gesture is under a microscope every day. Any sudden change in behavior could be interpreted positively or negatively. A disheveled appearance may give us less confidence in that person’s ability to run a government, let alone run their own life.


With the plethora of media websites, social media and 24-hour news channels, everyone in the public eye is under continuous scrutiny. It is a daunting tightrope to walk, for sure. Teetering and risking their personal reputations and brand daily. I am amazed so few implode under such pressure.

But perhaps all of the above is what led Ford to crack, if you’ll pardon the double entendre. In early November, he admitted to smoking crack cocaine. This comes after a long cat-and-mouse game with the press and police. Initially, he adamantly denied doing so, but in the end he was seen on video smoking crack cocaine. Throughout the whole media carnival, he’s been the butt of endless jokes on late-night talk shows around the world.

Ford’s missteps don’t end with crack-cocaine use. In three short years, he was fired as a public high school football coach because he brought disgrace to the school. He has been asked to leave public events for being excessively drunk. He was caught in his office at city hall with a bottle of alcohol, visibly intoxicated.  And now, he admits publicly that he has smoked crack cocaine.

Yet, as a city councilor, he defended the honor of his constituents. He railed against the fiscally irresponsible. He pounded his fist to get the attention of the media to bring the mismanagement of the city to light. He championed the over-taxed electorate. In those moments, he appeared to be a genuine defender of the taxpayer.

Through all of these more recent events, he maintains a steady approval rating as mayor. He has held that he has been true to his core values and takes his duties as mayor seriously.

Should we be concerned then? Perhaps we should ignore his missteps and trust that — at his core — he means well. Perhaps he struggled with addiction even before he became mayor. Perhaps he knows he is troubled. If so, I hope he gets the counseling and support he truly needs.

But the question stands, does tripping over yourself mean that you are not adhering to your core values? Is the only risk mitigation to walk-the-talk in a saint-like manner in order for people to trust your value system?


If we think of corporate brands, your brand should define what your organization stands for. Your brand understands what an organization is, not what the organization does. By being yourself, you are true to your core values.

But what if being yourself involves behaviors that are not perfect? What impact does this have on management of your image and to what end result?

There is a delta between Ford’s approval rating and what we would expect would happen to the approval ratings of a public figure caught smoking crack.

Perhaps there is something to note here in our study of reputational risk.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]