Risk Insider: Jim Cunningham

Failing Forward

By: | May 18, 2015 • 2 min read
A vice president of enterprise risk management for Pinnacle Entertainment, Jim Cunningham has more than 18 years of hospitality risk and insurance management experience, including work with Harrah’s Entertainment, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, and Interstate Hotels and Resorts.

I recently attended a conference of insurance professionals and the conversation centered around “Big Data.” It was a captivating presentation that only a risk and insurance professional could love. It certainly got my attention and it got me thinking about how I collect and use data to identify exposures in my work.

Risk management sets itself up to be the poster child for big data. As risk professionals we’ve been using big data for decades.

Through modeling, trending, forecasting, and claims management we have been on the forefront of what just now seems to be getting everyone else’s attention. And with the cost of technology so cheap, the ability to collect all types of data is mind boggling.

But this lends itself to the question, “Just because I can measure and model it….do I need to?”

Let me explain.

It was during this conference that a data specialist discussed the use of big data and how his company had applied it to a model to validate the impacts of water run-off and flooding. After collecting their data and running it through a model they were able to say definitively that water tends to pool at the lowest elevations.

Further, if a building is constructed in these low zones it is more likely than not that they will be adversely affected by floods versus building on higher ground.

Really? You needed to model that theory?

Now to be fair their work wasn’t finished. They are still working on positive impacts of a variety of options for engineering controls. Clearly, that will be useful when it comes time to design, budget, and build in these areas.

Through modeling, trending, forecasting, and claims management we have been on the forefront of what just now seems to be getting everyone else’s attention.

We are all working hard each day to identify and control risks to our company. And big data has a place, a very important place, in our work.

But as I listened to this presentation I wondered if maybe we are becoming too dependent on technology, models and big data and losing a skill that is just as important.

I call it battle scars but you know it as real experience. It has been said that we don’t learn from success; we learn from failure.

Now that doesn’t mean we have to experience a total loss in a flood zone to learn it’s not a good idea…especially if high ground is just down the block. But the lessons learned from battle scars can be invaluable.

That’s why I think, in addition to the collection and use of big data, it is just as important to set up environments where it is safe to experiment. Try new things. And know that you will fail. But failing is learning. It’s a good thing.

Just try to fail fast, fail cheap, and fail forward.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

Janet Sheiner, VP of risk management and real estate at AMN Healthcare Services Inc., sees innovation as an answer to fast-evolving and emerging risks.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

As a kid, bagging groceries. My first job out of school, part-time temp secretary.

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

Risk management picks you; you don’t necessarily pick it. I came into it from a regulatory compliance angle. There’s a natural evolution because a lot of your compliance activities also have the effect of managing your risk.

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


There’s much benefit to grounding strategic planning in an ERM framework. That’s a great innovation in the industry, to have more emphasis on ERM. I also think that risk management thought leaders are casting themselves more as enablers of business, not deterrents, a move in the right direction.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

Justified or not, risk management functions are often viewed as the “Department of No.” We’ve worked hard to cultivate a reputation as the “Department of Maybe,” so partners across the organization see us as business enablers. That reputation has meant entertaining some pretty crazy ideas, but our willingness to try and find a way to “yes” tempered with good risk management has made all the difference.

Janet Sheiner, VP, Risk Management & Real Estate, AMN Healthcare Services Inc.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

San Diego, of course!  America’s Finest City has the infrastructure, Convention Center, hotels, airport and public transportation — plus you can’t beat our great weather! The restaurant scene is great, not to mention those beautiful coastal views.

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

The emergence of risk management as a distinct profession, with four-year degree programs and specific academic curriculum. Now I have people on my team who say their goal is to be a risk manager. I said before that risk management picks you, but we’re getting to a point where people pick it.

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


The commercial insurance market’s ability to innovate to meet customer demand. Businesses need to innovate to stay relevant, and the commercial market needs to innovate with us.  Carriers have to be willing to take on more risk and potentially take a loss to meet the unique and evolving risks companies are facing.

R&I: Of which insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion?

Beazley. They have been an outstanding partner to AMN. They are responsive, flexible and reasonable.  They have evolved with us. They have an appreciation for risk management practices we’ve organically woven into our business, and by extension, this makes them more comfortable with taking on new risks with us.

R&I: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the U.S. health care industry and why?

I am very optimistic about the health care industry. We have an aging population with burgeoning health care needs, coupled with a decreasing supply of health care providers — that means we have to get smarter about how we manage health care. There’s a lot of opportunity for thought leaders to fill that gap.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Professionally, AMN Healthcare General Counsel, Denise Jackson, has enabled me to do the best work I’ve ever done, and better than I thought I could do.  Personally, my husband Andrew, a second-grade teacher, who has a way of putting things into a human perspective.

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

In my early 20s, I set a goal for the “corner office.” I achieved that when I became vice president.  I received a ‘Values in Practice’ award for trust at AMN. The nomination came from team members I work with every day, and I was incredibly humbled and honored.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

The noir genre, so anything by Raymond Chandler in books. For movies,  “Double Indemnity,” the 1944 Billy Wilder classic, with insurance at the heart of it!

R&I: What is your favorite drink?


Clean water. Check out Water.org for how to help people enjoy clean, safe water.

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

Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant in Beijing.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

China. See favorite restaurant above. This restaurant had been open for 100 years in that location. It didn’t exactly have an “A” rating, and it was probably not a place most risk managers would go to.

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

Eating that duck at Liqun!

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

Dr. Seuss who, in response to a 1954 report in Life magazine, worked to reduce illiteracy among school children by making children’s books more interesting. His work continues to educate and entertain children worldwide.

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

They’re not really sure!

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