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Risk Manager Profile

Insuring the Towers

Shari Natovitz lost hundreds of former colleagues on 9/11. Now she manages risk for a vital piece of New York’s skyline.
By: | May 1, 2016 • 10 min read

Shari Natovitz, the director of risk management for Silverstein Properties, is a Jersey girl. She grew up in Fair Lawn, N.J., which is less than 20 miles from Lower Manhattan.

Children in her family were not coddled.

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B-plus on your English paper? Not good enough.

A-minus in Trigonometry? Meh.

“You had to bring home an A,” Natovitz remembers as she spoke with R&I on the 46th floor of 7 World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan on a windy March morning.

“My brother and I were in the same elementary school, about two and a half years apart. I remember sitting in front of this little black and white television, with our macaroni and cheese, and ‘Jeopardy’ would be on.”

The dynamics of the house were such that the two siblings would play along, competing against one another for allowance money. The home was devoid of gender bias.

“I grew up playing baseball, softball and football out in the street. My mom ran track and field, so I ran track and field,” Natovitz said.

These days, Natovitz manages a $100 million-plus insurance program for one of the highest profile projects in the nation, the resurrection of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.

In place of the seven buildings that were either destroyed or heavily damaged by terrorists in 2001, a new set of towers is rising.

Natovitz manages risk for four of them with one assistant; not to mention her responsibilities for additional Silverstein Properties holdings.

Is she intimidated by the scope and responsibility of her job? No, she is not.

Natovitz says she has the background and the passion to meet those challenges.

“Her demands are very high and she wants everyone else to be prepared.” —Tim Egan, senior vice president, property broking, Willis Towers Watson

Before joining Silverstein, Natovitz spent decades as a construction broker with Marsh, its predecessor Johnson & Higgins, and later with USI. It was at the conclusion of bidding on the broking work for part of the WTC rebuild — when Natovitz was the East Coast construction practice leader for USI — that Silverstein offered her the job of risk manager.

“I have an extremely strong brokerage background and believe in transparency and negotiations to secure a mutually acceptable outcome. Because I grew up in the Johnson & Higgins system, it was a much more consultative than transactional approach, which was really what was needed to organize this and set a solid foundation for the transition to risk manager,” she said.

The passion stems from the fact that Natovitz, like many insurance veterans, lost friends and colleagues in the inferno of 9/11.

“I was a Marsh/J&H person for 20 years and left the company in late 2000, and was a part of the construction group. The construction group was meeting at the North Tower that day,” she said.

Marsh & McLennan lost 295 people in the attack.

“For me, it became very personal and life-affirming.  It wasn’t a job, rather a mission, and a tremendous desire to be a part of and contribute to the rebuild,” she said.

The Program

Managing risk for the rebuild of the World Trade Center is, perhaps needless to say, complex and demanding. When Natovitz took the job in 2005, she had several obstacles to overcome. Perhaps the most forbidding barrier was that insurance carriers were reluctant to offer cover.

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“What did surprise me when I got here, stunned me, were the number of markets in 2005 that did not want to do business with our company; absolutely floored me,” she said.

A number of factors played into that reluctance.

Discord over who should rebuild the towers and how they should be designed generated headlines in many New York newspapers.

“They weren’t flattering headlines. They weren’t truthful. Not unusual in the world, but frustrating,” she said.

“What did surprise me when I got here, stunned me, were the number of markets in 2005 that did not want to do business with our company; absolutely floored me.” — Shari Natovitz, director of risk management, Silverstein Properties

There was also the fact that the WTC was twice a target for terrorists. First came the 1993 attempt to bring down both towers by exploding a truck bomb in a garage of the North Tower.  Then there was the 2001 attack via two hijacked commercial jetliners that did bring them down.

Thus, two terror attacks on one site’s loss run.

“Nobody else in the U.S. had that experience,” she said.

Natovitz said that going forward she and her brokerage team needed to showcase the re-engineering and security of the new structures — including life safety — that made this a different and more robust project.

The coverage of the Silverstein buildings lost or damaged in the 2001 attack was also in dispute at the time and wouldn’t be settled until 2007, with a number of carriers eventually agreeing to pay the company $4.55 billion.

Natovitz also began her task dealing with four different insurance brokerages. Within a year or two, banking on her own deep experience as a broker, she had seen enough to put the entire program in the hands of Willis, now Willis Towers Watson.

“Willis didn’t get anything they didn’t deserve,” she said.

Insuring the safety of those building the World Trade Center towers ranked high in the minds of the Silverstein Properties risk management team.

Insuring the safety of those building the World Trade Center towers ranked high in the minds of the Silverstein Properties risk management team.

Natovitz said she was impressed by the way Tim Egan — a WTW senior vice president, property broking — solved problems for her on a property placement for 7 World Trade Center.

“That made me feel like they were the broker who best understood the market challenges and lack of  market identity and could best lead us through that,” she said.

The insurance program for the operational buildings was fragmented.

The coverage for each property was being placed separately, under the name of each building, as opposed to one comprehensive program.

“There was no understanding of the collective premium that was being put in the marketplace. This not only affected the quality of coverage, but also the buying power,” she said.

She was also impressed with the assertion that $6 billion in needed builders’ risk capacity could be developed and had confidence in the plan put together by Neil Kent, a WTW builders’ risk placement leader.

A prior broker told Natovitz, a Maryland resident, that she didn’t understand the New York market (she had worked for her first 10 years in the New York market) and stated that the capacity needed to protect the project was unobtainable.

A year and a half into her new position, the redesign of the Freedom Tower and responsibility for it — which formerly fell into Natovitz’s risk management portfolio — transferred to the Port Authority.

Natovitz met with Silverstein Properties management to explain why they needed their “own dog in the hunt” for limited capacity. That preferred bloodhound was what we now know as Willis Towers Watson.

With her WTW team, Natovitz set about creating an owner-controlled insurance program, known as an OCIP, for the construction of 2 WTC, 3 WTC and 4 WTC and a builders’ risk and terrorism program that required $6 billion in capacity, which was a hard sell.

The solution to the builders’ risk capacity challenge was to break the risk into three $2 billion risks, and pull the terror and fire following risk out and put that in a captive.

“We knew that $6 billion of construction capacity was not available in the market. But we knew that there was $2 billion available in the market,” WTW’s Kent said.

The captive option for terrorism needed to be explained to management.

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“Among the real estate community there was a lot of differing opinions as to whether it was a viable risk transfer option,” Natovitz said, “but over the past 10 years, it has become an option that many have adopted to address capacity/aggregation issues.”

Be on Your Toes

Neil Kent and Tim Egan said Natovitz expects everyone that works with her to be very well-prepared.

“I think she reads everything and knows everybody,” said Kent.

“Her demands are very high and she wants everyone else to be prepared,” Egan said.

Tim Egan, senior vice president, property broking, Willis Towers Watson

Tim Egan, senior vice president, property broking, Willis Towers Watson

“This is a very important project to everybody, and I think everybody feels the same way. She’s done a lot of things to bring this project to the front and center,” he said.

“Certain risk managers, when you deal with them, you learn from them how they see this. I don’t think there is a better example of that than Shari in that respect,” Kent added.

Natovitz and her risk management partners at WTW are also very conscious of the importance of maintaining long-term relationships with carriers.

Throughout the recent coverage history of the WTC, from the terror attacks through the rebuild, transparency and buy-in from senior insurance carrier management occupied a place of utmost importance.

“The key to all of this was never operating in a vacuum with the marketplace,” said Ray Blackton, an executive vice president with Willis Towers Watson.

“When Shari first took the job, one of her big concerns was that her company was not really known by the markets or had a misconception of the markets. Our first plan was high-level meetings with the most senior people of the organizations before any submission ever went out on the Trade Centers,” Blackton said.

There are now more than 50 carriers/carrier profit centers, including the domestic and international markets, on the Silverstein Properties program overall.

“Everybody’s a key to the placement, but Lexington, Munich Re, Zurich, Swiss Re and Starr really provide a significant part of the capacity, along with XL Catlin and Chubb,” she said.

Through high-stakes insurance settlement litigation, political squabbling and the flooding from Superstorm Sandy, keeping an eye on the long-term and the value of respectful relationships remained of paramount concern.

“We have enjoyed a great working relationship with Shari over the years,” said George Stratts, president, property and special risks for AIG.

Neil Kent, builders’ risk placement leader, Willis Towers Watson

Neil Kent, builders’ risk placement leader, Willis Towers Watson

“And as with any good relationship or partnership, it’s honest, it’s open. And one of the things that I think we have appreciated from Shari is seeing both sides of an issue. How do you see multiple points of view so that we arrive at the best answer for all parties?” he said.

That came into play when there were World Trade Center construction delays. The delays meant that Silverstein was paying insurance premiums for two years when there was no exposure.

Natovitz went to her brokers and asked them to approach the markets to adjust the premium for the two years without any exposure and move the term forward to represent the new schedule.

“I knew this would be a difficult request, but wanted to work out a solution to continue coverage with the same carriers for the completion of the project without the financial burden of paying for an extra two years with no construction taking place.

“In addition, we were now only going to build two of the three towers,” she said.

“The carriers were very fair in their responses and almost one-third of the casualty program was returned, with the knowledge that the coverage would be placed with those same insurance partners down the line. We have continued the placement through 2019 with these partners,” Natovitz said.

New York’s Brilliant Place

No American citizen could look out from the 46th floor of  7 World Trade Center and not be moved.

The view is stunning. The human drama that unfolded over time in New York and that’s reflected in its skyline is profound.

Then there is our more recent history. Brutal attacks of terrorism, grief and a remarkable recovery.

“I can always say I worked on the World Trade Center project when it was being built and operational,” said WTW’s Tim Egan.

“I think it’s the most important thing I’ve done in my career,” he said.

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“When you get to the core of what we do as risk and insurance professionals, it’s making good and helping restore and being part of that restoration process,” said AIG’s Stratts.

“That rebuilding process has been a way to affirm what we do as a profession and also honor the suffering that took place,” he added.

“Everybody who is on this placement through not even two or three degrees of separation knows somebody whose name is on that memorial,” Natovitz said.

“This is part of reinvesting and honoring them in the future.” &

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Pharma Under Fire

Opioids Give Rise to Liability Epidemic

Opioids were supposed to help. Instead, their addictive power harmed many, and calls for accountability are broadening.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 8 min read

The opioid epidemic devastated families and flattened entire communities.

The Yale School of Medicine estimates that deaths are nearly doubling annually: “Between 2015 and 2016, drug overdose deaths went from 33,095 to 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States. That number is expected to continue unabated for the next   several years.”

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That’s roughly 160 deaths every day — and it’s a count that’s increasing daily.

In addition to deaths, the number of Americans struggling with an opioid disorder disease (the official name for opioid addiction) is staggering.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 2 million people in the United States suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and roughly one-third of those people will “graduate” to heroin addiction.

Conversely, 80 percent of heroin addicts became addicted to opioids after being prescribed opioids.

As if the human toll wasn’t devastating enough, NIDA estimates that addiction costs reach “$78.5 billion a year, including the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”

Shep Tapasak, managing principal, Integro Insurance Brokers

With numbers like that, families are not the only ones left picking up the pieces. Municipalities, states, and the federal government are strained with heavy demand for social services and crushing expenditures related to opioid addiction.

Despite the amount of money being spent, services are inadequate and too short in duration. Wait times are so long that some people literally die waiting.

Public sector leaders saw firsthand the range and potency of the epidemic, and were among the first to seek a legal reckoning with the manufacturers of  synthetic painkillers.

Seeking redress for their financial burden, some municipalities, states and the federal government filed lawsuits against big pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers. To date, there are more than 100 lawsuits on court dockets.

States such as Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Arkansas have been hit hard by the epidemic. In Arkansas alone, 72 counties, 15 cities, and the state filed suit, naming 65 defendants. In Pennsylvania, 16 counties, Philadelphia, and Commonwealth officials have filed lawsuits.

Forty one states also have banded together to subpoena information from some drug manufacturers.

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, recently told reporters that the banded effort seeks to “change corporate behavior, so that the industry can no longer do what I think it’s been doing, which is turning a blind eye to the effects of dumping these drugs in the communities.”

The volume of legal actions is growing, and some of the Federal cases have been bound together in what is called multidistrict litigation (MDL). These cases will be heard by a judge in Ohio. Plaintiffs hope for a settlement that will provide funding to be used to help thwart the opioid epidemic.

“From a societal perspective, this is obviously a big and impactful issue,”  said Jim George,  a managing director and global claims head with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. “A lot of people are suffering in connection with this, and it won’t go away anytime soon.

“Insurance, especially those in liability, will be addressing this for a long time. This has been building over five or six years, and we are just now seeing the beginning stages of liability suits.” 

Basis for Lawsuits

The lawsuits filed to date are based on allegations concerning: What pharma knew or didn’t know; what it should have known; failure to monitor size and frequency of opioid orders, misrepresentation in marketing about the addictive nature of opioids; and false financial disclosures.

Opioid manufacturers, distributors and large drugstore chains together represent a $13 billion-a-year industry, meaning the stakes are high, and the pockets deep. Many have compared these lawsuits to the tobacco suits of the ’90s.

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But even that comparison may pale. As difficult as it is to quit smoking, that process is less arduous than the excruciating and often impossible-to-overcome opioid addiction.

Francis Collins, a physician-geneticist who heads the National Institutes of Health, said in a recorded session with the Washington Post: “One really needs to understand the diabolical way that this particular set of compounds rewires the brain in order to appreciate how those who become addicted really are in a circumstance where they can no more [by their own free will] get rid of the addiction than they can get free of needing to eat or drink.”

“Pharma and its supply chain need to know that this is here now. It’s not emerging, it’s here, and it’s being tried. It is a present risk.” — Nancy Bewlay, global chief underwriting officer for casualty, XL Catlin

The addiction creates an absolutely compelling drive that will cause people to do things against any measure of good judgment, said Collins, but the need to do them is “overwhelming.”

Documented knowledge of that chemistry could be devastating to insureds.

“It’s about what big pharma knew — or should have known.  A key allegation is that opioids were aggressively marketed as the clear answer or miracle cure for pain,” said Shep Tapasak, managing principal, Integro Insurance Brokers.

These cases, Tapasak said, have the potential to be severe. “This type of litigation boils down to a “profits over people” strategy, which historically has resonated with juries.”

Broadening Liability

As suits progress, all sides will be waiting and watching to see what case law stems from them. In the meantime, insurance watchers are predicting that the scope of these suits will broaden to include other players in the supply chain including manufacturers, distribution services, retail pharmacies, hospitals, physician practices, clinics, clinical laboratories and marketing agencies.

Litigation is, to some extent, about who can pay. In these cases, there are several places along the distribution chain where plaintiffs will seek relief.

Nancy Bewlay, global chief underwriting officer for casualty, XL Catlin

Nancy Bewlay, XL Catlin’s global chief underwriting officer for casualty, said that insurers and their insureds need to pay close attention to this trend.

“Pharma and its supply chain need to know that this is here now. It’s not emerging, it’s here, and it’s being tried. It is a present risk,” she said.

“We, as insurers who identify emerging risks, have to communicate to clients. We like to be on the forefront and, if we can, positively influence the outcome for our clients in terms of getting ahead of their risks.”

In addition to all aspects of the distribution chain, plaintiffs could launch suits against directors and officers based on allegations that they are ultimately responsible for what the company knew or should have known, or that they misrepresented their products or signed off on misleading financial statements.

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Shareholders, too, could take aim at directors and officers for loss of profits or misleading statements related to litigation.

Civil litigation could pave the way, in some specific instances, for criminal charges. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who in 2015 became the first state attorney general to file suit against a prescription drug maker, has been quoted as saying that if evidence in civil suits points to criminal behavior, he won’t hesitate to file those charges as well.

Governing, a publication for municipalities and states, quoted Hood in late 2017 as saying, “If we get into those emails, and executives are in the chain knowing what they’ve unleashed on the American public, I’m going to kick it over to a criminal lawsuit. I’ve been to too many funerals.”

Insurers and insureds can act now to get ahead of this rising wave of liability.

It may be appropriate to conduct a review of policy underwriting and pricing. XL Catlin’s Bewlay said, “We are not writing as if everyone is a pharma manufacturer. Our perception of what is happening is that everyone is being held accountable as if they are the manufacturer.

“The reality is that when insurers look at the pharma industry and each part of the supply chain, including the pharma companies, those in the chain of distribution, transportation, sales, marketing and retail, there are different considerations and different liabilities for each. This could change the underwriting and affect pricing.”

Bewlay also suggests focusing on communications between claims teams and underwriters and keeping a strong line of communication open with insureds, too.

“We are here to partner with insureds, and we talk to them and advise them about this crisis. We encourage them to talk about it with their risk managers.”

Tapasak from Integro encourages insureds to educate themselves and be a part of the solution. “The laws are evolving,” he said. “Make absolutely certain you know your respective state laws. It’s not enough to know about the crisis, you must know the trends. Be part of the solution and get as much education as possible.

“Most states have ASHRM chapters that are helping their members to stay current on both passed and pending legislation. Health care facilities and providers want to do the right thing and get educated. And at the same time, there will likely be an uptick in frivolous claims, so it’s important to defend the claims that are defensible.”

Social Service Risk

In addition to supply chain concerns, insurers and insureds are concerned that even those whose mission it is to help could be at risk.

Hailed as a lifesaver, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the drug Naloxone, can be administered to someone who is overdosing on opioids.  Naloxone prevents overdose by blocking opioid receptor sites and reversing the effects of the overdose.

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Some industry experts are concerned that police and emergency responders could incur liability after administering Naloxone.

But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “From a legal standpoint, it would be extremely difficult to win a lawsuit against an officer who administers Naloxone in good faith and in the course of employment. … Such immunity applies to … other professional responders.”

Especially hard hit are foster care agencies, both by increased child placements and stretched budgets. More details in our related coverage.

While the number of suits is growing and their aim broadening, experts think that some good will come of the litigation. Settlements will fund services for the addicted and opioid risk awareness is higher than ever. &

Mercedes Ott is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]