Risk Manager Focus

Meshing Distinct Viewpoints

Procurement and risk management must partner together to help their organization grow, but in some companies, they rarely even talk.
By: | June 1, 2015 • 12 min read

Marilyn Rivers, director of risk and safety, City of Saratoga Springs

Several years ago, Whirlpool decided it could save 75 cents per unit if it outsourced the production of dishwasher water seals to a Chinese supplier. The annual savings were projected at more than $2 million.

But soon after the arrangement was made, the Chinese manufacturer changed to a different rubber supplier, causing a failure rate of nearly 10 percent, according to “Managing Risk in the Global Supply Chain,” a study by the Supply Chain Management faculty at the University of Tennessee.

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By the time Whirlpool discovered the problem, more than 2 million dishwashers had been produced with the leaky seals and about two months’ worth of supply was in transit. The oversight cost the company millions — destroying the realization of projected savings for more than three years.

The study listed the example as one of the multitude of risks that can occur in supply chain management. And it’s an example of how risk management could have helped avoid the problem altogether.

In the most effective companies, risk management and procurement work together to ensure both the cost and quality of supplies and vendors, as well as proper risk transfer.

When those functions do not align, the organization suffers. That suffering may take the form of safety violations, product recalls and reputational loss, among other exposures.

But it’s not possible for procurement and risk management — organizational functions with two distinct viewpoints — to always agree. In some organizations, they rarely even communicate. It is possible, however, to build a relationship that allows the organization to prosper without undue risk.

Underlying the relationship should be a common mission of focusing on the organization’s goals as a whole, experts said.

Brian Merkley, global director of corporate risk management, Huntsman Corp.

Brian Merkley, global director of corporate risk management, Huntsman Corp.

“Risk management and procurement are partners in helping to grow the business and at the same time, growing the balance sheet,” said Brian Merkley, global director of corporate risk management at Huntsman Corp., a Salt Lake City-based global chemical manufacturer.

When he first joined Huntsman about 10 years ago, he worked with procurement and legal to develop a contractual risk transfer strategy document, which was “my first introduction to the procurement team and the processes they used. I found a good working relationship with them and it continues today.

“Cultivating a strong relationship with procurement is critical,” he said, noting that there is a constant challenge to make smart risk/reward decisions — balancing price against the potential exposure.

“Risk management and procurement are partners in helping to grow the business and at the same time, growing the balance sheet.” — Brian Merkley, global director of corporate risk management, Huntsman Corp.

Over the years, his department has provided important guidance to refine standards and strategies for procurement that include performance expectations of contractors, indemnity language, and insurance requirements, among others. It also has helped to develop a process to qualify various contractors that meet risk management and procurement’s standards so operations can run smoothly.

Contracts and insurance provisions can’t be reviewed in a vacuum, Merkley said, but have to include scope of work, indemnity, and relationships or prior experience with the parties. “We are going to insist on certain levels of protection based on the type of work,” he said.

Stumbling Blocks

In many organizations, risk managers are not in a position to influence procurement or supply chain decisions. They either don’t have the buy-in of the senior leaders of the organization, don’t have effective channels to collaborate on such decisions, or they don’t have sufficient understanding of the organization’s strategies and goals to provide effective input into procurement activities.

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Gary Lynch, CEO and founder, The Risk Project, and a former global practice leader for Marsh, said that over the years he has been “shocked at how little the risk management community knew about the operations of their business. They knew how they made money, but they didn’t know who contributed to bringing value to the market.

“The majority of risk managers that I have worked with don’t have the opportunity, don’t have the capability and don’t have the value to really support [procurement or supply chain decisions]. Those are the three stumbling blocks,” he said.

The same can also be said for many supply chain professionals. According to the University of Tennessee study, most of them have little expertise in insurance products. Nor do they understand many of the potential claims issues — or the insurance programs that are available to protect them.

In the study, insurance ranked dead last in a list of 10 risk mitigation strategies to protect supply chains — ranking 4.5 out of 10. The top strategy was “strong suppliers,” ranking 7.5 out of 10.

“I think there is a lot of disconnect with folks between procuring and supply chain, and the risk management function,” said Mark Robinson, vice president of global operations at UPS Capital, which offers supply chain finance and insurance services. “In my mind, they don’t talk very much.”

There are some risk managers, however, who are able to add value to the procurement process. The words that keep coming up in conversations with them are “relationship” and “partnership.” Risk management and procurement work best together, they said, when both functions keep the organization’s strategic goals top of mind.

Robinson said the visibility of catastrophic events, targeted thefts and the larger size of container ships has heightened awareness of cargo, trade disruption and cyber risk insurance. From 2011 to 2013, the global cargo insurance market increased from $17.2 billion to $18.2 billion, about a 6 percent increase. And the U.S. market is increasing faster than the global market, he said.

The City of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., operates under regimented bidding processes. But even as the city is required to take the lowest bidder, it must ensure that it hires the lowest “responsible” bidder.

“Sometimes, folks give outlandishly low-priced bids,” said Marilyn Rivers, Saratoga’s director of risk and safety. “We structure it so that when we send out a request for quotes or a request for proposal, we place in the language that anyone chosen has to meet all of the requirements and has to be qualified.”

That means vendors or suppliers have to submit a certificate of insurance, execute the city’s “risk and safety agreement” and a “vendor code of conduct” as well as have sufficient prior experience and the ability to complete a project within the set time frame, among other requirements.

“We are always cognizant of the cost, but we must ask, ‘What is the benefit to the public versus the cost, because tax dollars are being used for those projects,’ ” she said.

Plus, Rivers said, the city must “look at the totality of how it impacts the community. … We can’t just slice up a roadway.”

Building Bridges

At Sodexo Inc., which has 8,000 food suppliers and 25,000 non-food suppliers, Peter Rosiere, vice president, risk management, created a new position — supply risk analyst — to more fully bring the risk perspective to the supply chain team.

Peter Rosiere, vice president, risk management, Sodexo Inc.

Peter Rosiere, vice president, risk management, Sodexo Inc.

“One primary reason we created the new position was to develop that communication, linkage and a balance point between the two groups,” he said. “The groups tend to spin in different orbits. What we are trying to do is build a bridge. We have a good bridge. We want to make it even better.”

Evelyn Joe, who holds that new position, said her primary goals are communication, education and collaboration, trying to find the “best working relationship that meets the needs of the company and each team.”

It’s necessary, she said, to understand the other group’s needs and goals while sharing with them the needs of risk management “so we are not talking apples and oranges, so we understand the foundation. … We have worked extremely hard to become part of the supply management process.”

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Sometimes, she said, procurement will seek approval of a supplier that does not comply with the department’s insurance requirements or standards. In such cases, procurement and risk management work together, along with legal, to research the organization and find a solution.

“That’s when I’ve been pleasantly surprised because of the constant relationship-building and education with supply management that they completely understand,” Joe said. “The supply manager understood why we couldn’t change our risk management requirements. It’s our job to help our client understand why we have the high standards we do, for both brand and customer protection.”

Opening the channels of communication is, obviously, the first step to creating or enhancing that relationship.

For Dwayne Eastwood, risk manager, McCoy’s Building Supply, it can mean walking around the office with a cup of coffee and asking, “What’s up? What’s the latest? Are you thinking about safety and risk management and contractual arrangements?

“It’s just getting in front of people for a couple of minutes and talking it up. You have to be involved early on. It’s critical.”

But it’s not just asking, he said. It’s also about following up on what is heard by “pointing out and illustrating what the risks are. …Credibility is paramount.”

Credibility matters because the ultimate decision is not within risk management’s control, he said.

“When you step into their world and you point out and illustrate what the risks are, they make the decision for the company that this risk is or is not acceptable. It’s everybody else who makes those decisions,” Eastwood said.

When he explains why a proposed plan “is not really a good idea, most of the time, they will go along with us. They don’t necessarily want to go against the grain. They take our advice most seriously,” he said. “That’s good, and I think credibility is where you get that from, and a proven track record.

“In the beginning, there were a lot of ‘a ha’ moments. It was really up to me and others to educate them that we needed to be involved on the front end. They didn’t ignore it; they just didn’t consider it. When they realized the risks and possible loss of life or big dollar amount lawsuits and what that could look like it was, ‘oh OK.’ ”

Using claims data in such conversations “speaks volumes,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of using loss history to evaluate the risk, frequency and severity, both.”

Eastwood’s colleague, Kevin Shute, director of merchandising-hardlines and merchandising operations, said that the partnership between his function and risk management has over the years “moved from a reactive to a proactive situation. … We like to think that the key to our interconnectedness or connectivity is we know each other personally.”

Shute said that when his team finds a new product from one of its 1,400 vendors, such as virgin sulfuric acid, which is “powerful, powerful stuff,” his team will work with risk management to review all of the processes, packaging, paperwork and safety training and product handling issues.

In another situation, when McCoy’s recently launched a propane tank exchange, the two teams “worked from cradle to implementation” through the contracts, insurance, permitting, vendor and store compliance, employee training, and all other aspects to eliminate any potential liability issues, Shute said.

“We typically don’t look at [risk mitigation efforts] as a problem,” he said. “We look at it as that’s what we have to do to protect our assets.”

Envisioning Risks

It can sometimes be difficult to clearly understand what protection is needed when a catastrophic exposure hasn’t yet occurred, said UPS Capital’s Robinson.

For example, he said, he knows one pharmaceutical company that used to ship $20 million worth of inventory from its location in one truck to an airport 30 miles away every day. From there, it would be divvied up to be transported by plane to various locations.

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While the company had claims after the inventory had been brought to the airport and transported, it never had a catastrophic loss related to the 30-mile truck journey. “Can you envision the scenarios? An accident? Being hijacked? Some problem where you lose the whole load?” he asked.

The company had $1 million in coverage for that $20 million load, he said, noting that a conversation ensued with the company about the plausibility of such a loss and how it could protect itself.

A good time for risk managers to begin expanding their partnership with procurement is when contracts are annually reviewed and renewed.

Requiring suppliers or service providers to carry insurance may not adequately protect a company from substantial losses, Robinson said. A major incident could push a supplier into bankruptcy, or a policy’s terms and conditions may not be conducive to compensating the company for its loss -— at least not without a lengthy court battle.

“The groups tend to spin in different orbits. What we are trying to do is build a bridge. We have a good bridge. We want to make it even better.” — Peter Rosiere, vice president, risk management, Sodexo Inc.

It’s not just whether insurance coverage will adequately protect the company. Much of the work risk management must do deals with business continuity planning. Is there resilience in the supply chain for all tiers of suppliers, inventory, labor and transportation? Is there a worrisome geographic concentration? Is there the potential for natural disaster or political upheaval? Is there an acceptable tradeoff between risk and reward?

“The reality,” Sodexo’s Rosiere said, “is that an organization cannot operate without supplies, be it for raw materials or services. But a company cannot operate without good risk transfer. This is not the case with Sodexo, as strict supplier insurance/risk transfer requirements are in place. There has to be an understanding of where the functions rest within the priorities of the organization.

“Sodexo’s awareness of the risk and the partnership with our supply management teams is a key aspect of our growth and culture.”

A lot of it comes down to how decisions affect the company’s margins, said The Risk Project’s Lynch.

When risk managers seek to manage compliance issues or ensure additional capabilities, they are introducing cost into the equation, he said.

“It’s clear to me that these folks have to navigate risk, and not manage it. … You have to manage to the margins,” he said. “Risk management has to be done within the context of the operation’s margin.”

“It’s looking at the totality of the risk,” Saratoga Springs’ Rivers said. “It’s looking at the total risk the project entails and how that project impacts the community, the business or employees, and what an entity, whether public or private, needs to do so it can mitigate risk so it can be successful and the entity doesn’t lose money on it. … The procurement standard should be dovetailed to the project.

“The goal of all risk management is empowering people. It’s a partnership that allows that empowerment but gives the opportunity to know when to ask more questions. … It’s achieving goals cost-effectively but not endangering the health and welfare of employees or the community in the process.”

Regular education and training are crucial, Huntsman’s Merkley said.

“We are all trying to grow the business in an appropriate way and safeguard the balance sheet from making bad bets, and it’s crucial we partner together in doing that.

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“The best starting place is to develop personal relationships with the procurement management team, and secondly, you have got to do a lot of work to prove yourself as a reliable subject matter expert. When they come to risk management and look for guidance around insurance language, you have got to back it up.”

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]