2017 NWCDC

People First

For Nordstrom, putting employees first isn’t a tactic, it’s a mission statement.
By: | December 7, 2017 • 2 min read

There is one key golden rule in the Nordstrom employee handbook: “Use good judgment in all situations.”

It sounds a little old-school, but that makes sense coming from a 116-year-old retailer.

From a workers’ comp standpoint, the other key rule is to treat the company’s 72,000-plus employees with the same level of care as customers, said Janine Kral, the company’s vice president of risk management. Kral delivered the keynote address at the 26th annual National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo on Dec. 6 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Janine Kral, vice president, risk management, Nordstrom

“It’s as simple as keeping the employee at the front-and-center of everything we do,” said Kral, who leads a 75-person risk management team that includes 29 people dedicated to the company’s self-insured, self-administered workers’ compensation program.

That employee focus has always been a core value for the Nordstrom family and for the risk management team, said Kral. The company’s decision to self-insure three decades ago was actually driven by the dissatisfaction of injured workers.

Clearly Nordstrom was a proponent of employee advocacy long before that term joined the lexicon of industry terminology.

Claims examiners are trained to use a customer service approach to claims and to be active listeners. Nordstrom doesn’t encumber them with excessive rules, instead empowering them to rely on their good judgment

“The more rules you have, the further away you are from the customer,” said Kral.

Active listening also helps claims examiners identify high-exposure claims and determine which cases might benefit from nurse case management. Kral said the company’s claims examiners do an excellent job of looking not only at the initial facts of a claim, but also think ahead to what could impact outcomes down the road.

Nordstrom selects service partners carefully to ensure that everyone shares the same values and level of care for employees.

“If one person is negative, it can all go south,” said Kral.

Being employee-focused doesn’t mean that the company never denies claims, said Kral. But when they do, they have solid footing to explain why. And in some cases, the company has taken steps to help employees outside the scope of workers’ comp even when a claim wasn’t compensable.

“The more rules you have, the further away you are from the customer.” — Janine Kral, vice president, risk management, Nordstrom

In one case, said Kral, a 22-year-old employee was paralyzed from the neck down. The claim was ultimately determined to be non-work-related. But the company took the step of getting a special van to give him more mobility.

“As an industry, we need to get back to [focusing on] the worker in workers’ compensation,” said Kral.

Nordstrom’s longtime focus on a employee-centered program provides ample proof that the approach makes good business sense.

By the numbers:

  • Total cost of risk as a percentage of sales has decreased by 11 percent over the past five years.
  • Actuarial claim projections have also decreased by 15 percent over the past five years.
  • 107 percent closure ration in 2016.
  • Less than 500 indemnity claims in 2016 (out of 75,000 employees)
  • 48 percent decrease in narcotic prescriptions over the past two years. &
Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

Pinnacle Entertainment’s VP of enterprise risk management says he’s inspired by Disney’s approach to risk management.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Bus boy at a fine dining restaurant.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

I sent a résumé to Harrah’s Entertainment on a whim. It took over 30 hours of interviewing to get that job, but it was well worth it.

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


The Chinese citizen (never positively identified) who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. That kind of courage is undeniable, and that image is unforgettable. I hope we can all be that passionate about something at least once in our lives.

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

Cyber risk, but more narrowly, cyber-extortion. I think state sponsored bad actors are getting more and more sophisticated, and the risk is that they find a way to control entire systems.

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

Training and breaking horses. When I was in high school, I worked on a lot of farms. I did everything from building fences to putting up hay. It was during this time that I found I had a knack for horses. They would tolerate me getting real close, so it was natural I started working more and more with them.

Eventually, I was putting a saddle on a few and before I knew it I was in that saddle riding a horse that had never been ridden before.

I admit I had some nervous moments, but I was never thrown off. It taught me that developing genuine trust early is very important and is needed by all involved. Nothing of any real value happens without it.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?


Setting very aggressive goals and then meeting and exceeding those goals with a team. Sharing team victories is the ultimate reward.

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

Disney World. The sheer size of the place is awe inspiring. And everything works like a finely tuned clock.

There is a reason that hospitality companies send their people there to be trained on guest service. Disney World does it better than anyone else.

As a hospitality executive, I always learn something new whenever I am there.

James Cunningham, vice president, enterprise risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc.

The risks that Disney World faces are very similar to mine — on a much larger scale. They are complex and across the board. From liability for the millions of people they host as their guests each year, to the physical location of the park, to their vendor partnerships; their approach to risk management has been and continues to be innovative and a model that I learn from and I think there are lessons there for everybody.

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

We are doing a much better job of getting involved in a meaningful way in our daily operations and demonstrating genuine value to our organizations.

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

Educating and promoting the career with young people.

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

Being able to tell the Pinnacle story. It’s a great one and it wasn’t being told. I believe that the insurance markets now understand who we are and what we stand for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?


John Matthews, who is now retired, formerly with Aon and Caesar’s Palace. John is an exceptional leader who demonstrated the value of putting a top-shelf team together and then letting them do their best work. I model my management style after him.

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

I read mostly biographies and autobiographies. I like to read how successful people became successful by overcoming their own obstacles. Jay Leno, Jack Welch, Bill Harrah, etc. I also enjoyed the book and movie “Money Ball.”

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Ice water when it’s hot, coffee when it’s cold, and an adult beverage when it’s called for.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

In my family, I’m the “Safety Geek.”

R&I:  What’s your favorite restaurant?

Vegas is a world-class restaurant town. No matter what you are hungry for, you can find it here. I have a few favorites that are my “go-to’s,” depending on the mood and who I am with.

If you’re in town, you should try to have at least one meal off the strip. For that, I would suggest you get reservations (you’ll need them) at Herbs and Rye. It’s a great little restaurant that is always lively. The food is tremendous, and the service is always on point. They make hand-crafted cocktails that are amazing.

My favorite Mexican restaurant is Lindo Michoacan. There are three in town, and I prefer the one in Henderson as it has the best view of the valley. For seafood, you can never go wrong with Joe’s in Caesar’s Palace.

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