Risk Management

The Profession

GM’s Global Director of Risk and Insurance Alan Gier went from assembling cars to structuring insurance programs.
By: | May 24, 2016 • 4 min read

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R&I: What was your first job?

I had a paper route when I was 12 and many odd jobs in my teens. My first automotive industry job was building rear axles for G vans at a local GM assembly plant during summers in college.

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

It took 20 years. While negotiating contracts with our JV business partners, I interacted frequently with our corporate risk management team and became intrigued by how to quantify and mitigate our exposures. Additionally, I managed a host of operational and strategic issues which required scenario planning and analysis around the risk of taking one course of action versus another. That piqued my interest in risk management as a science and financial discipline.

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

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It’s focusing on analytics that drive better decision-making around program structuring. Risk managers are also being viewed as problem solvers and business facilitators, helping to drive their company’s strategic plan and overall business objectives.

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

Developing the next generation of risk managers by reaching out to college students via social media or college recruitment events.

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

San Diego in any year. Great venue for the weather and access to the convention center and local eateries. Any place where you can walk to get around is better for meeting planning. Of course, there’s always Lyft!

One nephew thought I was a chef because I am forever cooking up something new after returning from a different part of the world.

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

Significant ups and downs in the insurance markets as a result of 9/11, Katrina, Rita, Wilma, and the “Great Recession.” Also underwriters becoming more focused on business and contingent business interruption exposures as they began to understand that their aggregate exposure could be much larger than expected.   Finally, the rise of the Chinese insurers as they expand their capacity, competitive pricing and influence.

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

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Optimistic. The Internet of Things, the disruptive technology that we seem to see every day presents a lot of opportunity. However, I am concerned about the relative wage stagnation and whether others who are coming up now will enjoy the opportunities that I had.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Art Raschbaum, a former executive director of risk management at GM and now CEO of Maiden Re. Art taught me the importance of maintaining strong relationships with the markets and delivering value to the C-suite. Also Ron Judd, of GM and later Ally and AMTrust, who is a model of integrity and leadership.

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

Maintaining relationships with my family and friends despite years of travel and the demands that working at a global company involve.

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

I read a lot so it is difficult to identify a favorite, but a few would include “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, and “Free to Choose” by Milton Friedman.

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

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Fortunately I’ve had the opportunity to eat in many great restaurants across the globe. I remember certain dishes like mushrooms in butter foam in Paris, venison saddle or lamb curry in London, abalone and sashimi in Tokyo, a great steak in New York, and of course cheese anywhere in Europe.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

That one is easy … a very dry martini followed by a chewy Cab or silky Pinot Noir with dinner.

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

Tuscany, Italy. Beautiful scenery, friendly people, great food, luscious wine and fantastic winding roads that are a blast to drive.

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

Backpacking and alpine skiing throughout the U.S. and Canadian Rockies.

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

The U.S. military and Homeland Security; they have kept us safe since 9/11 through tremendous sacrifice and vigilance.

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

The people I meet, traveling to new places, and balancing the mix of marketing and finance that every risk manager must master.

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

One nephew thought I was a chef because I am forever cooking up something new after returning from a different part of the world.  Another nephew is convinced I have a “government” job because I don’t say much and I go to exotic places … others just think I buy insurance.




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at 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?

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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?

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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?

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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]