The Profession

Russell Johnson

Skanska USA Building’s VP of Insurance and Surety knows that sharing data helps combat risk of all kinds.
By: | September 14, 2016 • 4 min read

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R&I: What was your first job?

I was a financial analyst with Household Finance Corp. after graduating from college.

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

I was an accountant for a long time in the construction industry. Once I became a financial manager, that role started to take on some risk management responsibilities and sort of became a dual role. Then the opportunity came up to move to Skanska and do it full time, so that’s what I did.

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

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We’re taking a much more holistic view of risk instead of staying in silos, so it’s not just about insurance, it’s not just about financial risk, or any one thing. It’s about looking at the business holistically.

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

We could be doing a way better job of sharing data around both leading and lagging indicators of what’s driving risk decisions. We all have enough data to get an individual picture of how our businesses are doing, but we’re not sharing very well within the industry.

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

I’ve never been to RIMS. I’ve always gone to IRMI. I would say San Diego has been the best location for that conference because of the great weather, which makes for a nice place for people to relax and get together. IRMI is usually in early November, and that time of year, not every location is nice. But in San Diego it’s almost always a nice day, and that makes people want to go out and meet each other.

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

As a New York contractor, the biggest change has been the exposures in New York and emphasis on our industry there. It seems that now in construction there’s everywhere else, and then there’s New York; it’s become a separate entity.

Another change has been the sharing of risk between us and the insurance industry. When I came into the industry, we were leaving most of the risk with the insurer, and now we’re taking on much more of it ourselves and sharing it with carriers.

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

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Labor risk is huge. The subcontractor community is stretched very thin both in terms of labor and the number of projects that are out there. I know everyone wants to talk about cyber risk, but talent shortage is a more critical risk for our business right now. Everything else will fall apart if we don’t fix that problem first.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

We do everything through a broker.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

Yes. Even if a broker bundles up a bunch of policies, they still have to sell you what you need and the policy still has to do what it has to do. If bundling together a good policy over multiple clients gives them the ability to make a few extra dollars on it, I don’t have a problem with that. It just has to be transparent.  Transparency is what it comes down to.

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

I’m cautiously optimistic. I think better days are ahead if we don’t overthink or overregulate ourselves.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I couldn’t identify one person, but I do have a few folks that I rely on. I’m a strong believer that you need a variety of points of view.

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

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From a personal perspective, it’s raising four kids that so far — knock on wood — seem to be solid citizens.

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

I love science fiction and fantasy movies. I have not seen the new Star Trek yet, but that’s on my list.

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

There are way too many in New York to choose just one.

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

Prague, in the Czech Republic. I was there for business and extended the trip. I’ve been to quite a few cities in Europe, and there’s usually some area that’s historic, and in Prague that area is much larger. It’s full of shops and restaurants and interesting sights.

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

Helping my folks on a day-to-day basis get through whatever roadblocks they encounter. I like to use my own expertise to help them move their day along and solve whatever problem is bogging them down.

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

As hard as I try, it’s tough for them to understand. Saying that I buy insurance isn’t really descriptive of what I do because it happens only occasionally. My son is a civil engineer, so he understands parts of it. I’m really working hard with my three daughters to get them interested in the construction business, because there are so many things you can do.




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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]