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Risk Insider: Nir Kossovsky

Protecting the Enterprise When the CEO Stumbles

By: | February 12, 2018 • 3 min read
Nir Kossovsky is the Chief Executive Officer of Steel City Re. He has been developing solutions for measuring, managing, monetizing, and transferring risks to intangible assets since 1997. He is also a published author, and can be reached at [email protected]

There are a wide variety of factors that lead stakeholders – investors, employees, customers, lenders, suppliers, regulators – to become enamored with a company. While much of it may rely on a cold, hard analysis of the industry, economic trends and financial performance, for some companies, especially small cap, early stage or rapidly growing companies, the CEOs’ personality can become a major factor. Stakeholders believe in the CEOs’ vision, personal charisma, leadership team and the culture they’ve built.

CEOs are also a major source of reputational risk and companies today are quick to jettison leaders for questionable ethical practices even from eponymous firms, or companies where CEOs become an outsized component of corporate reputation — like Uber.

As a result, when we analyze and underwrite reputational risk at companies, we consider a number of CEO-related questions:

  • What do stakeholders expect of the CEO?
  • Are there different expectations among different groups of stakeholders?  For example, a younger customer may give greater weight to social responsibility, while an older investor may give more weight to financial performance over time.
  • What are the consequences if stakeholders are disappointed?
  • What impact is there if CEO behavior is the source of risk?
  • What mechanisms, if any, is the board using to keep the CEO on track with strategy while the board is protecting the assets of the firm?

One of the crucial factors in situations like these is whether stakeholders believe that, ultimately, the company is bigger than the CEO and that its value is not dependent on his or her presence.  This calculation is partly psychological – can they separate the person from the company in their own minds? How much value does that individual add, above that of a replacement CEO?

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Part of the calculation, however, is very tangible. How strong are the company’s underlying assets? How strong is the company’s leadership infrastructure — other C-level executives, division heads and so on — the people who run operations on a day to day basis?

In the case of Steve Wynn, for example, the answer involves both factors.  Yes, the Wynn name brought cache and added value to properties.  And since the company operates in a regulated industry, its licenses and approvals for projects currently underway now hang in the balance.

One of the crucial factors in situations like these is whether stakeholders believe that, ultimately, the company is bigger than the CEO and that its value is not dependent on his or her presence.  This calculation is partly psychological — can they separate the person from the company in their own minds?  How much value does that individual add, above that of a replacement CEO?

But those properties have a certain amount of intrinsic value — even if some organizations cancel conventions or visitors cancel reservations.

Critically important in all this is the board of directors.  Are they equipped to take quick, decisive action?  Will members of the board be viewed as partly culpable for any CEO-related scandal?  Will there be resignations or will the board remain stable and united?

When a crisis hits, does the board have a simple to understand and completely credible story to their stakeholders, validating their good governance practices and attesting to their prudent stewardship of the company? Whatever steps they have taken over the years to manage reputational risk, do they have third party warranties, in the form of insurance policies, that help them communicate that narrative persuasively in the court of public opinion and mitigate the usual post-crisis onslaught of litigators, regulators, and social media trolls?

Obviously, CEO reputation is always crucially important to any company. But when it is a core component of the corporate brand and enterprise value, boards need to consider additional protections against the individual downfalls that so often occur.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swans

Black Swans: Yes, It Can Happen Here

In this year's Black Swan coverage, we focus on two events: An Atlantic mega-tsunami which would wipe out the East Coast and a killer global pandemic.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 2 min read

One of the most difficult phrases to digest without becoming frustrated or judgmental is the oft-repeated, “I never thought that could happen here.”

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Most painfully, we hear it time and time again in the aftermath of the mass school shootings that terrorize this country. Shocked parents and neighbors, viewing the carnage, voice that they can’t believe this happened in their neighborhood.

Not to be mean, but why couldn’t it happen in your neighborhood?

So it is with Black Swans, a phrase describing unforeseen events, made famous by the former trader and acerbic critic of academia Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We at Risk & Insurance® define these events in insurance terms by saying that they are highly infrequent, yet could cause massive damages. This year, for our annual Black Swan issue, we present two very different scenarios, both of which would leave mass devastation in their wake.

A Mega-Tsunami Is Coming; Can the East Coast Even Prepare?, written by staff writer Autumn Heisler, profiles an Atlantic mega-tsunami, which would wipe out lives and commerce along the East Coast.

On the topic of whether the volcanic island of La Palma, the most northwestern of the Canary Islands, could erupt, split and trigger an Atlantic mega-tsunami, scientists are divided.

Researchers Steven Ward, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Simon Day of University College London, say such a thing could happen. Other scientists say Day and Ward are dead wrong; it’s an impossibility.

One of the counter-arguments is backed up by the statement that there has never been an Atlantic mega-tsunami. It’s never happened before and thus, could never happen here. See exhibit “A” above, re: mass school shootings.

Viral Fear: How a Global Pandemic Kills an Economy, written by associate editor Katie Dwyer, depicts a killer global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

Tens of millions of people died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

Why it could happen again includes the fact that it’s happened before. The science on influenzas, which are constantly mutating, also supports just how dangerous a threat they pose to millions of people beyond the reach of antibiotics.

Should a mutating avian flu, for example, spread widely, we could see a 10 percent drop in GDP, mostly from non-physical business interruption.

As always here, the purpose is to do exactly what insurance modelers and underwriters do; no matter how massive the event, we create scenarios, quantify possible losses and discuss risk mitigation strategies. &

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