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2017 Risk All Star: Gillian-Cummings Beck

This Risk Manager Cut Her Weakest Links

Popular retailer Chico’s was undergoing a reduction-in-force across the board, including in the risk management department.

That meant the departure of the company’s VP of risk and global compliance. Gillian Cummings-Beck stepped in and took the lead.

A month and a half later, another team member announced her retirement. That left a team of two running a risk management department responsible for 1,500 stores, 2.5 billion dollars in revenue and 23,000 associates.

More determined than daunted, Cummings-Beck and her teammate evaluated their own strengths as well as the potential resources already within the company.

Gillian Cummings-Beck, Director of Insurance and Risk Management, Chico’s

They found not one, but two people with complementary strengths — a finance expert who would have been affected by the reduction in force, and a safety director working in global compliance.

From there, the reformulated team hit the ground running.

With such a small team tasked with enormous responsibility, Cummings-Beck kept a sharp focus on putting the right external partners in place.

The team’s first major undertaking was to cut ties with a persistently underperforming TPA.

“If you have any kind of a weak link, you need to see if it can be fixed, and if not, change it out,” said Cummings-Beck.

The team is also actively eliminating weak links among the attorneys who represent Chico’s, particularly in historically challenging states such as California, Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

“We give them the first claim and they hit it out of the ballpark or they strike out — there’s really no middle ground,” she said.

Cummings-Beck takes the same decisive approach to all of Chico’s partnerships, including brokers and carriers.

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“If the connection’s not there, you know it right away,” she said. “[You have to] listen to that connection, home in on it and see if it’s going to work.”

Other initiatives designed to minimize waste included an overhaul of the company’s certificate of insurance program.

Borrowing an idea she gleaned from GameStop’s Dave Lynch at an industry event, Cummings-Beck worked with Chico’s real estate and legal departments to change COI procedures without alienating landlords. The result? A drop in COIs issued annually from 4,000 to 50, saving both money and man-hours.

“We give them the first claim and they hit it out of the ballpark or they strike out — there’s really no middle ground.” — Gillian Cummings-Beck, Director, Insurance and Risk Management, Chico’s FAS Inc.

Chico’s also secured a premium reduction of 20 percent. That goes back to having the right partners, said Cummings-Beck. It’s about having a broker that fully grasps the value of the company, and having a carrier that is willing and able to see the full picture of the company’s risk management diligence.

“It’s really listening to the team — internal and external,” said Cummings-Beck. “Nobody does it alone.”

For as much as all of this sounds like hard work, Cummings-Beck sounds like she’s having a blast.

“It is just a fantastic, phenomenal field,” she said.  “When you get to put together the things you love most — taking care of people, taking care of the company from a business perspective, finance and legal all rolled up into one — what more could you ask for?”

Cummings-Beck relates the story of helping an employee who called in to the company’s crisis management hotline after losing her home to a tornado.

“It’s knowing that what you do matters to somebody … I love what we do.” &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, perseverance and passion.

See the complete list of 2017 Risk All Stars.

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]