Column: Risk Management

Stop and Think

By: | June 1, 2017 • 3 min read
Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]
Topics: June 2017 Issue

I have always seen myself as a good multitasker. I think I enjoy the challenge of taking on more and more; like a juggler training to beat a world record for how many balls can be kept in the air at any one time. My philosophy has always been: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

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Research tells us that busy people really do accomplish more. Simply put, being busy reduces our sense of failure by staying busy.

But I confess, my thinking started to fall apart when I started working as a senior executive. My day typically started just after dawn and didn’t end until well into the evening.

My days were filled by my eager admin with back-to-back meetings, all day, every day.

I rarely took lunch. I never took a break. So many balls, so little time, no time to work.

Only after staff went home did I have a chance to do any work. I was tired and wired. I likely wasn’t making the best decisions. Quite frankly, I was poised to become a strategic risk for the organization. Ironic, of course,  since I was the risk officer.

I knew this juggling act was unsustainable long term. I sought counsel and got the simplest advice from a very seasoned and successful executive colleague. I was instructed to boldly “schedule time to think.” Stay busy, but stay busy in a smart way.

We have all heard that taking scheduled breaks makes us happier, more focused and more productive. Science has proven time and again that breaks save us from confusion.

Our brains were not designed for extended focus. Our brains need a brief interruption to reset, an opportunity to deactivate then reactivate. In fact, a break helps us better retain information, helps us make better connections with information received, and forces us to take a step back and reevaluate what we are trying to achieve, keeping us from getting lost in the weeds.

Knowing all this, why do people still find it hard to take breaks? Is there a stigma attached to them, making one feel almost guilty or less productive? Moreover, why is this attitude more prevalent at the C-Suite level? Does the idea of the boss taking a break make them look weak? Fallible?

Quite frankly, I was poised to become a strategic risk for the organization. Ironic, of course,  since I was the risk officer.

Staffers who take a break often take a walk, exercise at the gym, get a coffee, or chat with friends or coworkers. In my experience it is rare to see senior leaders do this. We tend to take our breaks in private.

The best advice I got was to first commandeer my calendar from my zealous admin and personally schedule chunks of time in my calendar for “thinking.” I used a calendar code in the subject line: “ABC” – “Available By Cell.”

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These time slots were not to be interrupted with impromptu meetings and I was to be communicated with by cell for emergencies only. I needed the freedom to leave the office; the freedom to think.

A dominant part of an executive’s role is to think strategically. Leaders need to think, analyze and access information as to guide the future for their staff and the company. Strategic thinking is one of the most critical activities for a company.

Stopping and thinking is the best risk control measure, assuring that proper decisions can be made.

As Meg Wheatley said, “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences and often fail to achieve anything useful.”  &

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]