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2018 Risk All Star: Jim Cunningham

The ‘Lunch Pail’ Risk Manager: Investing in a Hands-On Approach to Mitigating Risk

Pinnacle’s Jim Cunningham, a 2018 Risk All Star winner, displayed a persistent, pragmatic approach to controlling losses.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 2 min read

Jim Cunningham brings a “lunch-pail” mentality to risk management. He’s not concerned with quick fixes or silver-bullet theories. In this view, the daily grind always creates the best solutions.

That mentality is leading him to excel at Pinnacle Entertainment, where he serves as vice president of risk management. The company owns 15 casinos and employs 16,000 people — and had a serious problem with runaway workers’ comp claims.

Jim Cunningham, vice president, risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment

Traditional risk management would say to study the losses and build loss-control plans. Kitchen staff experiencing too many cuts? Put a cut-prevention plan in place.

“That traditional approach to risk control always bothered me,” said Cunningham. “I wanted to see if there was a more proactive way of managing that process.”

Instead, he implemented predictive modeling to determine which tasks and conditions were most susceptible to accidents — and which safe behaviors should be replicated companywide.

To gather the data, he deputized the company’s thousands of people managers and had them observe employees performing normal tasks, noting the behaviors or conditions that could lead to losses, as well as the positive behaviors workers displayed.

For a line cook preparing an omelet, for example, the manager watched wrist and shoulder positions, arm extension, bending and twisting.

Do they have to make extra motions? Do they have to constantly bend down to pick things up?

From there, Cunningham crunched the numbers and predicted how many accidents were likely at each property, recommending training or changes to work conditions.

A major finding was that training and task execution were not standard among the 15 properties.

“We were telling team members to get the job done, but we weren’t telling them how,” said Cunningham.

“As a result, team members were trying to accomplish these tasks any way they could, and that freelancing was creating injuries. By refining the processes and giving clear and concise instruction to our team members, we were cutting down on injuries left and right.”

“If you roll up sleeves, grab your lunch pail and do the very important day-to-day tasks, you’ll help people perform their jobs safely and generate positive outcomes that affect everyone.” — Jim Cunningham, vice president, risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment

The results speak for themselves. Claims frequency dropped 60 percent during the first year of the program and no less than 30 percent each year thereafter. Meanwhile the program continues to return double-digit savings.

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“He’s always looking at cutting-edge ways to stay a step ahead,” said Steve Garvy, president of The Garvy Group, a hospitality risk consulting group that worked with Cunningham on this project.

“He’s not one of these risk managers who operates at 30,000 feet. We went to the properties and walked through the kitchens. We watched people make beds, clean toilets and do laundry. Spending that time in the trenches really helped us get a grasp on the gravity of the problems.”

Penn Gaming has agreed to acquire Pinnacle, and Cunningham will serve as vice president of risk management of the combined organization once the deal officially closes. It’s a worthy reward for his hard work, insight and hustle.

“If you roll up sleeves, grab your lunch pail and do the very important day-to-day tasks,” said Cunningham, “you’ll help people perform their jobs safely and generate positive outcomes that affect everyone.” &

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

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Stop Mitigating Risk. Start Conquering It Like These 2018 Risk All Stars

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.

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But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.

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Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &

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

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

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