2017 Risk All Star: Michelle Bennett

The Right Connections

From her co-worker Eric Lardy’s perspective, one of Michelle Bennett’s most winning traits is her ability to build relationships and use them to strengthen risk management.

Michelle Bennett, director of risk management, Cable One

“One of her advantages is that she really knows how to create personal networks. And that’s something that I didn’t have to foster; it’s innate with Michelle.

“She created good and strong relationships throughout the company,” said Lardy, a senior vice president with Phoenix-based Cable One.

As the sole risk manager for a cable company that was spun off from Graham Holdings in late 2015, Bennett was smart to focus on relationships; she was going to need them because she faced a host of challenges.

One of her first challenges is that she inherited a risk management program that she knew she’d have to make adjustments to if it was going to better fit the new operation.

“What I inherited was your Dad’s size 50 suit and you are a freshman in college and you wear a 32,” she said.

Banking on her relationship skills, Bennett set about identifying strategic partners that were going to be able to help her streamline Cable One’s risk management approach.

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Eventually that meant changing brokers, but Bennett was thoughtful and diplomatic in making that change. She had to know when to make a move and when to stand pat.

“The challenge is in knowing when to play that card and when to sit back,” she said.

Bennett’s changes worked, she cut premium costs from the company and added to net income as a result.

She also faced a vendor relationship challenge. Cable One serves populations in underserved areas like Mississippi and Idaho. Making sure vendors are financially viable and can deliver needed services was a key concern.

So, again using her relationship talents. Bennett began the process of educating various business leaders throughout the company on the need to vet vendors in order to avoid credit and supply chain risks.

“What I inherited was your Dad’s size 50 suit and you are a freshman in college and you wear a 32.” — Michelle Bennett, director of risk management, Cable One

Initially it took some time for department heads to understand what Bennett was driving at. But in the end, the process helped the business units understand the “why” of the perceived risk, as well as the importance of demanding certain coverages and endorsements before approving a vendor.

“For me, that’s half the battle,” Bennett said. “If you can explain the ‘why,’ then the buy-in is going to be easier.”

In essence, Bennett, operating as a one-woman risk management department, is bringing culture change to her entire company.

That includes the concept of enterprise risk management, which she is in the process of implementing at Cable One.

“She is bringing to us a more formalized vision of risk,” Lardy said. &

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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

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]