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

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]