Teddy Award Winner

Sending Workers Home Safely

"Home Safe Tonight" protects employees of a civil construction company.
By: | November 1, 2013 • 6 min read

The “Safety Flash” from May 21, 2013 began: “Recently at one of our projects, an AI employee noticed that two of our subcontractor’s employees were in the ‘line of fire’ and used his voice to keep them safe.”

The notice described a near miss in which the subcontractors were standing too close to a pipe as it was being pushed through casing when an American Infrastructure (AI) worker noticed the wooden push block begin to fracture. The wood could snap off with enough force to break bone.

He warned the contractors of their dangerous position and they evaded injury. The Flash concluded: “We all have the chance to make a difference in someone’s life while working in this industry; we just need to step up and care enough to ‘make a difference.’ ”

Safety Flashes are shared with site crews every day during a morning huddle, and they embody the “culture of care and concern” cultivated at AI, a heavy civil construction company with 1,800 employees.

That culture — and the effective implementation of the company’s safety philosophy — is why American Infrastructure was named one of the 2013 winners of the Teddy Award, the Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award.

R11-13p28-29_02AmericTEDDY.indd“The best claim is the one that never happens.”

— Bryan Schwartz, risk manager,
American Infrastructure

Since partnering with management consultancy JMJ Associates in 2008, the company has adopted an “Incident and Injury-Free” philosophy that helped reduce the company’s injury rate by 50 percent. After all, “the best claim,” said risk manager Bryan Schwartz, “is the one that never happens.”

“Simply hurting fewer people year over year had become a used-up paradigm for American Infrastructure,” said Greg Savage, a senior consultant with JMJ. “Demonstrating care for individuals and their families, and continuously confronting ‘good enough’ helped them develop from metric-centric to people-centric.”

That people-centric approach, dubbed the “Home Safe Tonight” initiative, encompasses training, onsite safety and wellness programs.

Morning Huddles With the Team

Morning huddles are a Home Safe Tonight cornerstone because they provide an opportunity to physically and mentally prepare for the day ahead. Led by the foreman, the crew discusses the day’s work plan, including potential hazards like bad weather, utilities in the area, or other crews at work. After the review, workers — viewed by the company as “industrial athletes” — go through a 10-minute routine of three to five stretches.

“If we condition them, we can reduce our strains and sprains. It helps us improve our outcomes in workers’ comp,” said Schwartz. “And while they stretch, they’re still talking about the work being done that day. They’re building relationships with each other, learning about each other personally.”

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Personal connections make workers more comfortable approaching one another about hazardous behavior. All crew members — not just safety professionals — are expected to keep their eyes open for potential dangers and alert someone immediately of risky conditions or practices.

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility,” said Mark Smith, vice president of safety and claims.

Introduction of the “green hard hat” encourages that shared responsibility. New hires sport a bright green hat for their first 90 days on the job, allowing veterans to recognize when a colleague is less experienced and may need more explanation and coaching.

“You ask a guy to cut pipes. An experienced guy will know what that means and how to do it, but you can’t tell by looking how experienced someone is,” said Schwartz. “If he’s wearing a green hard hat, you know to give more direction: what equipment to use, what PPE to wear, the safest way to do it.”

Introduction of the green hard hat has reduced injury frequency especially in AI’s mining and asphalt plants, where injuries were common among new workers.

Leadership Involvement

JMJ Associates also played a key role in getting AI’s upper-level managers involved with safety. Superintendents, project managers, construction managers and senior managers attend annual two-day “safety commitment workshops” to establish a personal relationship and commitment to safety, Smith said.

CFO Denis Moore attested to the workshops’ effectiveness. “I’ve watched grown construction guys, foremen, superintendents and construction managers almost moved to tears by the impact of that program.” Having lost a brother to an on-the-job accident, Moore understands safety is a top priority.

“Every Monday morning at 6:45 a.m., we have a senior leadership team meeting, and the first item on the agenda is safety,” Moore said. Every incident gets reviewed, as well as trends in workers’ comp claims. “In 2006, we were at 179 claims, and in 2012, it’s down to 56.”

The emphasis is of particular interest to CEO Ross Myers, he said.

“I met Ross first in 2010, and the first hour that we were together, two-thirds of that time was spent on the importance of safety to employees,” Moore said. “Ross has a deep personal commitment to it. Home Safe Tonight means something at American Infrastructure.”

Health and Wellness

Injury prevention goes deeper than on-the-job safety. It starts inside the heart, bones and muscles of every AI worker. Wellness metrics and goals are tracked and rewarded regularly, another practice encouraged by Myers.

Biometric testing, including measurement of blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol and blood sugar, drives the wellness initiative. Employees can review their numbers with on-staff health coaches to develop goal-specific plans, whether it’s to lose weight, quit smoking or improve overall fitness.

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Individual and team challenges help motivate workers. For example, AI began its own “Biggest Loser” competition in February, with 136 participants. Forty-nine employees lost 196 pounds over four weeks, with an average weight loss of 4 pounds per person.

A “stepping” program has workers tracking their activity with Fitbit devices. Those who meet certain goals win rewards like televisions, gift cards and iPads. Health coaching has also helped three employees reduce their tobacco use and one quit entirely.

AI also enlists the help of a medical director to assist with occupational injuries. Whenever a worker is injured, the foreman on duty immediately calls Dr. Lawrence Goren of OnSite Innovations, who speaks with the worker to assess his level of pain, bruising and swelling, and determine the most appropriate treatment.

“He’ll call a medical facility ahead of time, explain that an AI employee is coming in, describe his job and injury, and help guide the facility through treatment,” Schwartz said. “He might follow up with the employee about their prescriptions and any of the doctor’s instructions as well.” This “day-zero” approach ensures that claims stay under control and workers get back on the job as soon as possible, Schwartz said.

American Infrastructure’s personal approach to worker safety has not only benefited employees’ health, but also its bottom line. According to Moore, clients are more willing to award contracts to companies with strong safety programs. And with both their construction and materials businesses expanding, AI has been able to attract more employees to keep that growth stable.

“I’m proud of our company,” said Moore, “and I can tell you the group collectively — risk management, safety, leadership, finance — we’re all teaming together to send people home safe tonight.”

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now and where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]