This Is How Face-to-Face Interactions Transform Your Company’s Safety Performance and Program Awareness

The University of Pennsylvania, a 2018 Teddy Award winner, turned the University’s workers’ comp program around, giving it a unified identity and the structure it needed to succeed.
By: | November 1, 2018 • 7 min read

The University of Pennsylvania can lay claim to an impressive array of firsts. It is America’s first university. It established the first student union and the first double-decker college football stadium. UPenn can also boast the world’s first collegiate business school and the first woman president of an Ivy League institution.

But UPenn, the largest private employer in the city of Philadelphia, is not the first complex organization to struggle with a decentralized workers’ comp program.

Ben Evans, associate vice president, risk management and insurance, Division of Finance, University of Pennsylvania

In 2008, Ben Evans joined the university as executive director, risk management and insurance in the Division of Finance, later advancing to the position of Associate Vice President. Its workers’ comp program at the time was functional, but hardly thriving, he said.

“We just kind of made sure that people got paid,” he said. “There were no angry employees — people were getting their checks when they were supposed to.”

Though there were safety initiatives in place, along with a strong occupational medicine program, there was basically “no culture of health and awareness, no return to work, just none of that,” he said. “There was no glue … no bloodline, if you will, running through it all.”

For UPenn’s 32,000 employees, which includes the largest private police force in Pennsylvania, Evans was determined to do better. He made it his team’s mission to put workers’ comp and safety on everyone’s radar, and he has overwhelmingly succeeded, earning the University of Pennsylvania a 2018 Teddy Award.

Building Up Workers’ Comp

Evans’ first order of business was to hire a full-time workers’ compensation manager to help him give UPenn’s program an overhaul in both structure and identity. He hired Monica Dagger in 2009. Evans also cut ties with the University’s longtime TPA and partnered with PMA Management Corp in 2010.

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For Evans and Dagger, the first order of business was visibility. Across the University’s 12 schools, 75 operating subsidiaries and various research facilities, knowledge of the workers’ comp program was inconsistent. Worse, there was a general discomfort attached to discussing hazards and injuries, and a certain level of stigma existed. The program needed an image makeover.

There are a variety of ways Evans’ office could have opened that dialogue, from distributing slick new brochures or launching a university-wide email campaign. But Evans understood that getting face-to-face with every stakeholder was the only way he was going to achieve the level of engagement he needed in order to make substantive change.

“I was brand new. I knew the people I interviewed with, I knew who was on my staff. But I didn’t know the rest of this massive population that we have here,” said Evans. “So, it was my job to get out and build those relationships.”

“Where technology has helped us produce better analytics and data, it has done nothing to take away the personal relationships that are necessary to make it all work.” — Ben Evans, associate vice president, risk management and insurance, Division of Finance, University of Pennsylvania

Through each one-on-one conversation across the vast campus, Evans and his team built up relationships and trust, nurturing the buy-in they would need to make their program changes work.

“It really is all about relationships and it’s building bridges not burning bridges — it’s still a people business. It always has been, it always will be. Where technology has helped us produce better analytics and data, it has done nothing to take away the personal relationships that are necessary to make it all work. Relationships change culture, relationships are tangible. And so that’s the way I operate.”

Evans built strong ties with the Environmental Health and Radiation Safety (EHRS) department and Penn Occupational Medicine, as well as the Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES) department, which includes all trades and housekeeping personnel.

The philosophy underlying many of UPenn’s successful strategies is the understanding that innovation isn’t necessarily rocket science. Sometimes simple or common-sense changes will net the most powerful results.

But those simple things aren’t always obvious to the people performing the work every day, who are either too focused on getting the work done or too stuck in the “this is the way it’s always been done” mindset to spot opportunities.

“Sometimes it just takes an outsider,” said Dagger, UPenn’s workers’ compensation manager.

“You just watch the things that are happening. What might not be obvious to one person might be obvious to the person standing right next to him, who’s asking, ‘Why are you doing it like that?’ ”

Case in point: Evans’ team identified that the University Laboratory and Animal Resources division had some of the highest injury rates at UPenn. PMA was called in to provide recommendations, and on-site visits were arranged with EHRS staff as well as Penn Occupational Medicine.

Through this high level of eyes-on attention, the University made several simple but pivotal changes. Handheld nozzles on the hoses used to spray down animal cages were replaced with lightweight ergonomic adjustable nozzles that reduced strain on hands and wrists. Hand and wrist injuries were virtually eliminated.

High-capacity electric pallet jacks were purchased to handle bags of feed and heavy animal bedding, reducing lifting injuries. New procedures were formalized for cage handling, cage washing and trash disposal. The maximum weight for bags of dirty bedding was reduced to 35 lbs. Tilt carts were purchased to take trash to the dumpster.

Similar changes have been made across departments campus-wide, from backpack vacuums for housekeeping staff to the elimination of 50 lb. bags of masonry material to phasing out manual screwdrivers in favor of electric ones.

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Mobile tool carts and saws with SawStop (safety) technology have also been added. Changes were also made to the footwear requirements for trades and housekeeping staff.

On their own, many of these departments may not have had the budget available to purchase even something as simple as electric screwdrivers, said Dagger.

That’s why UPenn’s Office of Risk Management takes on those expenses when departments need equipment that will mitigate injuries. In the end this modest investment will go a long way to prevent injuries.

“It’s cheaper for us to pay for an electric pallet, for example, than to pay for multiple workers’ comp claims because people are getting injured lifting these bags,” she explained.

“So ULAR might not have the money in their budget for it, but compared to the cost of multiple claims, it’s a minor expense for our office.”

The department has the numbers to back up their investments.

“Prior to [when we came on board], they were spending $12 to $15 million a year on workers’ comp and now the average may be $6 to $8 million,” Dagger added.

Getting Back to Work

Lost time was problematic for the University when Evans came aboard. With no light duty program to speak of, injured workers would recover at home, leaving their departments pinched.

“[Say I lead] the Division of Public Safety and one of my employees is out on workers’ comp. I lose productivity, and if there’s a pattern that develops in that department, morale goes down because somebody else has to pick up the load,” said Evans.

More than half of workers’ comp injuries involved housekeeping staff, so Evans’ team partnered with FRES and launched the Light Active and Modified Duty Program (LAMP) for the department, working very closely with Penn Occupational Medicine.

“Sometimes it just takes an outsider. What might not be obvious to one person might be obvious to the person standing right next to him, who’s asking, ‘Why are you doing it like that?’ ” — Monica Dagger, workers’ compensation manager, University of Pennsylvania

The variety of tasks performed by the department facilitated blended solutions, whereas an employee who couldn’t bend could dust above his/her shoulder, while an employee who couldn’t reach overhead could dust below the shoulder, for example.

In 2017, housekeeping employees accumulated more than 1,143 days on light duty programs. Light duty and limited duty have also expanded to include trades personnel as well as the UPenn Police Department, which includes 120 officers and 55 civilian personnel.

Injured officers help ensure student and staff safety by remotely monitoring key locations via the University’s expansive CCTV system —Virtual Patrol.

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Evans’ team is highly motivated to find new opportunities to serve the student population by protecting the employees who keep UPenn in motion.

“They’re constantly asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ and ‘How can we do things better?’ ” said Matthew Stairs, client service manager with PMA Management Corp.

“They’re willing to put the time and resources in, they’re committed to doing everything they can to improve the program.”

Evans said he feels gratified to be a part of UPenn’s program and to be able to impact the well-being of his constituents.

“I go home a lot of nights with my head spinning and complete brain drain, but every night I know there is at least one thing that I added value to that day. It’s a great industry.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of 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 an 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]