The Profession

Thanks to this Risk Manager’s Expert Crisis Planning, Chico’s Successfully Weathered 2017’s Volatile Hurricane Season

Gillian Cummings-Beck and her team kept retailer Chico's in business during Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
By: | October 15, 2018

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-babysitting job was as an activity director in a skilled nursing facility.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I had a wonderful former leader at Chico’s who saw something in me and needed someone on his team. I always say he rescued me from finance.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

In the retail sector, we’re all focused on keeping our workplaces safe and making sure we’re thinking about our companies from a holistic standpoint, not just from our little silos. Which is the great thing about risk management; we do get that whole corporate overview.

R&I: How have you seen the risk management field evolve?

There’s more true enterprise risk management. The buying and procuring of insurance is a very small piece of the total corporate strategy of risk — maybe less than 20 percent of the real day-to-day work of a risk manager.

You’ve got safety, business continuity, crisis management planning, etc. Some companies do still have these things siloed, but I think more and more organizations are trying to manage these under one umbrella.

R&I: Has it been challenging to get the buy-in from senior leadership needed to drive true ERM?

I’m extremely fortunate to be working with the corporate leadership team we have here. Risk is front and center, and we are at the table on so many decisions. I don’t have to pull teeth. I pick up the phone and people pitch in.

R&I: Was your company impacted by any natural disasters last year?

Gillian Cummings-Beck, director, insurance & risk management, Chico’s FAS Inc.

We had a very interesting 2017. We had a plane crash into our daycare center here on campus. Fortunately, it was on a Saturday, so the building was empty. Not two months later, we had Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria back to back to back, and all three affected our company.

With Irma, we had to shut down our National Store Support Center here in Florida. We moved 70 of us, plus our families and pets, to our Georgia distribution center to keep the company running. We had planned over the years for that possibility; we’d just never had to do it before. So it was a challenge making sure we got everyone up there and settled, while everyone was dealing with the stress of worrying about what they would return home to.

We had some hiccups the first few days getting everyone situated, but once we were all up there, it ran like a well-oiled machine. Nobody could tell we’d moved.

R&I: What advice would you offer to other risk managers when it comes to crisis management planning?

Just get started. Pick one thing. Call someone who can help you. If you plan it, it’ll work.

R&I: What do you find most interesting about the industry you work in?

I spent the first half of my career as a financial comptroller for the military. If I had known then that the risk management field existed, I would have been in it the whole time. It captures everything that I love, which is taking care of people, taking care of business, finance and law. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else now.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

With technology comes collection of data. Why have an argument when the numbers will prove your point? We use data all the time to make our case. For instance, we were able to convince a team to make a change that would have a positive claims impact by showing the projected savings. That led to a new program structure. Data eliminates the guessing game and helps us see how we need to redirect.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Francisco Fuentes brought me into risk management here at Chico’s. He was and is still a mentor for me. The whole leadership team here is a group of mentors for me.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to ten years of your career?

Just to continue to build and evolve the risk program. I also mentor some students at Florida Gulf Coast University as part of their entrepreneurship program. There’s also another risk manager who’s just starting in her career I’ve been asked to mentor. I want to keep giving back.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

I don’t know if I have a favorite restaurant. I can tell you that the absolute best steak I’ve ever had in my life was at a little hole-in-the-wall Irish pub up in Destin, Fla. called McGuire’s.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

I was a Navy brat, so I moved around a lot. In my teenage years, I moved from San Diego to Monterey, then Japan, Australia, then back to San Diego.

When I was 12, my family had the opportunity to visit South Korea. With my dad being in the military, I was able to visit the demilitarized zone. It still sticks in my head. I did understand the history of the area, and it was fascinating, the propaganda behind that location, on both sides.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I think it’s anyone who’s committed to helping other people. Whether that’s first responders, our military … our own security and crisis management teams here. There are so many people who truly care about their fellow citizens.

Katie Dwyer is a freelance editor and writer based out of Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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