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 • 5 min read

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

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.


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.


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]