Risk Management

The Profession

Being a hero, said Ensign-Bickford Industries' Rick Roberts, depends on the way a person behaves when they succeed or fail at a task.
By: | December 10, 2014

R&I: What was your first job?

It was back with Aetna in 1979. The area I worked in designed forms for use on new computers. It was insurance-related work but not underwriting. This work was the beginning of Aetna’s move to major automation.

R&I: How did you get your start in the business?

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Rick Roberts, director, risk management & employee benefits, Ensign-Bickford Industries

I moved around Aetna in various internal consulting positions and then completed the three-course ARM program. I had applied for a risk management position at Aetna in 1987 and was not selected. However, the person they hired to handle risk management left within a year and I reapplied. I guess due to my perseverance, they gave me a chance and I got the position. Best luck I have had in my career.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I guess at the top of the list now is cyber risk. Like many risk specialists I’m trying to figure out its impact to our operations. For us, we think the issue would be if someone was able to get in and close our systems down for a long period of time. Are we prepared for a cyber attack that closes our system down for a two- or three-week period?

R&I: Where do you think the risk management community is providing its most vital function?

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I think the risk management community is better at elevating key risk issues in our respective companies and making sure that these risks are being reviewed and are known by senior management.

R&I: What are some of those key issues?

Taking a more holistic look at risk, for one thing. What will the impact be if a couple of non-related events happen at the same time, for instance? Like, if you have a tsunami at one site and a major fire at another site and they are simultaneous events. This helps to address catastrophic or “tail events” that could occur outside of the three standard deviations from the mean. It provides a good review of high CAT, very low-frequency events. These are the “black swan” events that have not been assessed before an event like 9/11.

R6-14p42_Profession.inddR&I: Do you find that colleagues can frequently help you solve coverage issues?

Through RIMS, risk specialists are willing and able to share a lot of experiences. … At one point, my organization was looking into an international travel policy. I was able to go to two chapter contacts, including a former boss of mine. They gave me a wealth of information I used prior to approaching our broker to see what type of program would work best for us.

R&I: What surprises you most about the way the risk management and insurance industries have changed over the last few decades?

For me personally when I first started in the job some 26 years ago, the business was very much insurance-focused. Insurance represented 85 to 90 percent of my job and that was the foundation of everything around risk. Now, it encompasses only 10 to 15 percent. I’m being asked to get into enterprise risk management and contract work, as well as involvement in different aspects of the company, such as supply chain and cyber.

R&I: What are some of the latest happenings at the Spencer Educational Foundation where you are a director?

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The Spencer Educational Foundation does a lot of work with students and younger risk professionals trying to attract these younger folks into the risk profession. Spencer also has a great program that I plan to utilize next year where it grants up to $4,000 to bring in interns from local universities to show them how the risk management function works at your company. These students get a great, first-hand experience in the working world and get to make many contacts that can lead to work when they are done with college.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

That’s a good question. My opinion is there should be complete transparency around all compensation received by brokers, then we as the buyer can determine whether it’s appropriate or not. There can be the appearance of a conflict of interest when the broker is being paid by the insurer as well as by the buyer when there is no disclosure.

“That unpredictability [of risk management] makes every day exciting.”    — Rick Roberts, director, risk management & employee benefits, Ensign-Bickford Industries

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

When I was younger I used to jump off a cliff, 65 or 70 feet down, at an old quarry in Southern Connecticut, which when I look at it now seems kind of stupid. But I might try some skydiving!

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Going back to school to get my MBA as an old guy of 52 at the University of Hartford.

R&I: What is your favorite book?

“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. He was a keynote at RIMS in L.A. two years ago. It’s a business book about decision-making. It forces you to ask the question “why?” “Why” customers buy versus “what” they buy. It talks about how we approach business situations to keep customers happy and coming back.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Blue Goodness. It’s a health drink made of a bunch of different berries. It’s a really good one!

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

The folks that appeal to me as heroes are golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. They’re on full display and the way they behave when they fail or succeed is impeccable, both in sports and all the different businesses they still are running today.

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R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

The diversity of the work and the fact that no two days are ever the same. That unpredictability makes every day exciting.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

They’re beginning to understand the risk management function because of the publicity our work has received. Risk management seems to be seen in a very favorable light these days. People kind of get it when you say you’re involved in managing risk now because they understand the importance of loss control and the benefit of preventing injuries.

Janet Aschkenasy is a freelance financial writer based in New York. She can be reached at [email protected]

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