Risk Management

The Profession

042014_16profession_jablonskiR&I: What was your first job?

Staff accountant with Panasonic in New Jersey.

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

I was working on special projects for Hearst, transferring accounting functions from paper spreadsheets and forms to computerized versions. I spent the next three years in night R4-14p82_TheProfession.inddschool obtaining my degree in risk and insurance from the College of Insurance, which is now part of St. John’s University. [At the same time] our company determined they would open a financial service center in Charlotte, N.C. The former director took that opportunity to retire, and I was appointed the new director of insurance.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

The community as a whole can better educate companies of all sizes on the importance of risk management to their bottom lines, cash flow and balance sheets. The risk management community should do a better job helping risk managers in growing their departments to become more proficient. This would also open up the job market for those students now going through risk management programs in colleges and universities.


R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Though my dad passed away in 2001, he was and continues to be my mentor. The values he taught me continue to guide me. He lived the American dream with the American spirit. He served his country in the U.S. Navy. He was a blue-collar worker who worked hard, saved his money, bought a house, sent two kids through college, and taught me “I can do anything I put my mind to.” He taught me to face challenges head-on, be respectful to everyone, and that a smile, “hello” and “thank you” doesn’t cost you anything but goes a long way.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Probably the level of detail that is required in the underwriting process. In 1992, when I started in risk management, it was not unusual to have applications waived or to use short renewal forms. I could bind coverage by phone and a handshake. The industry has done a 180-degree shift.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I have been blessed with having great relationships in the industry, but if I had to pick one company it would have to be Travelers. In 1998, we marketed our casualty risk and began a relationship with Travelers. From the first meeting to the present date, I would say that they have always been extremely easy to work with, very professional and always willing to seek solutions rather than simply dwell on problems. Their RMIS system is outstanding, but the best attribute of Travelers is the quality of the people.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

Absolutely. When this issue hit the headlines, I had already worked with our broker, Marsh, to disclose and summarize their compensation. At the time, we had a portfolio of insurance the pricing of which was trending downwards. I am certain that if contingent commissions were not in play, the broker compensation would simply have shifted pricing upwards. When politicians who don’t understand insurance try to make their mark, it doesn’t serve to benefit anyone except their political careers. Look at this from the total cost of risk perspective. Contingent commissions play a useful role in the industry.

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

I am most proud of being able to balance a very exciting and fulfilling career with a solid family life. It is becoming extremely difficult for families to maintain careers and their quality of life and to truly spend quality time with their children and grandchildren. I feel it is a great achievement to have found ways to address business matters but to make and spend time with family.

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

I have been very fortunate to have known and worked with some outstanding people. I have worked on projects with Randolph Hearst. I met and became friendly with Patty Hearst through Bernie Shaw, her [late] husband and Hearst’s chief of security. I have met captains of industry, as well as engineers, doctors, accountants, and various people that not only knew their professions well, but were genuinely interesting and friendly folks. I think that my involvement in risk management has allowed me to really see the world through the eyes of its people in all walks of life and it’s been very interesting.

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

I would say it is all the moms and dads that spend quality time with their children including helping them to learn. Education is increasingly more important to success in life, but it begins in the home, not the school. Moms and dads who know and accept that responsibility are real heroes (ask their kids). Values and morals come from the home. School is important, but families are more important. Teach your children well.

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

Hearst owns property in northern California called the Wyntoon Ranch. It is 60,000 acres of pristine wilderness just south of Mount Shasta. The houses have names like the “Cinderella House,” the “Angel House” and the “Brown Bear.” The trees form a canopy over the property that appears to be 100-feet high. Our company and the Hearst family still host events there that include Hollywood celebrities as well as world leaders.


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

At some point in time, my three sons have all worked with me, so they have seen some risk management first hand. They also have friends who have gone through the risk management programs at App State and UNC Charlotte. I also have some friends that I have done business with, so they also have a flavor of what I do. I think everyone would agree that ultimately, whatever I do makes me happy, which is what everyone sees. I’m happy.

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]