The Profession

Helen Chue

Facebook’s global risk manager is motivated by the positive change she helps her company create in the world.
By: | October 15, 2016 • 5 min read

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R&I What was your first job?

Working at a dim sum restaurant in San Francisco called Yang Sing. My mom’s best friend owned the restaurant so she recruited/shanghaied me for a summer job in the kitchen. These were the days before gloves in food prep. Soy sauce chicken wrapped in foil led to lots of foil cuts, thus an early foray into employment injuries. In retrospect, it was a great experience, it certainly motivated me to do well in school and focused me to go to college.

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

I started out my career in insurance with the brokerage Sedgwick, since acquired by Marsh, simply because I wanted to work in downtown San Francisco. While at Sedgwick, I immediately started to take insurance classes and became interested in risk management after taking a couple of ARM classes. I liked the idea of delving deeper into one company’s risk.

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

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Essentially, we work collaboratively and cross-functionally with the business to identify, quantify and manage risks, and we provide the technical guidance in the use of risk transfer products or self-insurance. Now, instead of being a cost center we look at proactive ways to add to the top-line growth of our companies.

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

Well I could say Berkshire Hathaway, but that is because I’m a groupie of Warren Buffet’s. But from a professional prospective, it boils down to the fact that most insurance carriers have the capability and capacity, but do they have the creativity? Will they take the time to understand your business needs and can they give the policyholder something close to contract certainty with respects to the pre-discussed risks?

R&I How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

None. I feel that the broker offers the knowledge and specialization of the markets, relationships and consulting expertise.

R& I Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic and why?

Long-term, I’m optimistic. We still have an incredible platform for creativity and growth. Short-term, I’m pessimistic because of how intertwined the world’s economy is and the effect of that. The slowdown in China, for example, will touch us here.

R&I Who is your mentor and why?

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I am fortunate to have many mentors, but I would say Carol Harrington, the risk manager at Sun Microsystems Inc., always believed in me. She showed me the value of the cross-functional relationship, the art of negotiation and creativity, and in the end, that there is no substitute for substance. I’ll never forget her words to me during my third week at Sun, at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. Carol said, “I’m going to help you find another job.” I thought to myself, “Really I can’t be that bad.” She continued on to say, “in order to move up, you need to move out … you’ll be the risk manager someday.”

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

How can I not say my kids? I tell them that society values money and power, and I value who they are as a person. BUT, make enough money to support yourself. They turned out to be awesome people.

R&I What is your favorite book or movie?

I’m a Harry Potter aficionado. I love how the author weaves the story line together and leaves clues in the early books to set up for the future.

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

Pompeii, Italy. The preserved history from the Roman civilization to the sadness of the fate of who were essentially the poor.

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

Feeding a tiger a strip of raw meat with a pair of rusted tongs through a chain-link fence that only came up to my waist. I call it risk management brain freeze.

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

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OK, not trying to score any brownie points, but Mark Zuckerberg. He is prescient, leads with conviction and is a clear communicator. He is generous and respectful to others in how he interacts with employees, trying to put them at ease and giving them authority and credit. Every Friday he speaks with the employees, and you can ask any question you want. I admit, in the early days while I sat in the front row, I thought to myself, I wonder if Mark sees me and thinks, ‘What is my mother-in-law doing here?’ But I find the common thread of intelligence and security and the collegial atmosphere simply amazing.

Feeding a tiger a strip of raw meat with a pair of rusted tongs through a chain-link fence that only came up to my waist. I call it risk management brain freeze.

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

Every day I walk through the Facebook office I am filled with gratitude to work at a place with such an altruistic mission: connecting the world and making it a better place by sharing thoughts and viewpoints. For every 10 people in the developing world who are on the internet, one person is lifted out of poverty.

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

Shockingly, my children know what I do as they have been brought up with the RIMS swag. They have heard of Factory Mutual (great bags) and Zurich (chocolate) and my daughter wants to become an insurance professional. Imagine that — a next generation professional. She has heard stories about how many ways risks can be managed and how insurance makes capitalism possible. She even has a T-shirt with the faces of Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet. So, I guess, my friends and family have been schooled about risk management, through my exuberance and crazy stories.




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.

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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.

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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]