The Profession

Ray Van Eperen

Ray Van Eperen and his Kimberly-Clark team trained more than 6,000 of their colleagues in risk mitigation.
By: | February 22, 2016 • 7 min read

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R&I: What was your first job?

I delivered newspapers for the “Appleton Post-Crescent” for three years. I am an early morning person and my lifelong start in getting up early started with my newspaper delivery job. You will see me in the office many times at 4 – 4:30 a.m.

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

I was in Houston (with The Hartford) and my father came down for Thanksgiving and told me that Kimberly-Clark had an opening in risk management. I thought, “Why not try that?” and sure enough it turned out great. I thought it was a good transition to go from the claims arena to the world of risk.

R&I: What are some of the keys to doing risk management well?

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I tell people that you need certain skills. I call it blocking and tackling. Meaning you need to know how to manage claims and you need to know how to place coverage. No matter where we grow from a corporate perspective or a continuous improvement perspective, you still need those blocking and tackling skills. We’re doing a good job of that so I am real proud of seeing that continue on.

R&I: Where does risk management need to sharpen its game?

I think one area that we need to improve is quantifying risk appetite. Most companies are looking to determine what impact a risk could have on the business.

It is no longer just a property and casualty risk it’s an enterprise risk. It is difficult to quantify risk appetite. It’s very easy to work in ranges, we’re good at that.

We’re getting better at quantifying risk appetite, but I think it’s an opportunity for the whole industry.

R&I: How can people do a better job of quantifying risk appetite?

You need to understand your business. If you can do that, you will have a better picture over all. Bring in other people, legal, the business team, the HR team. Have that group sit and discuss risk appetite and try to move forward on quantifying it.

R&I: What resources are you using to expand your capabilities in enterprise risk management?

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A great example is our partnering with academic institutions.  At Kimberly-Clark, we partner with the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

R&I: How do you partner with the university?

I give educational presentations at least two times per year to the school of business there. Members of the university, professors and students, visit our annual risk management conference. We also bring in risk management students to spend a couple of days with the risk management department.

We’re getting better at quantifying risk appetite, but I think it’s an opportunity for the whole industry.

R&I: What’s the value of the RIMS conference for you?

I look at the risk management conferences as a great learning opportunity. At the most recent RIMS conference in New Orleans, for example, I had eight separate meetings with the CEO or president of a carrier. They allowed me to probe them on emerging risks. I love the fact that I had access to them and they’re all right there.

R&I: What emerging risks do you see?

We discussed emerging technology risks like driverless cars and drones, but as the risk manager for a manufacturer with operations around the world I think water shortages are also going to play a big part.

Another risk is social media. It just takes one person to post a video, or some other complaint about your company and it can cause you substantial reputational damage.

R&I: The reputational risks with social media are worrisome, are they not?

They really are and I need to see some strong insurance products. I am meeting next month with a carrier to look at some reputational coverage and see how that might apply.

R&I: Is there an emerging commercial risk that you think is most concerning?

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I don’t think it is emerging as much as it is problematic and I’m talking about political risk. Turn back the clock just a few years. All of a sudden Venezuela is in the news. Last year it was Russia. This year it’s Argentina. The world changes so frequently. That’s not an emerging risk but we have to determine how to manage that proactively. We have manufacturing operations in 37 countries and sell our products in more than 150.

R&I: Are there risk management tools that are very valuable to you?

I tell people the perfect tool is face-to-face collaboration. We get into the world of emails and texts, and the problem is if you don’t have the face-to-face tools, you can’t build your negotiation skill-set. You can’t read people, you don’t know how to respond to people.

As a result of the technology dependence, you see many new members of organizations not having that negotiation skill-set.

R&I: How happy are you with your carrier relationships?

I look at our carriers and our brokers and I can say we have a good rapport with them. My team members know all of our brokers, that’s obvious, and we know all of our underwriters.

I require the team to make sure that no matter if it’s a multi-year program, or a single year program, every year, at least once, you need to see that underwriter. Spend some time, tell them about where we are going, how the risks are being managed, sell the corporation.

And learn more about them. We have seen in the past, business results or senior management can change and it can have an impact on the company over all.

R&I: Is pricing the thing that’s most affected by those changes; terms or conditions?

The biggest changes and concerns are what lines they’re going to write. They might say they’re not that active in something and if they’re saying that, what they mean is they’re really not that competitive.

They really don’t want to negotiate much in the area of coverages. So you see more of a limited product. Then you go across the street and you see carrier “X” and they say I want to be in that business.

In order to leverage those differences you need to meet with the companies and understand them.

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

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Optimistic. Kimberly-Clark’s stock price is at an all-time high. So that shows you what’s going on from a consumer perspective. But I mentioned it before. Political instability globally could impact us any day.

R&I: Do you or did you have a risk management or insurance mentor?

Every interaction is a chance to learn something. I have learned things from my executive assistant and my CEO and from everyone in between.

R&I: What in your career are you most proud of?

No question about it. The global risk management team drove a cultural change at Kimberly -Clark. We aggressively trained Kimberly-Clark employees to take smart risks. In the past four years we have educated more than 6,000 Kimberly-Clark employees live worldwide.

R&I: Your favorite movie?

“Taken” because Liam Neeson’s character and I have very similar skill-sets (laughs).

R&I: Do you have a favorite drink?

Stella Artois (the famous Belgian beer). My parents always told me work hard, play hard so when I get a break, I’ll grab a beer and relax.

R&I: You work for a global company. What’s the most interesting country you’ve visited?

The most interesting was Thailand. I was visiting a zoo there and was shocked at the number of risks. You’re standing in front of elephants and the only thing between you and the elephant is a two by four.

When I was there something grabbed my arm; it was a monkey. That’s a part of the world that has some opportunities for risk improvement.

R&I: Does the world have a modern hero and who is it?

It’s the men and women of this country who defend us. But we have a lot of heroes in this world and there is never just one.

R&I: What about your work do you find rewarding?

Our global risk management team maintains the freedom and the authority to make decisions and drive results. With that authority, you can find incredible value and satisfaction.

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

If you tell somebody you work in insurance they’re going to say, “Oh my God he’s trying to sell me a life insurance policy.”  But if you tell somebody about a lawsuit or some other risk that you are working on they will say that is a world that is pretty interesting.

How can you not enjoy tackling different challenges throughout your day?




Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He 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]