Ask the average citizen what they think about the future of U.S. manufacturing, and you’re likely to hear bleak projections of companies shipping their operations offshore, or robots displacing human workers. Overall, the industry’s public image is fading at the edges — people perceive waning relevance and opportunity.
“But if you ask manufacturers what they think, the response is the exact opposite. U.S. manufacturers are actually quite enthused about the future,” said Seth Hedrington, Senior Vice President and General manager, National Insurance, West Division, Liberty Mutual Insurance. “It’s a very dynamic industry with new opportunities every day.”
Advancements in technology are changing the game in terms of capabilities, efficiency and agility.
“Automation and robotics enable smaller entities to produce at a smaller scale, which puts pressure on every player to become more efficient,” Hedrington said. But additional, less publicized
technology is also making a big impact. The Internet of Things, blockchain, and 3D printing, to name a few, are lowering barriers to entry and enabling companies to move into new markets more quickly.
Thanks to these developments, technology is driving competition. However, its benefits are simultaneously counteracted by the challenge of keeping up with rapidly-changing consumer preferences, government regulation, and an ongoing labor shortage.
The result is an environment teeming with both opportunity and obstacles. “Manufacturers have to make changes to stay in the game, but that introduces new risks,” Hedrington said.
Here are five ways manufacturers are reacting to a newly competitive environment that may expose them to unforeseen risks:
The inability to attract and retain workers remains a top challenge for manufacturers, in part because the nature of the skill set required is changing rapidly. Because technology plays such a significant role in front-line production processes, manufacturers need people who not only operate the machines, but also understand how they work.
“They need workers who are more adept with technology, and that’s harder to come by,” Hedrington said.
To increase capacity, companies are lengthening or adding shifts for their existing workforce, which increases the likelihood of fatigue and the risk of injury. While co-bots may reduce labor demands and mitigate safety risk over the long term, they too present short-term challenges.
“Introducing new machinery or even new workers creates unfamiliarity, and that initially increases safety risk,” Hedrington said.
These changes also have product liability implications. “When you extend shifts, you’re taxing the equipment as well as your workers,” Hedrington said. “That makes it more difficult to achieve a consistent level of product quality.”
Risk Management Steps:
Thanks to recent tariffs on key imports like aluminum and steel, raw materials are becoming more expensive. “Manufacturers are faced with some of the most extreme fluctuations in the cost of materials that we’ve seen in recent history,” Hedrington said.
To control costs, some companies are turning to suppliers from regions not impacted by the tariffs. But significant risks always accompany a change in trade relationships. Product defect liability is chief among them, but the risk of supply chain interruption is also an issue.
“If you’re working with alternate suppliers and relationships are not as established, the risk of interruption is greater,” Hedrington said. Failure to deliver products on time ultimately presents a reputational risk and threatens a manufacturer’s ability to keep their contracts.
Risk Management Steps:
Technology makes it easier to stay connected anywhere in the world, and more manufacturers are taking advantage of that to open multiple locations across the U.S. and abroad.
“As companies start to feel pressured by the competitive environment, they’ll look for opportunities to manufacture in other parts of the world where regulatory hurdles and costs are smaller,” Hedrington said.
That, however, may increase exposure to intellectual property (IP) theft. While cyber breach happens everywhere, an international supply chain typically means a more expansive network, so the potential for infiltration and IP theft is greater. The ability to seek damages for IP theft occurring outside the U.S. can also be more challenging.
“A global network is a lot more difficult to manage—you need to regularly evaluate who has access, what they have access to, and make sure the access is secure,” Hedrington said. Limiting access to confidential information to specific groups or a specific location, like a U.S. headquarters, could help mitigate the exposure.
Risk Management Steps:
More manufacturers are incorporating sensors and internet-enabled technology that allows machines to collect and share data and work together in an automated fashion. This ‘smart’ technology provides valuable insights into the efficiency of production processes.
“The risk associated with “smart” machinery is their interconnectivity,” Hedrington said. “Anytime you have that level of connectivity, you have an increased level of risk to cyber breach.” It’s also easier to make unintentional or unauthorized changes to product design and specifications or material thresholds, which could impact product quality and safety.
“Many manufacturers don’t perceive themselves as major targets for cyber-attack, but failing to appreciate and mitigate that exposure can result in significant losses. In addition to reviewing your internal IT safeguards, it’s critical to review your insurance options. If you’re not considering the benefits of insurance, that’s a significant missed opportunity to protect your business,” he said.
Risk Management Steps:
Manufacturers in a variety of consumer product segments, from razors and eyeglasses to mattresses and sneakers, are increasingly exploring direct to consumer models that cut out the middle man. While few manufacturers are abandoning their traditional distribution outlets all together, they are considering e-commerce and even brick-and mortar locations of their own.
In addition to increased efficiencies, this format allows manufacturers more control over the customer experience and a bigger share of the profits.
“Going direct-to-consumer is another way to beat out competitors,” Hedrington said. “Technology and the connectivity of everything has helped open up new distribution avenues.”
It also, however, confers liabilities to the manufacturer that the middle-men normally accept, such as product and safety liability for proper packaging and labeling, as well as other operational risks that come with running a storefront, including workers’ compensation, cyber, property and general liability exposures.
Risk Management Steps:
Manufacturing represents one of the largest business segments that Liberty Mutual serves, and teams across the organization have specialized expertise in the unique challenges facing this evolving sector.
Liberty insures a wide variety of manufacturers, wants to write more, and has the products to address the industry’s specific exposures. The company can offer a holistic solution that includes core property & casualty, as well as cyber, D&O, and environmental lines through Ironshore, a Liberty Mutual company.
“Liberty Mutual is entrenched in the risk management practices of the manufacturing industry. Our risk control professionals participate in many boards and committees that create standards to improve equipment, product, and employee safety. Additionally, our Industry Solutions and Product Management teams have a deep understanding of the manufacturing industry and help customers stay ahead of emerging risks,” Hedrington said.
In addition, Liberty’s claims handlers have the experience, capabilities, and knowledge to deliver quality outcomes so manufacturers can rebound from losses as quickly as possible.
“Our commitment to this space manifests itself in many ways, and that will hold true as U.S. manufacturing continues to evolve,” Hedrington said.
To learn more, visit http://lmi.co/manufacturing.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.
In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.
He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.
Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.
Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.
Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.
This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.
In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.
R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?
Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.
When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.
I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.
We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.
R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.
Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.
“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.
Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.
We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.
On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.
R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?
Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.
President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.
R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.
Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.
They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.
R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?
Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.
For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.
The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”
So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.
R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.
Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.
R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?
Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.
It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.
R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.
Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.
R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?
Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.
R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?
Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.
R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?
Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.
“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.
R&I: You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.
Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.
R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.
Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.
From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.
R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.
In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.
Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.
Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.
R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?
Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.
On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.
Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.
R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.
Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.
R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?
Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.
How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.
More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.
One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.
So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.
R&I: Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?
Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &