2018 Risk All Star: Jim Cunningham

The ‘Lunch Pail’ Risk Manager: Investing in a Hands-On Approach to Mitigating Risk

Pinnacle’s Jim Cunningham, a 2018 Risk All Star winner, displayed a persistent, pragmatic approach to controlling losses.
By: | September 14, 2018

Jim Cunningham brings a “lunch-pail” mentality to risk management. He’s not concerned with quick fixes or silver-bullet theories. In this view, the daily grind always creates the best solutions.

That mentality is leading him to excel at Pinnacle Entertainment, where he serves as vice president of risk management. The company owns 15 casinos and employs 16,000 people — and had a serious problem with runaway workers’ comp claims.

Jim Cunningham, vice president, risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment

Traditional risk management would say to study the losses and build loss-control plans. Kitchen staff experiencing too many cuts? Put a cut-prevention plan in place.

“That traditional approach to risk control always bothered me,” said Cunningham. “I wanted to see if there was a more proactive way of managing that process.”

Instead, he implemented predictive modeling to determine which tasks and conditions were most susceptible to accidents — and which safe behaviors should be replicated companywide.

To gather the data, he deputized the company’s thousands of people managers and had them observe employees performing normal tasks, noting the behaviors or conditions that could lead to losses, as well as the positive behaviors workers displayed.

For a line cook preparing an omelet, for example, the manager watched wrist and shoulder positions, arm extension, bending and twisting.

Do they have to make extra motions? Do they have to constantly bend down to pick things up?

From there, Cunningham crunched the numbers and predicted how many accidents were likely at each property, recommending training or changes to work conditions.

A major finding was that training and task execution were not standard among the 15 properties.

“We were telling team members to get the job done, but we weren’t telling them how,” said Cunningham.

“As a result, team members were trying to accomplish these tasks any way they could, and that freelancing was creating injuries. By refining the processes and giving clear and concise instruction to our team members, we were cutting down on injuries left and right.”

“If you roll up sleeves, grab your lunch pail and do the very important day-to-day tasks, you’ll help people perform their jobs safely and generate positive outcomes that affect everyone.” — Jim Cunningham, vice president, risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment

The results speak for themselves. Claims frequency dropped 60 percent during the first year of the program and no less than 30 percent each year thereafter. Meanwhile the program continues to return double-digit savings.

“He’s always looking at cutting-edge ways to stay a step ahead,” said Steve Garvy, president of The Garvy Group, a hospitality risk consulting group that worked with Cunningham on this project.

“He’s not one of these risk managers who operates at 30,000 feet. We went to the properties and walked through the kitchens. We watched people make beds, clean toilets and do laundry. Spending that time in the trenches really helped us get a grasp on the gravity of the problems.”

Penn Gaming has agreed to acquire Pinnacle, and Cunningham will serve as vice president of risk management of the combined organization once the deal officially closes. It’s a worthy reward for his hard work, insight and hustle.

“If you roll up sleeves, grab your lunch pail and do the very important day-to-day tasks,” said Cunningham, “you’ll help people perform their jobs safely and generate positive outcomes that affect everyone.” &


Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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