The Profession

Mark Kebert of Purdue University

This university risk director says the profession has come a long way, but risk managers can increase their value by getting more involved in business strategy and driving true ERM.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Life insurance sales agent.

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

Early in my insurance career, I interviewed for a risk management position with an agriculture firm. I found the position and duties to be fascinating. Sadly, I lacked qualifications at the time and was not selected for the position.
I decided to work toward that career path over time by supplementing my education. Later I happened upon my position at Purdue. The organization and I have been growing together since then.


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

I think we do great with collaboration and knowledge sharing through a variety of professional networks, which helps us enhance efficiencies. We also are reaching out to important tangent professional areas — like auditing and legal — in our collaborative efforts. We are doing much better at creating risk awareness from our boards to our frontline employees.

R&I: At what could the risk management community do a better job?

Promoting robust enterprise risk management (ERM) implementation. Many organizations have a pretty model they display on their website; however, a robust program is often lacking. I am of the opinion risk managers are not spending enough time with their boards and officers, engaged in corporate strategy and observing what is on the horizon of their industries.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

The year does not matter, any RIMS hosted in San Diego is always blissful for this guy.

Mark Kebert, director, domestic and global risk, Purdue University

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

Complexity and velocity. The complexity of our organizations in relation to business environments, regulations, compliance, technology and emerging risks. It is these things, and the increasing speed at which they come at us, that create unprecedented challenges.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

At the moment, cyber and the use of drone technology.

R&I: Of what insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion?

I am split between FM Global and AIG. They have been incredible partners.

R&I: Of which of your accomplishments are you most proud?

My mind goes to two places on this one. Non-profession related — my amazing wife and three children who never fail to amaze with kind hearts and the desire to transform our world for the better.
Professionally — I have managed to assemble and retain the most incredible work family. They share my daily challenges and without their outstanding talent and support, life would be so much more difficult.

R&I: How many emails do you get in a day and how many do you answer?

Who has time to count? Several million, with about 200 or so actionable. Well, it seems like that anyway …

R&I: What is your favorite book?

It is an old book, but I keep it on my desk. It has been there for a few decades now. I brush through it once a year just to remind myself of its lessons. It remains so relevant. It is called Leadership Is an Art by Max DePree, Dell Publishing 1989. It is a quick read and everyone who is in a leadership position should read it and apply its concepts.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant at which you’ve eaten?

Hands down, Filippo’s Italian Restaurant, West Allis, Wisconsin. I have driven 300 miles to go back and eat there. It is that good.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Margarita. Is there anything else?

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

The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize. Words are inadequate to describe the experience.

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

I have a Suzuki GSX-R cycle. She makes me feel 20 again. Constantly managing that risk …


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

This would have to be any single parent trying to raise future leaders in our current society. My heart goes out to them.

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

Every day is different and full of challenges. I could be addressing the risks of nuclear reactors, experimental rocket fuel, jet turbines and the design and manufacture of prosthetics and that’s only half my day. I really wear about 10 different hats at any given time. It is challenging and utterly amazing.

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

It is too hard to explain what I do to friends, and it generates too many questions. To them I am a department head at a large research university, and I offer no additional details. To my kids, wife and extended family, I’m a “risk jockey.”

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.


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]