Janet Aschkenasy

Janet Aschkenasy is a freelance financial writer based in New York. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

Risk Management

The Profession

Scott Clark agreed to join Miami-Dade County Public Schools for two years to help build its risk management department. Then he forgot to leave.
By: | March 2, 2015 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

I got into the insurance business working for the Combined Insurance Co. of America on a part-time basis while I was attending the University of Illinois.

I was interested in the business partly because my great-grandfather started a regional property insurance company in 1917 in Indianapolis, Ind., named Merchants Property Insurance Co. of Indiana. It is still family owned and I succeeded my father on the board of directors when he passed away in 2011.

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

I was recruited by Wausau Insurance Cos. … As it turned out, the Superintendent of Schools for Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), Leonard Britton, had been reading about risk management and told his friend — who happened to be my boss with Wausau — that he wanted to create a risk management department from what was the current insurance department.

I [agreed] to meet with Superintendent Britton … he told me of his vision. Ultimately, I told Dr. Britton that I would come to the school for two years and help him build a risk management program for the district [but] I forgot to leave. I’m currently in the middle of my 29th year here!

R6-14p42_Profession.inddR&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I think the biggest change is the fact that risk managers are not just viewed as insurance purchasers but professionals that sit at the highest levels of our organizations and serve business leaders on a macro level rather than just serving as insurance people within our organizations.

With a push from the risk management community, the insurance industry has become more accountable to their policyholders. This includes listening to the risk management community with regard to the types of coverage risk managers are seeking, including terms and conditions; issuing policies in a timely manner; and overall becoming a partner in creating strategic risk solutions.

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

Like many other industry professionals I am concerned about cyber risk, but my concern transcends the normal risks associated with cyber. It’s not just about making sure that … the personal information of my 345,000 students and 50,000 full and part-time employees is not hacked.

We have a significant focus on placing technology in the hands of our students, and to move them from traditional book learning into a high-tech environment of teaching and learning. That includes providing students with tablets, outfitting classrooms with SmartBoards and empowering all 345,000 students to become technologically savvy so that they will be able to compete in a technologically sophisticated world.

When you do that, cyber capability and protecting the risk around it becomes paramount. We must take necessary steps to protect [employees’ and students’] personal information, Social Security numbers, grades, and family information. Many fees which were once paid with cash are now paid with credit cards at our 400+ locations and this information must be protected as well.

With a push from the risk management community, the insurance industry has become more accountable to their policyholders.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My mentor is a gentleman whom I have had the privilege of knowing and working with for my entire career at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. His name is Jim Marshall and he is a principal in the consulting firm of Silver Insurance Consultants based in St Petersburg, Fla.

I’ve worked with him for the better part of my 29 years at the Miami-Dade schools. His firm has been a consultant to Miami-Dade in property/casualty and risk management including claims administration. Jim has been instrumental in providing wording for many of the district’s manuscript insurance policies.

He is one of the most knowledgeable people I know and someone I would go to when I need clarity on how to handle a risk management issue.

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

Being identified as a national leader in risk management and serving as president of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) in 2011.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is my favorite book. The book is set in Chicago around 1893 and is an interesting depiction of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair intertwined with fictional characters and sub-plots.

Being from Illinois, I found the book fascinating for its historic depiction of the creation of the buildings for the 1893 World’s Fair on the South side of Chicago close to where the University of Chicago now is, and Erik Larson’s ability to augment this nonfiction story with creative fictional story lines and sub-plots.

I remember vividly how young the North Korean soldiers appeared to be, and I was only 20 years of age myself at the time.

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

Seoul, South Korea. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel with my best friend and fraternity brother and his family my senior year at U of I. His father was a project engineer for Amoco and they were building a refinery in the Seoul area.

I believe it struck me as a kid from Illinois as it was so different from other places I had traveled and we were actually able to go to the demilitarized zone and step into North Korea.

I remember vividly how young the North Korean soldiers appeared to be, and I was only 20 years of age myself at the time.

R&I: What is the riskiest thing you have ever done?

As a risk manager, I dare say that I typically do not participate in risky things; however, the two things which come to mind which I would typically not do include taking a small seaplane from Vancouver to Victoria (we returned by way of Ferry).

The other was a helicopter ride over the Hawaiian waterfalls and the pilot realized halfway through the trip that he was on the wrong radio frequency and unable to communicate with other helicopters in the area.

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

Heroes are very personal and it’s not my place to name one for the world; however, my father who passed away in 2011 was one of mine. He taught me right from wrong, supported me and was very proud of my career in the insurance industry.

Janet Aschkenasy is a freelance financial writer based in New York. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Risk Management

The Profession

The insurance director of Novartis Corp. talks about the heroic mission of teachers, swimming with sharks, and the most interesting place she ever visited.
By: | February 19, 2015 • 5 min read

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

I was hired out of college to work as a liability representative for a medical malpractice insurance company. My job was to counsel their doctors — their insureds — about risk management: how to avoid claims, making sure medical records were well documented, etc. It was a great opportunity to learn about the business.

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

I think the risk management community is doing a lot right now. We’re doing a great job of communicating the value we can add to our organizations and are gaining recognition from the C-suite for the importance of our work. We’re also getting better at attracting students and young professionals early on by designing educational programs that meet their needs.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

There are a number of industries that could probably be doing a better job of promoting women, including risk management and insurance. The majority of senior positions are filled by men.

There are opportunities out there. I certainly think at the board level we need to see more women in corporations and in senior positions. The responsibility falls on women just as much as men to promote themselves and their capabilities. With all the talented women I’ve met, this really shouldn’t still be a conversation or an issue.

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

The industry has evolved from straight-up insurance solutions as the primary way to transfer risk to more creative ways to deal with uncertainty.

We have expanded our thinking and responded with a variety of solutions, which in turn has created new jobs and degree programs in universities and a lot of academic research. It is an exciting time to be in this profession.

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

Geopolitical conflict and modern-day terrorism.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

It’s hard to single out just one. I am a big proponent of mentors and coaches and sponsors and continue to look for these role models inside and outside of risk management and within my industry — health care and pharmaceuticals. Plus, I understand that it’s my turn to give back to the next generation of risk professionals. I’m always looking for ways to help out in that regard.

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

I feel very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had. I have clearly taken some risks with my career, taking leaps from the carrier side to risk management to broker and back to risk management. I have learned so much along the way about myself, about people in general and the business world. It’s all a journey.

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I’m really proud of my current position as a risk professional at one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Our mission is caring and curing so I feel pretty good about what we do every day. Being named to the RIMS board of directors last year is also a great honor and accomplishment.

R&I: What were some of the places you worked?

Prior to Novartis, I was a global risk manager with Ingersoll Rand, a vice president at Arthur J Gallagher Risk Management Services and the director of insurance at NYU Medical Center. I think each position was a great building block for the next.

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

Probably 75 to 100 a day. Way too many.

R&I: How many do you answer?

That depends … whatever is on fire.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Jennifer Santiago, director of insurance, Norvatis Corp.

Jennifer Santiago, director of insurance, Norvatis Corp.

The book I would say is called “Sophie’s World.” I was backpacking in Germany in the early ’90s when a stranger recommended it. There’s a surprise ending which creates kind of a mind shift. That’s all I’m going to say. … I don’t want to ruin it.

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

On that same trip, I went to Prague — I think just a year after they had split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The government was obviously going through some major changes and it was really interesting to see it transpire.

R&I: What was it about Prague that impressed you most?

Prague is a beautiful city. At that time, you could still see and feel the darkness all around but there was so much light coming in from above the city. I stayed with a local family for a few days. We did not speak the same language but we seemed to understand each other.

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

Not far from my home in Montclair, N.J., there is a restaurant called Fascino. They call it “Italian without borders.” It’s wonderful.

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

I did some scuba diving with sharks in the Bahamas before I was married. It sounds more dangerous than it was. It was all very calculated. They were Caribbean Reef Sharks so really not aggressive or interested in humans. I assessed the risk before agreeing to participate.

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

I would say teachers are our silent heroes. They have an awesome responsibility in our society to educate and inspire our children. We need to appreciate, recognize and reward them accordingly.

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

I will never forget my first conference in Dallas in 1999. It was amazing to see so many risk management professionals in one place. I knew, from that experience, that this is something that I really wanted to be a part of.

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

I find my work intellectually stimulating. I like the analytical aspects of it and the opportunity to teach others about risk and insurance.

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

I would say most are puzzled — but my 13 year-old daughter Ella is sure that having a mother who is focused on managing risk will ruin her teenage life!

Janet Aschkenasy is a freelance financial writer based in New York. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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Risk Management

The Profession

Being a hero, said Ensign-Bickford Industries' Rick Roberts, depends on the way a person behaves when they succeed or fail at a task.
By: | December 10, 2014 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

It was back with Aetna in 1979. The area I worked in designed forms for use on new computers. It was insurance-related work but not underwriting. This work was the beginning of Aetna’s move to major automation.

R&I: How did you get your start in the business?

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Rick Roberts, director, risk management & employee benefits, Ensign-Bickford Industries

I moved around Aetna in various internal consulting positions and then completed the three-course ARM program. I had applied for a risk management position at Aetna in 1987 and was not selected. However, the person they hired to handle risk management left within a year and I reapplied. I guess due to my perseverance, they gave me a chance and I got the position. Best luck I have had in my career.

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

I guess at the top of the list now is cyber risk. Like many risk specialists I’m trying to figure out its impact to our operations. For us, we think the issue would be if someone was able to get in and close our systems down for a long period of time. Are we prepared for a cyber attack that closes our system down for a two- or three-week period?

R&I: Where do you think the risk management community is providing its most vital function?

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I think the risk management community is better at elevating key risk issues in our respective companies and making sure that these risks are being reviewed and are known by senior management.

R&I: What are some of those key issues?

Taking a more holistic look at risk, for one thing. What will the impact be if a couple of non-related events happen at the same time, for instance? Like, if you have a tsunami at one site and a major fire at another site and they are simultaneous events. This helps to address catastrophic or “tail events” that could occur outside of the three standard deviations from the mean. It provides a good review of high CAT, very low-frequency events. These are the “black swan” events that have not been assessed before an event like 9/11.

R6-14p42_Profession.inddR&I: Do you find that colleagues can frequently help you solve coverage issues?

Through RIMS, risk specialists are willing and able to share a lot of experiences. … At one point, my organization was looking into an international travel policy. I was able to go to two chapter contacts, including a former boss of mine. They gave me a wealth of information I used prior to approaching our broker to see what type of program would work best for us.

R&I: What surprises you most about the way the risk management and insurance industries have changed over the last few decades?

For me personally when I first started in the job some 26 years ago, the business was very much insurance-focused. Insurance represented 85 to 90 percent of my job and that was the foundation of everything around risk. Now, it encompasses only 10 to 15 percent. I’m being asked to get into enterprise risk management and contract work, as well as involvement in different aspects of the company, such as supply chain and cyber.

R&I: What are some of the latest happenings at the Spencer Educational Foundation where you are a director?

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The Spencer Educational Foundation does a lot of work with students and younger risk professionals trying to attract these younger folks into the risk profession. Spencer also has a great program that I plan to utilize next year where it grants up to $4,000 to bring in interns from local universities to show them how the risk management function works at your company. These students get a great, first-hand experience in the working world and get to make many contacts that can lead to work when they are done with college.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

That’s a good question. My opinion is there should be complete transparency around all compensation received by brokers, then we as the buyer can determine whether it’s appropriate or not. There can be the appearance of a conflict of interest when the broker is being paid by the insurer as well as by the buyer when there is no disclosure.

“That unpredictability [of risk management] makes every day exciting.”    — Rick Roberts, director, risk management & employee benefits, Ensign-Bickford Industries

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

When I was younger I used to jump off a cliff, 65 or 70 feet down, at an old quarry in Southern Connecticut, which when I look at it now seems kind of stupid. But I might try some skydiving!

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

Going back to school to get my MBA as an old guy of 52 at the University of Hartford.

R&I: What is your favorite book?

“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. He was a keynote at RIMS in L.A. two years ago. It’s a business book about decision-making. It forces you to ask the question “why?” “Why” customers buy versus “what” they buy. It talks about how we approach business situations to keep customers happy and coming back.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Blue Goodness. It’s a health drink made of a bunch of different berries. It’s a really good one!

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

The folks that appeal to me as heroes are golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman. They’re on full display and the way they behave when they fail or succeed is impeccable, both in sports and all the different businesses they still are running today.

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

The diversity of the work and the fact that no two days are ever the same. That unpredictability makes every day exciting.

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

They’re beginning to understand the risk management function because of the publicity our work has received. Risk management seems to be seen in a very favorable light these days. People kind of get it when you say you’re involved in managing risk now because they understand the importance of loss control and the benefit of preventing injuries.

Janet Aschkenasy is a freelance financial writer based in New York. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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