A Paramount Parable
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
Home for the Holidays
Neal Chambers surveyed the holiday turkeys on display at his local grocer on Nov. 23 and mused. Fresh or frozen? Tom or hen? Free range or kosher? Locally produced or from the foothills of the Smoky or the Sierra Mountains?
Chambers threw thrift to the wind and plunked down $52 for a 16-pound organic bird from Upstate New York.
What the heck? After four brutally slow years, the construction company he managed risk for was showing signs of reemergence.
True, the company’s estimators were not happy. Where once they needed to bid 10 jobs to land one, each job now took 30 or 40 bids to land.
Neal’s company, Paramount Construction Co., based in Des Moines, Iowa, worked with larger companies historically.
But in order to land projects, it was now moving down to the middle market and competing against smaller regional operators with local expertise. This was not an easy road to hoe.
But Paramount was doing what it felt it needed to do to compete successfully.
At the office holiday party on Dec. 19, held at the River Bluff Country Club, Neal could see signs that the C-suites were feeling a little better about things. Nice carving station, good wine in the glasses and some generous door prizes. He took in a deep breath and let it out.
Things had been tough for a while. He’d been working hard. He’d been worried.
“Go ahead, have a drink,” he told himself. “It’s free and now is as good a time as any.”
Neal had one glass of wine in him and was waiting his turn to fill his plate at the sushi appetizer table when he saw one of the vice presidents, Tom Murphy, lift his phone to his ear.
As he listened to the caller, Murphy turned and looked at Neal. With his other hand, he gestured to Neal to join him. Murphy’s hand was free because he did not drink at company functions … ever.
“It’s Constantine,” Murphy said in a whisper when Neal got closer. “Something’s up. He tried to reach you but…”
Murphy shrugged non-judgmentally.
Constantine, head of operations. Good guy. No nonsense.
“This is Neal Chambers,” Neal said into Murphy’s phone.
“Neal, it’s Jonny Constantine. We’ve got a bit of a situation.”
“Shoot,” Neal said.
Constantine exhaled audibly into the phone. Neal could tell that Constantine was a little upset.
Neal shot a look of worry at Murphy.
“Look, we just had an accident with an excavator operator on the site here in Mille Lacs. We’ve got one seriously injured employee and some structural damage to a neighboring building.”
“How bad is the injury?” Neal said.
“It’s not pretty. I think this poor kid is going to lose his left leg below the knee,” Constantine said.
“And the building?”
“Well. The wall on the demo wasn’t supported right and the operator knocked it into this neighboring wall. It was a pretty big bump.”
Neal hung up with Constantine and gave Murphy his phone back.
As he turned his own phone on to check messages, Neal Chambers felt any holiday warmth drain out of him. The wine that had been so enjoyable 20 minutes ago now struck him like a cheap depressant.
2014 was supposed to be Paramount’s breakout year. But now Chambers had a significant workers’ compensation and general liability claim to worry about.
Looking around the brightly lit room at his fellow employees, Neal Chambers had an uneasy feeling that 2014 wasn’t going to be that great after all.
No Bench Strength
What worried Neal Chambers were the personnel cuts Paramount undertook to survive during the brutal commercial construction downturn that seized the country during the Great Recession.
The most worrisome cuts came in the area of safety, where some highly paid talent had been laid off. But there were also cuts in estimating, where other senior personnel with beefier paychecks left the company.
You couldn’t put the cart before the horse. Although things were turning around, Paramount was not yet at a place where it could hire big ticket talent to fill the gaps. Not yet.
Yet the company was trying to grow again and take on more projects. The combination worried Neal Chambers.
The accident with the excavator in Mille Lacs wasn’t catastrophic. But it was the beginning of a series of workplace accidents that plagued the company through the first six months of 2014.
Neal’s conversations with finance added to his anxiety.
“We’re just not making the money on these projects I thought we were going to be,” said Tom Murphy’s elder brother Pat Murphy, the company CFO.
Bidding for projects in unfamiliar territories and on unfamiliar scales, Paramount’s overworked estimators were missing the mark time and again.
The combination of an increased injury frequency rate and thinner margins was not making a good impression on Paramount’s surety and insurance underwriters.
Both Pat and Neal feared that year-end premium increases could be in the works.
Paramount’s revenue shortfalls created friction with subcontractors.
Jonny Constantine got into several heated arguments with subcontractors, alleging that they were botching projects by not moving more efficiently.
There were now a handful of legal proceedings underway. In those cases, Paramount was alleging that subcontractors violated the terms of their contracts by not completing the work in time, or completing it in substandard fashion.
Win or lose, those lawsuits meant one thing to Neal Chambers and Pat Murphy. They meant more costs, more margin erosion.
“We’re in a tight spot,” Neal Chambers said.
“I know we are,” Pat said, somewhat impatiently.
“The thing is, I don’t know what we can do between now and 2015 renewals to make a better impression,” Neal said.
“It’s almost like a roll of the dice,” he added. “I don’t know what else we can get out of the safety department in terms of management.”
“We need better talent and more of it,” Pat said.
The question was where.
A Horse With No Name
The answer to Neal’s question, as it turned out, was “nowhere.”
The talent crunch that Paramount was experiencing, and which was causing it so much pain, was not isolated to Paramount. But some of its competitors moved more quickly than Paramount in acquiring and retaining the talent to help them take full advantage of the upturn.
Others moved even less effectively than Paramount. But in a competitive economy, being in the middle was no place to be.
As 2014 moved from the second quarter to the third and fourth, adding to Paramount’s workers’ compensation woes and its sinking profit margins came yet another issue.
That issue was increasing commodities prices. Paramount’s overworked estimators, working in the unfamiliar middle market, failed to take into account a gradual increase in the cost of steel, copper wiring and other key construction materials.
There simply was no place to turn to hire the sort of experience in safety or in estimating that could put Paramount back on track.
As Paramount’s executives looked forward to their year-end renewals for their insurance programs, the company was looking at unpalatable premium increases.
“You’re looking at a 30 percent mark-up with your workers’ compensation premiums and at least a 25 percent increase in the amount of collateral you’re going to have to put up in workers’ compensation and in surety,” said the company’s broker, Ed Scarborough. “You’re also looking at an increase in your general liability.”
The construction market continued to recover. But Paramount now needed to play defense.
Faced with insurance and surety increases and declining margins, Paramount had no choice but to do what it didn’t want to do. Already bereft and hamstrung due to a lack of talent, Paramount undertook more layoffs.
One of the first to go was Neal Chambers.
In November of 2014, Neal Chambers and his daughter Annabelle went shopping for a turkey. Annabelle was fourteen and well versed in sustainable agriculture practices at school.
“We’re getting an organic turkey, right?” she asked her father.
“No, Annabelle, I’m afraid not,” Neal said.
Neal reached into the meat freezer and pulled out a frozen Honeybreast turkey and threw it into his shopping cart with a disheartening “clang.”
Risk & Insurance partnered with Liberty Mutual Insurance to produce this scenario. Below are Liberty Mutual Insurance’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. These lessons learned are not the editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.
1. Value is replacing price: It’s no longer enough to be the lowest bidder. Contractors must now prove to clients that they have the capacity to deliver a project that is the most cost-effective in the long term. That means not only delivering a quality product, but having the risk management program and coverage in place to mitigate potential finger pointing and costly litigation down the road.
2. Keep an eye on commodities: Nowhere are the realities of the global economy more evident than in the area of commodities. Demand cycles for copper, steel, coal and other materials in developing or maturing economies are going to have an impact on prices here at home. Models that take into account commodities fluctuations will be increasingly important. In addition, any new rating programs based on Construction Value should be carefully evaluated compared to a payroll based program.
3. Talent rules: Qualified estimators and safety officers left the construction industry in droves during the downturn. Making sure the talent is in place to take advantage of the upturn in the rebounding commercial construction business is an important consideration. Don’t overlook the added value of a well-documented quality assurance program.
4. Understand new geographies: Competing in this new market may mean having to enter new geographic areas to find business. Trying to compete in New York state without understanding its Byzantine labor laws would be a mistake. So would entering into any new geography without an understanding of local regulations and how they could impact costs. Conversely, demonstrating local experience to a client would be a key selling point here.
5. Delivery methods matter: New markets mean new delivery methods. Whether it is design-build, identifying a construction manager at risk, or the complexities of public-private or international partnerships, insurance and risk mitigation are going to have to be adequate to cover these trending delivery methods. Effective communication amongst all parties including contractual relationships continues to be a vital aspect of any project.
Brains Not Brawn
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
The scenario begins with the brief video below:
A Grey Area
For five weeks, Mike lives in a grey area populated by denial and tentative healthcare delivery. Mike reports his injury to his employer and is referred to an occupational medicine specialist. The specialist prescribes Vicodin, a pain killer and Naproxen, an anti-inflammatory.
Mike also discusses light duty alternatives with his employer. Mike tries light duty, taking a stab at acting as a carpenter’s assistant, essentially, cleaning up and doing menial work like sweeping up sawdust and chucking small pieces of wood into the dumpster.
Mike is plagued by pain, and acting against the advice of the occupational medicine specialist, he starts taking two to three Vicodin a day on the job to manage. Buffered by the Vicodin, Mike ignores the verbal agreement he has with his employer and begins to use his shoulder harder.
At one point, frustrated with the inaccurate work of an underling, Mike picks up a circular saw and starts making cuts to beams and other hefty pieces of wood.
After six weeks, Mike’s pain hasn’t gotten any better and under pressure from Mike’s employer, Mike’s occupational medicine specialist refers him to an orthopedic specialist.
At the orthopedic surgeon’s office, Mike is sitting on the examination table with the doctor standing before him.
The doctor, a much smaller man than Mike, places his right hand on Mike’s left wrist.
“Okay, try to lift your arm,” the doctor says.
Mike tries to lift his arm with the doctor pushing down against him but is struggling.
“You’re very weak in the shoulder,” the doctor says. “I’m afraid you have a substantial rotator cuff tear but we’ll order an MRI just to be sure,” the doctor says.
“What if it’s torn, what then?” Mike says.
“You’re looking at surgery with a minimum of six months off of work,” the doctor says.
“Six months? Why?” says Mike.
“Rehabilitation from rotator cuff surgery isn’t easy. You could have some setbacks. I’m giving you a conservative estimate,” the orthopedic surgeon says.
“Why operate at all?” says Mike.
“You can’t walk around with a rotator cuff tear in your line of work for any period of time,” the doctor says.
“It’s way too risky for a man your age.”
“I’m only 54, Doc,” Mike says gamely.
“At your age, honestly, you’re going to have to be very diligent in rehab to bring this thing back all the way,” the doctor says, tapping Mike lightly on his injured left shoulder.
The MRI confirms what the doctor felt to be true. Mike has a full thickness tear of his rotator cuff.
“You see that?” the doctor says to Mike as they look at the MRI image together.
“Looks like it’s torn all the way through,” Mike says.
“Yes it is,” the surgeon says. “We need to set a date to operate. And as I said during our last visit, you’re going to have to be diligent in rehab to bring this shoulder back successfully.
A New Reality
As a former high school wrestler and carpenter, Mike is accustomed to injury and injury recovery. It seemed like he recovered from a torn meniscus in his right knee during his wrestling days in a matter of weeks.
In his twenties, he broke a finger in his right hand in a bar fight in Muscatine, Iowa.
In his thirties, he broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot when he rolled his ankle over a log while dove hunting near Lake Okochobee.
Each time he came back fine. Over the years, Mike developed a quiet confidence that his strong body will never fail him.
But one look at Mike as he sits on his living room couch with his left arm in a sling says that this time might be very different. He’s four weeks post surgery and he’s already gained 20 pounds. Post surgery, his doctor gave him a generous prescription of Oxycontin, 80 pills. Mike still has 50 of those pills, a fact he is keeping from his wife and his doctor.
“Really honey?” his wife says as she stands in the living room doorway watching Mike open another beer as he watches a Florida State football game.
There are three finished beers on the coffee table in front of Mike. “What?” Mike says as he takes a sip of beer.
“You know what,” his wife says. “You’ve been drinking a lot more beer since you’ve been off work.”
“Not really,” Mike says.
His wife walks closer to Mike and peers into a pizza box.
“You ate that entire pizza?”
“Thin crust,” Mike says by way of a joke.
His wife pauses, not enjoying the joke.
“Are you still taking painkillers? Because you know you shouldn’t be drinking and taking that prescription.”
“Nah, I dumped ‘em in the garbage. I don’t need ‘em anymore.” Mike says.
“Hummmph,” his wife says, not pleased with the whole picture and seeming to doubt Mike’s word.
“What about your physical therapy exercises that you’re supposed to be doing at home?”
“I’m doin’ ‘em,” Mike says.
“When?” his wife asks him.
Mike glares at his wife and she reacts.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she says, crossing her arms.
“You think I’m being a nag. Well I’ve got news for you Mike Manning. Just because I care enough to ask after your health doesn’t make me a nag!”
As soon as she leaves the room, Mike fishes in his pocket and brings out a vial of pills.
With practiced dexterity, Mike uses his slinged left hand to hold the pill bottle while he wrests the top off with his right. Mike pops a pill in his mouth and washes it down with a slug of beer.
Mike had initially taken the painkillers according to the instructions on the bottle. But two months into his recovery, he’s now ingesting twice that amount on a daily basis.
Back at his doctor’s office, six weeks post-op, Mike’s shirt is off while the doctor checks his range of motion and his strength.
“Okay, stand up and raise your arm as high as you can,” the doctor says.
Mike gamely raises his arm, but he can’t raise his hand above chest height.
“Keep working hard in therapy,” the doctor says. “How’s your pain?”
Mike gives a pain rating of eight over ten. Excess pain behavior.
“Eh, it still hurts, especially when I’m trying to sleep,” he says.
“Okay, we started you on Oxycontin but I’m going to see if you can get by on Vicodin,” the doctor says.
“Sounds good,” Mike says, avoiding eye contact with the doctor. Mike still has a renewal on his Oxycontin and he’s happily envisioning doubling up with Oxycontin and Vicodin even before the doctor has put pen to paper to write him a new prescription.
Mike flexes his knee.
“My right knee has started to hurt too,” Mike says. “Don’t know what’s up with that.”
The doctor looks at Mike as Mike flexes the knee.
“It looks like you’ve picked up a considerable amount of weight since you’ve been off Mike. That could be affecting your knee.”
“Yeah, probably so,” Mike said, patting his gut affectionately.
“How’s rehab going?” the doctor says. “You doing the home exercises they’re giving you?”
“Eh…sure,” Mike says.
From the doctor’s expression, he’s not too convinced.
Six months post-injury, Margorie Kessel, a claims supervisor for Mike’s employer’s workers’ compensation carrier, has a look at Mike’s file and does not like what she sees.
“His opioid use is like a runaway train,” Margorie says to herself.
“I’m going to put a nurse on this case.”
Off the Rails
Nine months post-injury, Mike is at physical therapy, lying on his back while a therapist works on his shoulder.
The physical therapist is holding Mike’s left arm and trying to gain more range of motion by steadily pushing Mike’s shoulder past where it wants to go.
The therapist is straining, and from the expression on his face, even nine months past injury, Mike is experiencing serious pain in the shoulder.
“Wow,” the therapist says.
“You’re as tight now as you were three months ago.”
“I know,” Mike says without much conviction.
The therapist sheds her sweatshirt.
“You’re giving me a workout,” she says. She picks up Mike’s arm again and resumes work.
Just then, another patient shouts out to Mary.
“Hey Mary, can you come over here? I’m not sure what to do on this exercise ball,” the other patient says.
“Sure, just a sec, Mary says.
“Here Mike,” so some work with this hand weight and I’ll be right back.”
The therapist leaves Mike and he continues on with the hand weight.
The therapist comes back.
“Sorry about that. Where were we?” But instead of picking up Mike’s left arm she picks up his right arm.
“It’s the left arm,” Mike says impatiently.
“Oh, right, sorry about that,” the therapist says.
“Okay, let’s see here,” she says, picking up Mike’s left arm.
She strains again, trying to get some motion out of the stiff joint.
She pauses, tuckered out.
“Are you sure you’re doing those home exercises I’ve been giving you?” she says. How many times is he doing it? How many times are you doing it? He can’t remember.
“You’re just not making the progress I’d hoped you would at this point.”
“I’m doin’ ‘em,” Mike says, again, somewhat unconvincingly.
Just then, another patient calls out for help from the overworked therapist.
“Hey Mary, am I doing this leg extension correctly?”
“Um, let me see,” Mary says, as Mike rolls his eyes impatiently.
“Hold on a sec, sorry,” Mary says as she puts Mike’s arm down again.
Mike lies on the table for another couple of minutes as the therapist gets caught up in the other patient’s questions.
Mike looks over to the therapist, working on the other patient.
“That’s it,” he says. “I’m out of here.”
Despite his weight and his gimpy knee, Mike slides off of the table and leaves, limping as he goes.
“Mike! Mike! Where are you going?” Mary says.
“Out! I’m going out of here! I’ve had it!” Mike says.
Three months later, Margorie Kessel is taking another look at Mike’s file.
“So now we’ve got a frozen shoulder. Probably looking at a six-figure settlement for permanent disability. And he’s still at the drugstore,” she says.
“What the heck happened to this claim?”
This scenario was originally presented at the 2014 National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in Las Vegas.
As part of the discussion, panelists discussed key aspects presented in the scenario.
Panelists included Dr. Robert Goldberg, chief medical officer, Healthesystems; and Dr. Kurt Hegmann, Associate Professor, The Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational & Environmental Health. The session was moderated by Tracey Davanport, director, National Managed Care, Argonaut Insurance.
Insights from their discussion are highlighted below:
Pathogens, Allergens and Globalization – Oh My!
In 2014, a particular brand of cumin was used by dozens of food manufacturers to produce everything from spice mixes, hummus and bread crumbs to seasoned beef, poultry and pork products.
Yet, unbeknownst to these manufacturers, a potentially deadly contaminant was lurking…
What followed was the largest allergy-related recall since the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act became law in 2006. Retailers pulled 600,000 pounds of meat off the market, as well as hundreds of other products. As of May 2015, reports of peanut contaminated cumin were still being posted by FDA.
Food manufacturing executives have long known that a product contamination event is a looming risk to their business. While pathogens remain a threat, the dramatic increase in food allergen recalls coupled with distant, global supply chains creates an even more unpredictable and perilous exposure.
Recently peanut, an allergen in cumin, has joined the increasing list of unlikely contaminants, taking its place among a growing list that includes melamine, mineral oil, Sudan red and others.
“I have seen bacterial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant.”
— Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG
“An event such as the cumin contamination has a domino effect in the supply chain,” said Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG, which was the first company to provide contaminated product coverage almost 30 years ago. “With an ingredient like the cumin being used in hundreds of products, the third party damages add up quickly and may bankrupt the supplier. This leaves manufacturers with no ability to recoup their losses.”
“The result is that a single contaminated ingredient may cause damage on a global scale,” added Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG company.
Quality and food safety professionals are able to drive product safety in their own manufacturing operations utilizing processes like kill steps and foreign material detection. But such measures are ineffective against an unexpected contaminant. “Food and beverage manufacturers are constantly challenged to anticipate and foresee unlikely sources of potential contamination leading to product recall,” said Alexandru. “They understandably have more control over their own manufacturing environment but can’t always predict a distant supply chain failure.”
And while companies of various sizes are impacted by a contamination, small to medium size manufacturers are at particular risk. With less of a capital cushion, many of these companies could be forced out of business.
Historically, manufacturing executives were hindered in their risk mitigation efforts by a perceived inability to quantify the exposure. After all, one can’t manage what one can’t measure. But AIG has developed a new approach to calculate the monetary exposure for the individual analysis of the three major elements of a product contamination event: product recall and replacement, restoring a safe manufacturing environment and loss of market. With this more precise cost calculation in hand, risk managers and brokers can pursue more successful risk mitigation and management strategies.
Product Recall and Replacement
Whether the contamination is a microorganism or an allergen, the immediate steps are always the same. The affected products are identified, recalled and destroyed. New product has to be manufactured and shipped to fill the void created by the recall.
The recall and replacement element can be estimated using company data or models, such as NOVI. Most companies can estimate the maximum amount of product available in the stream of commerce at any point in time. NOVI, a free online tool provided by AIG, estimates the recall exposures associated with a contamination event.
Restore a Safe Manufacturing Environment
Once the recall is underway, concurrent resources are focused on removing the contamination from the manufacturing process, and restarting production.
“Unfortunately, this phase often results in shell-shocked managers,” said Nevin. “Most contingency planning focuses on the costs associated with the recall but fail to adequately plan for cleanup and downtime.”
“The losses associated with this phase can be similar to a fire or other property loss that causes the operation to shut down. The consequential financial loss is the same whether the plant is shut down due to a fire or a pathogen contamination.” added Alexandru. “And then you have to factor in the clean-up costs.”
Locating the source of pathogen contamination can make disinfecting a plant after a contamination event more difficult. A single microorganism living in a pipe or in a crevice can create an ongoing contamination.
“I have seen microbial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant,” observed Alexandru.
Handling an allergen contamination can be more straightforward because it may be restricted to a single batch. That is, unless there is ingredient used across multiple batches and products that contains an unknown allergen, like peanut residual in cumin.
Supply chain investigation and testing associated with identifying a cross-contaminated ingredient is complicated, costly and time consuming. Again, the supplier can be rendered bankrupt leaving them unable to provide financial reimbursement to client manufacturers.
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet. Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
— Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance, an AIG company
Loss of Market
While the manufacturer is focused on recall and cleanup, the world of commerce continues without them. Customers shift to new suppliers or brands, often resulting in permanent damage to the manufacturer’s market share.
For manufacturers providing private label products to large retailers or grocers, the loss of a single client can be catastrophic.
“Often the customer will deem continuing the relationship as too risky and will switch to another supplier, or redistribute the business to existing suppliers” said Alexandru. “The manufacturer simply cannot find a replacement client; after all, there are a limited number of national retailers.”
On the consumer front, buyers may decide to switch brands based on the negative publicity or simply shift allegiance to another product. Given the competitiveness of the food business, it’s very difficult and costly to get consumers to come back.
“It’s a sad fact that by the time a manufacturer completes a recall, cleans up the plant and gets the product back on the shelf, some people may be hesitant to buy it.” said Nevin.
A complicating factor not always planned for by small and mid-sized companies, is publicity.
The recent incident surrounding a serious ice cream contamination forced both regulatory agencies and the manufacturer to be aggressive in remedial actions. The details of this incident and other contamination events were swiftly and highly publicized. This can be as damaging as the contamination itself and may exacerbate any or all of the three elements discussed above.
Estimating the Financial Risk May Save Your Company
“In our experience, most companies retain product contamination losses within their own balance sheet.” Nevin said. “But in reality, they rarely do a thorough evaluation of the financial risk and sometimes the company simply cannot absorb the financial consequences of a contamination. Potential for loss is much greater when factoring in all three components of a contamination event.”
This brief video provides a concise overview of the three elements of the product contamination event and the NOVI tool and benefits:
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet,” he said. “Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Lexington Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.