Risk Scenario

A Paramount Parable

Talent shortages and bidding wars undermine a construction company’s ability to stay competitive.
By: | March 25, 2014 • 8 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

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.”

Scenario Partner

Scenario Partner

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]
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Risk Scenario

Stabbed in the Back

Internal perpetrators show a company just what it doesn’t know about cyber risk management.
By: | October 15, 2016 • 9 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

Part One: Opportunity Knocks

Jack Fisk, nice and warm in the comfort of his study in Fort Collins, Colorado, sat and stared at the message in his personal email account inbox. He sat and stared at it for a long time.


Jack took a sip of herbal tea and a nibble of the lemon cookie at his elbow. Then he went back to staring at the message. There it was in black and white, an offer from a Chinese national — an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse.

As a lead engineer with Super Diamond, a manufacturer of mining and drilling equipment, Jack was an integral part of a team that developed one of the most effective drilling bits ever made. The bit, used in gold mining and deep-sea oil extraction, was helping to push Super Diamond into record-breaking revenue territory.

There was only one problem and it was a very big one, for Jack at least. Super Diamond’s top line was breaking records, but Jack Fisk felt left out. Where were his millions, he wondered.

Well here they were. He didn’t know how they found him, but they found him.

The deal was this. Hand over some of Super Diamond’s top-secret product information and receive a seven-figure reward.

As Jack considered the offer, he felt entirely justified in taking it. It was his creativity and knowledge, more than anyone else’s, which led to the product breakthrough. He was sure of it. He knew it in his gut.



Here’s what Jack didn’t know. Another employee of Super Diamond, an IT executive based in Mumbai, was looking at a very similar email. This employee, Vijay Bhakta, enjoyed super-user status within Super Diamond’s computer networks, with access to all of its servers.

The Chinese had done their homework. Jack, married with two children, lived a pretty straight life. The lure of a big paycheck was more than enough for him.

Vijay enjoyed a riskier lifestyle. Money was a good motivator for him, but just as compelling were the offers of drugs and prostitutes the Chinese were dangling in front of him.

In approaching Vijay, the Chinese were after more than product information. They wanted access to Super Diamond’s customer list and information on its entire product line, not just the drilling bits that Jack helped develop.

Both executives, unbeknownst to the other, took the bait.

For the next 18 months, Jack used the time-honored method of downloading proprietary information onto a thumb drive, walking out the door with it, and painstakingly sending it to his Chinese contact using his personal email address in the quiet comfort of his study at home.

The Bitcoin payments from the Chinese, amounting to $2.7 million in 18 months, arrive faithfully. Jack uploads his company’s precious trade secrets just as faithfully.

Vijay is introduced to a hacker who, armed with the IT exec’s user information and passcodes, invades Super Diamond’s system at will over the same time period.

Vijay is also faithfully compensated, with cash drops and services meeting his other needs, under the terms of his agreement with the Chinese.

At the end of 18 months, fully exploiting their two points of entry, the Chinese own the keys to the Super Diamond kingdom. They know how to make a number of Super Diamond’s products and they know exactly who to sell them to and at what price.

Part Two: A Chilling Recognition

Super Diamond’s risk manager, Cathleen Sunbury, is enjoying an invigorating game of tennis with a friend on a sunlit court in San Diego, when she gets an urgent text from the company’s COO.


“Please get to the office, ASAP,” says the message. “Urgent.”

A chill runs through Cathleen.

“Uh oh,” she says, as she and her friend grab a water break courtside.

“What is it?” her friend says.

“I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t look good,” Cathleen says. “I gotta go.”

“Is this because I was winning?” her friend asks.

That would normally be a funny jibe between friends. It’s not today.

At the office, other company executives share with Cathleen what they know. Sales in several of Super Diamond’s key Asian markets have suddenly softened.


There is also an indication that the company suffered an IT breach, but the extent of it is difficult to ascertain. Whoever broke in did a great job of covering their tracks. What was accessed and what was taken appear to be unknowns. The company’s IT department is at a loss.

“I know who to call,” Sunbury says, banking on a conversation she had with a former higher-up in the FBI who now works for a cyber forensics firm in Philadelphia.

The Super Diamond CEO and CFO initially balk at the forensic firm’s price tag.

The vice president of the forensic firm, who led key cyber investigations for the FBI before entering the private sector, snorts in derision.

“Your company is horrible at this,” the forensics VP says.

“Your IT department has no idea what happened and it will take them months to figure it out,” he says.

“It’s looking like you have an internal perpetrator, possibly more than one. How much longer can you afford to wait to determine what’s going on?”

The phrase “possibly more than one” overwhelms any resistance on the part of the CFO and the CEO. They sign on the dotted line with the forensics firm.

The forensic firm gets right to work. To connect the dots they pull records from a number of departments, including Human Resources and Security.

They also have their own cyber security specialist take a look at the Super Diamond network to see who might have compromised it.

It takes the forensics firm two days to come up with two names: Jack Fisk and Vijay Bhakta.

Part Three: Gone, Gone, Gone

Jack Fisk and Vijay Bhakta are dismissed and face criminal charges. As painful as that is for company executives, that’s the easy part.


What comes next for Cathleen Sunbury in her role as risk manager is far more painstaking, and far more painful.

The forensics team is able to match up human resources records, including data on when Vijay Bhakta and Jack Fisk were in the office, against data on computer use, including when an outside device was connected to Jack Fisk’s computer.

That left no doubt that the product information and additional company information that was taken from Super Diamond was the work of inside perpetrators.

The “good” news is that Super Diamond executives now understand what happened. The bad news is that their insurance policies are inadequate to cover the loss.

Determining the value of what was taken, including the cost of lost sales, is difficult, but Super Diamond executives settle on a figure of $200 million.

The company’s cyber breach policy, though, covers an occurrence in the event of a breach from an outside hacker. Bhakta and Fisk are internal perpetrators, and thus the company is not covered, its carrier says.

Compounding the pain, Super Diamond shareholders file suit against Super Diamond executives and board members. The shareholders argue that the board and the C-suites failed to take adequate measures to protect proprietary company information.

The company’s E&O and D&O policies respond to the costs of the lawsuits. But the company faces punishing premium increases for both E&O and D&O coverage going forward.

Sales are depressed, due to the theft of key intellectual property, and getting good cyber coverage at a reasonable price is flat-out impossible.

Super Diamond settles for a premium increase to cover both external and internal hacks that is 400 percent more than it faced the previous year.

Worn out by the process of determining the loss and trying to get coverage for a company that is bleeding money; Cathleen Sunbury resigns.

“I don’t know who we’re going to get to replace you,” the CEO says.

“I don’t know either,” Sunbury says, meaning no disrespect but feeling utterly defeated.


Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.

Super Diamond’s Cathleen Sunbury might still have her job and her company would be in much better shape had she partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Swiss Re, in addition to offering cyber insurance coverage that would have covered an internal perpetrator incident such as the one detailed in “Stabbed in the Back,” would also advise Sunbury and her fellow executives at Super Diamond on being much better prepared to defend against and respond to it.

Having a forensics team, a crisis (breach) communications partner and the right law firm lined up ahead of time would have saved the company a lot of time and trouble. Swiss Re offers all of that as part of its coverage.

In just one example, imagine the costs that Super Diamond will incur if it has to go after Vijay Bhakta and Jack Fisk in civil court, or what it’s going to spend defending itself against shareholder lawsuits.

Swiss Re Corporate Solutions would have paid for Super Diamond’s legal defense, compensated it for lost revenue, and paid for data reconstitution and additional legal costs as part of its CyberSolutions product.

The lost sales in Asia that Super Diamond experiences when Jack Fisk sells its intellectual property to a Chinese national would also be covered under that policy.

On the front end, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions would work with Super Diamond to identify which of its mining or drilling technologies were most valuable; in other words, naming the “crown jewels” that the company absolutely could not afford to lose control of. That would also involve ascertaining where those “jewels” are stored and who has access to them.

The upfront work would also include the services of experts with IBM who can conduct penetration tests of the company’s IT systems.

In essence, companies everywhere need to understand that any gap in its preparedness or ability to respond creates liability. There is not only the initial liability of a loss or a penetration, there is the multiplying liability of shareholders, or regulators, holding the company responsible for its negligence.

By partnering with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions and picking up its CyberSolutions product, Super Diamond would have bolstered its risk mitigation and vastly improved the efficiency of its response.

No company is safe from a cyber penetration; the record is clear on that.  But experts say many companies have a lot of ground to make up to become more vigilant and better coordinated to bounce back when an incident occurs.

No entity can do this on its own. Pick the right partner(s).

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]
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Sponsored Content by Nationwide

Hot Hacks That Leave You Cold

Cyber risk managers look at the latest in breaches and the future of cyber liability.
By: | October 3, 2016 • 5 min read

Nationwide_SponsoredContent_1016Thousands of dollars lost at the blink of an eye, and systems shut down for weeks. It might sound like something out of a movie, but it’s becoming more and more of a reality thanks to modern hackers. As technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated, so do the occurrence of cyber breaches.

“The more we rely on technology, the more everything becomes interconnected,” said Jackie Lee, associate vice president, Cyber Liability at Nationwide. “We are in an age where our car is a giant computer, and we can turn on our air conditioners with our phones. Everyone holds data. It’s everywhere.”

Phishing Out Fraud

According to Lee, phishing is on the rise as one of the most common forms of cyber attacks. What used to be easy to identify as fraudulent has become harder to distinguish. Gone are the days of the emails from the Nigerian prince, which have been replaced with much more sophisticated—and tricky—techniques that could extort millions.

“A typical phishing email is much more legitimate and plausible,” Lee said. “It could be an email appearing to be from human resources at annual benefits enrollment or it could be a seemingly authentic message from the CFO asking to release an invoice.”

According to Lee, the root of phishing is behavior and analytics. “Hackers can pick out so much from a person’s behavior, whether it’s a key word in an engagement survey or certain times when they are logging onto VPN.”

On the flip side, behavior also helps determine the best course of action to prevent phishing.

“When we send an exercise email to test how associates respond to phishing, we monitor who has clicked the first round, then a second round,” she said. “We look at repeat offenders and also determine if there is one exercise that is more susceptible. Once we understand that, we can take the right steps to make sure employees are trained to be more aware and recognize a potentially fraudulent email.”

Lee stressed that phishing can affect employees at all levels.

“When the exercise is sent out, we find that 20 percent of the opens are from employees at the executive level,” she said. “It’s just as important they are taking the right steps to ensure they are practicing what they are preaching.”

Locking Down Ransomware

Nationwide_SponsoredContent_1016Another hot hacking ploy is ransomware, a type of property-related cyber attack that prevents or limits users from accessing their system unless a ransom is paid. The average ransom request for a business is around $10,000. According to the FBI, there were 2,400 ransomware complaints in 2015, resulting in total estimated losses of more than $24 million. These threats are expected to increase by 300% this year alone.

“These events are happening, and businesses aren’t reporting them,” Lee said.

In the last five years, government entities saw the largest amount of ransomware attacks. Lee added that another popular target is hospitals.

After a recent cyber attack, a hospital in Los Angeles was without its crucial computer programs until it paid the hackers $17,000 to restore its systems.

Lee said there is beginning to be more industry-wide awareness around ransomware, and many healthcare organizations are starting to buy cyber insurance and are taking steps to safeguard their electronic files.

“A hospital holds an enormous amount of data, but there is so much more at stake than just the computer systems,” Lee said. “All their medical systems are technology-based. To lose those would be catastrophic.”

And though not all situations are life-or-death, Lee does emphasize that any kind of property loss could be crippling. “On a granular scale, you look at everything from your car to your security system. All data storage points could be controlled and compromised at some point.”

The Future of Cyber Liability

According to Lee, the Cyber product, which is still in its infancy, is poised to affect every line of business. She foresees underwriting offering more expertise in crime and becoming more segmented into areas of engineering, property, and automotive to address ongoing growing concerns.”

“Cyber coverage will become more than a one-dimensional product,” she said. “I see a large gap in coverage. Consistency is evolving, and as technology evolves, we are beginning to touch other lines. It’s no longer about if a breach will happen. It’s when.”

About Nationwide’s Cyber Solutions

Nationwide’s cyber liability coverage includes a service-based solution that helps mitigate losses. Whether it’s loss prevention resources, breach response and remediation expertise, or an experienced claim team, Nationwide’s comprehensive package of services will complement and enhance an organization’s cyber risk profile.

Nationwide currently offers up to $15 million in limits for Network Security, Data Privacy, Technology E&O, and First Party Business Interruption.

Products underwritten by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and Affiliated Companies. Not all Nationwide affiliated companies are mutual companies, and not all Nationwide members are insured by a mutual company. Subject to underwriting guidelines, review, and approval. Products and discounts not available to all persons in all states. Home Office: One Nationwide Plaza, Columbus, OH. Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle, and other marks displayed on this page are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, unless otherwise disclosed. © 2016 Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.



This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Nationwide. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s.
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