Pliszka, who returned on May 19 to the position of risk manager with the city government of Charlotte, N.C., remembers what went through his mind earlier this year as he sat with his friend Mitch Byrd, himself a former risk manager for the Charlotte-based Harris Teeter food store chain.
Byrd had passed out while driving and been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and as he underwent treatment, Pliszka sat by his side and the two, as close friends will do at such challenging times, began to philosophize.
"I was thinking about, you know, what is this brass ring we're chasing?" Pliszka remembers asking himself.
At the time, Pliszka was working out of Charlotte for Bickmore Risk Services and Consulting. That followed the opening of his own consulting firm, Pliszka Consulting LLC and five and half years as a senior vice president in Marsh's national public entity practice.
In addition to his experience as a public entity risk manager, Pliszka, who worked a previous stint as Charlotte's risk manager from 1992 to 2001, had always wanted to work as a consultant and a broker to add to the depth of his professional experience.
"Actually it is kind of a career development story. I have now done all the stuff that was on my career development plan," said Pliszka.
But he was getting real sick and tired of plane travel, which as any one who has traveled much both pre and post-9/11 can attest has lost a lot of its charm.
"I had started to get burned out on travel. Travel is not as much fun as it used to be. People trying to put a canoe in the overhead bin and all of that kind of stuff," said Pliszka.
So, when he got the call from another old friend, Greg Gaskins, the finance director for the city of Charlotte, that his former job was going to come open again, Pliszka decided to throw his hat in the ring.
Long story taken around the home turn very quickly and Pliszka, who won the Public Risk Manager of the Year award from the Public Risk Management Association back in 1999, finds himself back in his old job.
The circumstances surrounding Pliszka's decision were certainly sobering, but for Gaskins, the timing couldn't have been better. Faced with the retirement of his existing risk manager, Gaskins was able to welcome Pliszka back to run a staff many of whom he was already well familiar with.
"It was an opportunity for us to not miss a beat, basically," said Gaskins. "Bring Dan back in and hit the ground running and not have to spend a lot of time educating somebody on a lot of the unique aspects of our program."
"In my position as the executive, having the luxury of having Dan available was pretty amazing," he adds.
And this is the job that Pliszka, who has served as a public risk manager in venues as disparate as Jefferson County, Ala. and Manhattan Beach, Calif., says he is going to retire in.
But it wasn't just familiar surroundings and the dread of those gray plastic airport security bins that hold our shoes and laptops that brought Pliszka back to the city government corridors in Charlotte.
As risk manager for Charlotte, Pliszka oversees a program that provides loss controls and coverage for airports, libraries, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education and a host of other governmental and quasi-governmental entities.
"So we encompass almost every risk known to man. We have Charlotte-Douglas airport as a city department and we have a rather large transit operation with a new light rail component that just opened up last year. It is a really challenging position," said Pliszka.
He also is back in the saddle overseeing a risk management department of 26 in a program that he describes as "pretty sophisticated." So, now that he's back home where he feels he belongs, what did Pliszka learn in his years with Marsh's national public entity practice that left him feeling like he was living out of a suitcase?
For one, he learned that the risk manager-broker relationship, although it is sometimes portrayed and reported as adversarial, is really more partnership than gamesmanship.
"I can't say that I have learned any deep dark secrets that I'll ever use against a broker or with a broker. I think if anything else I learned how it really is a financial partnership," said Pliszka.
And what is one of the tools for making that partnership productive?
"In their quest to provide service as well as retain clients they do the best job they can. You don't do that by either side nickel and diming each other to death. You know, bidding coverages every year or every other year or something like that," said Pliszka.
DAN REYNOLDS is senior editor of Risk & Insurance®.
(Read the rest of the People on the Move newsletter from July 9.)
July 9, 2008
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