Michel Rodrigue, director of risk management at fast-track Canadian printer and publisher Transcontinental Inc., is hurtling along the Trans-Canada Highway in his blue 2004 Buick Rendezvous sport utility vehicle, 45 minutes more to go to reach Quebec City and then on for another hour or so before settling in for the night near one of the company's printing plants in Beauceville.
It is dark, no stars or moon to guide him, and station-hopping on the radio is coming up empty. "Sometimes I get sleepy on a drive like this, but tonight I feel good," says Rodrigue, who will be at the book printing plant at 8:30 the next morning to begin a long risk-prevention inspection tour with the plant manager that will lead to a series of recommendations and a long three-and-a-half-hour drive home to Montreal.
So it goes for the 42-year-old executive, who, after spending some time with his fiancée and two teenage children back home that evening, will be on an 8 o'clock plane the next morning bound for a Transcontinental newspaper printing plant in Halifax. Again, he will take a risk-prevention tour and talk to employees about the company's commitment to property loss prevention in his ongoing effort--some would say relentless campaign--to get employees at the corporation's 50-plus plants on the same page as quickly as possible.
Following another long day at a company plant, Rodrigue will participate in a national Risk and Insurance Management Society Canada Council board meeting the coming weekend.
"When I joined Transcontinental," recalls Rodrigue, who worked as risk management coordinator at Hydro-Quebec previously and at Ernst & Young in Montreal prior to that, "the CFO and my new boss, the company's treasurer, said they wanted me on the road 50 percent of the time to establish a cohesive property loss prevention program at our growing number of locations, and to spread the word about a new risk management plan the company had just drawn up."
In more than two years with Transcontinental, has Rodrigue been on the road half his time?
Sometimes it seems so. "But I'm still out there more than a third of my time," he says. He's traveled throughout the company's network of plants in Canada, Mexico and its rapidly growing operations in "the States," as he is inclined to call it. (A year and a half ago, the company had 500 employees in the United States, today it has nearly 2,500.)
Rodrigue was a pinpoint hire for Transcontinental in the winter of 2003, the result of a headhunter search. An outside consulting firm had just completed an exhaustive analysis of Transcontinental's risk management needs, and a comprehensive risk management plan had been agreed upon.
"It was quite a complete risk management mapping plan," he says.
But beyond that, the company itself was at a historic crossroads. It was no secret that its chairman and founder, Remi Marcoux, was bent on putting in place a company vision and management team that would carry the company forward until it would be taken over by members of his family. Son Pierre, 34, was recently promoted to head of business publications, and daughter Isabelle, 36, is vice president of corporate development.
Rodrigue joined the company shortly after a dynamic executive--chief operating officer Luc Desjardins--was promoted to president and CEO to succeed Marcoux, who remained chairman.
THE NEW RISK MANAGER
The new director of risk management's charter was an ambitious one. Rodrigue would by no means be playing a narrow-cast role in the high-growth era planned for the company, which already was the largest printer and consumer magazine publisher in Canada, and had grand designs on expansion in the United States, Mexico and perhaps beyond.
Even as Rodrigue was joining Transcontinental, he received a taste of the broad scope of his new responsibilities: he was asked for his input in the latter stages of the due-diligence analysis of a potential acquisition (one that the company eventually made).
Since then, Rodrigue has been a regular member of the due-diligence team, which is led by an in-house merger-and-acquisition group. He joins seven other executives from such specialized areas as legal, human resources, financial and sales to scrutinize potential acquisitions once a prospect "becomes more serious," he says.
But sitting at the acquisitions due-diligence roundtable, while important, is of course not one of the mainstays of Rodrigue's demanding business life, given his Herculean travel schedule, the steady regimen of meetings, governmental rules and regulations to deal with, and the endless stream of e-mails from inside the company and out.
He will often log 60 to sometimes 70 hours a week on the job. His job description is a sweeping one, as well as exacting, with the myriad of specific tasks involved.
"Overall," he says, "the most important part of my job is to mitigate and manage the risks of the company as a whole. I try not to manage risk in silos."
"I am involved in all aspects of risk management for Transcontinental, and because of that, every day brings new challenges. This makes me feel that I am bringing something important to the table and that efficient and thorough risk management can, and in many situations does, make a big difference for the corporation."
It does not take long in speaking with Rodrigue to tell that he is a people person. In conversation, he is relaxed, perceptive and witty--all in all, an engaging and charming personality.
So not surprisingly he says of his duties: "I also enjoy meeting and talking with people in our various divisions, and assisting them with their risk management efforts. This is very rewarding for me."
More specifically, Rodrigue says that currently he is making a major effort to stay on top of the array of the company's workers' comp insurance possibilities, given the company's substantial and ever-expanding growth in the United States.
"In the States," he says, "there is also the considerable challenge of integrating risk management policy and procedures following any acquisition.
"We definitely have cultural as well as procedural differences to overcome there," Rodrigue adds.
The company is exempt from Sarbanes-Oxley regulations because its stock is not listed on a U.S. exchange, but notes Rodrigue, "We must comply with Bill 198 in Canada, which is similar to Sarbanes-Oxley." So these days, most of the risk management activities at Transcontinental are viewed in the light of potential reputational-loss issues.
In addition, he underscores that dealing with data security and related confidentiality issues has become a heightened part of his concerns. Again, this is coming to the forefront, he says, because the company is dealing with many financial institutions in the States.
Providing Transcontinental's clients with mechanisms for greater continuity of operations in the face of growing perils has also climbed the charts of his priorities. "This means establishing more redundancy wherever and whenever possible," he says.
Another key component of Rodrigue's core responsibilities is managing the global Transcontinental insurance portfolio with long-time broker partner Willis.
"I'm teamed up with Willis in negotiating Transcontinental's insurance policies as well as analyzing and implementing our loss-prevention programs," he says.
Rodrigue also finds satisfaction, and job enrichment, in belonging to professional associations. He currently sits on the board of directors of the national RIMS Canada Council, and he is on the board of the Quebec Risk and Insurance Management Association, a local chapter of RIMS.
In the mid-1990s while working for Ernst & Young, he was the resource person for Canadian participants in the well-known RIMS benchmark survey conducted at that time.
CUTTING HIS TEETH
In his fast-track career, Rodrigue has worked every major side of the insurance industry--insurer, consultant, broker and corporate. And from fairly early on in his career, that was by design.
"I guess I liked the challenge," Rodrigue says now. "I enjoyed the insurance field, and I wanted to have expertise and experience from as many sides of the field as possible."
After earning an undergraduate degree in actuarial science at Laval University in Quebec City, he began his career in the actuarial department of Provinces-Unies (which later became AXA Canada).
Next he worked for Blue Cross, Quebec, which had bought some smaller property/casualty companies, and he cut his professional teeth in that area, primarily on travel accounts and property/casualty insurance. He switched to risk management, working for the consulting firm SOBECO for nearly five years. From there, he joined Marsh & McLennan's Montreal office as a broker for five years, followed by one-and-a-half years at Ernst & Young and five years at Hydro-Quebec as the coordinator of risk management. Then Transcontinental recruited him.
"Transcontinental felt it needed someone to follow through on the master risk management mapping plan they had created," says Rodrigue, "and from my side, I viewed it as a job where there would always be a lot of new projects and challenges."
Beyond work, Rodrigue leads a satisfied life, which has generally been the case since growing up as part of a happy family in which his father was a chartered accountant and his mother a nurse.
Rodrigue was raised in Granby, a city in the Eastern Township of the province of Quebec, and later in Valley Field, also in Quebec.
"When I was young, I liked playing sports, any kind of sports, and my parents always encouraged me," he says. "When it came to school, my parents insisted that my brothers and I attend a university."
And that they did, following in their father's mathematical and administrative professional footsteps: One of his brothers is, like their father, a chartered accountant, and the other brother is in marketing.
"My parents gave my brothers and me a good education and strong values, such as honesty, integrity and respect of others," he adds.
In his own family life, Rodrigue has a son, Francis, 15, and a daughter, Catherine, 13. He is engaged to be married to a woman with whom he worked at Ernst & Young.
"Genevieve and I worked together there, but it wasn't until I left and joined Hydro-Quebec that we began seeing each other," he says.
Can he relax when he is away from the job?
Yes, in several ways. "I like to cook. I don't know how good a cook I am, but my kids and I are still alive," he jokes.
He particularly enjoys two pastimes he has become reacquainted with, passions of younger years--playing the guitar and taking photographs.
"I think I'm a pretty good photographer," he says. "In high school, I had my own darkroom at my parents' house for developing photos. Now I'm still enjoying photography. Last summer I took a course on the Internet, and it convinced me to switch to digital."
When it comes to his guitar playing, "good" is not exactly the right word. "No, I'm not good, but I'm trying hard," he says with characteristic wry modesty.
"I played a lot when I was a teenager, and then several years ago, I noticed the guitar was still there, so I picked it up. For a while I took private lessons. Now I play just for myself and my fiancée. It is a way to relax . . . at least for me."
Rodrigue also likes to ski, and he has become very involved in home renovation. "Right now I'm doing work on the basement whenever I can," he says.
As for what the future may hold for him?
At work, as he is constantly reminded, there is no end to outsized challenges--the onrush of the Internet and data-security considerations and all the concomitant implications for risk management being among the largest.
Then there's the intensifying competition from all sides in the printing and publishing business, and the constantly changing insurance and risk management developments unfolding in the marketplace, especially in the global arena.
On the personal side, there is that wedding date for two busy people to set, a honeymoon location to select and two fascinating teenagers to spend as much time with as possible.
"Oh, and," Rodrigue suddenly recalls, "there's the basement to finish."
STEVE YAHN, a former editor and publisher, lives in Croton, N.Y., and contributes frequently to
Risk & Insurance®.
April 1, 2006
Copyright 2006© LRP Publications