Stephen A. Hill has always appreciated a good challenge. That's how the Texas native wound up in the Motor City, running the risk management department of the 10th largest urban school district in the nation and the largest in the state of Michigan. As the executive director of risk management for the Detroit Public School System, he is responsible for overseeing 300 schools, about 148,000 students and 22,000 employees--32 of which work in the risk management department.
He had originally planned to work in the radio or television industry, after earning a master's degree in communications from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1972. But all that changed in the course of two hours, in a meeting he had with a marketing manager from Aetna Life and Casualty Insurance Co. The man asked for 20 minutes of Hill's time to explain the opportunities in the corporate and international casualty insurance industry. Hill was hooked. Impressed by the possibilities for professional growth and the scope of service opportunities, he switched his career focus and never looked back.
Hill spent 18 weeks attending 12-hour classes at the Aetna Home Office Sales School in Hartford, Conn., and began working as a marketing representative in the San Antonio office of Aetna Life and Casualty. A year later, he was transferred to the insurance carrier's Detroit office via a promotion. Michigan has been his home ever since.
After working in marketing positions with large insurance carriers, including Aetna and Transamerica, Hill moved on to sales and account management positions with agencies and brokerages, including Frank B. Hall and Johnson & Higgins. His introduction into the world of public risk management came in 1986, when he was named risk manager of the city of Flint, Mich. Six months later, he was appointed deputy city administrator by then-Mayor James A. Sharp.
"The deputy city administrator job actually gave me some political clout and provided me with invaluable experience in executive municipal management and local politics," says Hill.
It was that position that opened the door for him to become the first risk manager of the Detroit Public Schools in 1993, and later the director of risk management for Cook County, Ill. Hill eventually returned to Detroit Public Schools to become executive director of risk management in 2001.
His hard work and dedication in the public arena was recognized by his peers in 2005, when the Public Risk Management Association and Trident Insurance Services LLC named him Public Risk Manager of the Year. The award is presented each year to an individual "who exemplifies what it means to be a public risk manager through a continual display of innovation and commitment to the field."
"Stephen Hill is someone others in the industry can look up to and emulate," says Marshall Davies, PRIMA's former interim executive director. "He has demonstrated his role as a leader in the public risk arena, and came out on top of the criteria collectively used to identify the Public Risk Manager of the Year."
These criteria include:
* The development and implementation of a successful risk management program for a public entity.
* The utilization of various insurance and/or self-funding mechanisms for effective risk financing.
* The development, implementation and administration of loss-prevention and loss-control programs to eliminate or reduce the entity's risk exposures.
* Coordination of support systems that best serve the entity's risk management needs.
* Serving as a mentor and leader within the industry to help others develop quality risk management programs.
CREDIBILITY IN THE CLASSROOM
When Hill began his role with DPS, there was no risk management department to speak of. Three staff members handled responsibilities for workers' compensation and nothing more. He was given the challenge of developing a plan for a comprehensive risk management program in a district already facing a fiscal deficit.
His first order of business was the establishment, budgeting and staffing of six units: safety and loss prevention, workers' comp, health and welfare, property and liability, risk contract compliance, and risk finance and information technology. Today, the risk management department has a staff of 32 and has come in under budget for its services each year to date under Hill's direction.
"Our responsibility is to the employees, students and general public that use our facilities," says Hill. "We're here to protect the assets their dollars provide. I have been able to exercise the internal communication and sales skills necessary to work with all aspects of the entity in order to reduce risk, claims and costs.
"A large part of this success is due to the forward-thinking managers on my staff who understand the value and impact of risk management within the (school) district, in addition to the support of departments such as human resources, finance and technology," he says.
Hill's communication skills and hands-on management style have played a major role in his success in the public arena.
Thomas Glaser, chief financial officer of Cook County, who worked with Hill when he served as director of risk management there, says of Hill: "The confidence and respect our board members had for Stephen helped him build credibility on the job. He was always able to move our agendas forward without a lot of political noise. In addition to his interpersonal skills, the single most important contribution he made to the county was the renegotiation of our health insurance contracts, saving the county millions of dollars."
Hill's success in keeping costs in check has carried over to DPS. He has reduced the cost of workers' compensation claims from more than $40 million to just $8.7 million, and reduced the number of claims from 4,500 annually to 2,300--including litigated claims.
"We need to reach out and develop 22,000 risk-sensitive employees as our first line of defense in managing risks," says Hill.
In addition to implementing comprehensive safety, loss-control and return-to-work programs, he has helped develop and coordinate an emergency operations plan, including emergency management training, ongoing physical site inspections, claims analysis for incident prevention, and compliance measures for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Hill was also challenged with acquiring risk identification data that would help develop risk prevention and financing strategies for the district. DPS risk management developed a centralized database to track claims, loss reports, property valuations, floor plans, policies and procedures, and site-based operation descriptions.
"We now manage all of our risks based on the information in that database," says Hill. "The information tells a story and paints a map of what we need to focus on. In addition, the data drives our education and training programs. We have embraced technology as an invaluable tool to make our jobs more efficient and effective."
BEYOND FIRE DRILLS
What Hill is most proud of is the world-class emergency management system his department put together after Sept. 11, 2001. He was instrumental in establishing a comprehensive security program that goes beyond fire drills. The risk management department conducted a school-by-school, building-by-building threat-assessment inspection focusing on building access, security systems, lighting, fencing and proximity to risks, and it aggressively pursued corrections where needed. Site-specific Critical Incident Response Teams were developed in the case of an evacuation, and each classroom was equipped with a tabletop flipchart for easy access and reference by teachers.
"All emergency-response materials are posted on the DPS Web site for easy access," says Hill. "We also established coordinated response procedures with local, state and federal law enforcement authorities."
Hill spends most of his days walking around, conversing daily with managers and staff members as he goes from building to building and meeting to meeting. Multitasking has become a way of life for him.
"The position is a 24-hour responsibility," he says.
The school day may begin at 8 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m., but Hill can be on the job from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. or later. Despite the long days, Hill says he enjoys the constant challenge and change the job brings.
"Every day is unique," he says. "The entity is constantly changing, and every decision you make in one aspect of the district affects all the other aspects around it. I am grateful to have a strong management team that I can easily delegate responsibilities to and know the job will get done. My goal is to provide a safe and secure environment for the individuals we are charged with protecting--our students, staff and the community."
MINDY W. TORAN
lives in Pennsylvania.
December 1, 2006
Copyright 2006© LRP Publications