"Arthur Kordus, Banta Corporation." The cell-phone voice is crisp and authoritative.
Arthur B. Kordus, director of global risk management for Banta Corp.--a $1.4 billion printing and supply-chain management company--is always taut, totally ready for action.
In this case, 39-year-old Kordus listens intently for a couple of minutes and then barks out "Deal," concluding a tricky disability claim for about one-third the price he originally thought Banta would have to pay.
So lives this prodigy of the American heartland: constantly in motion--cerebrally as well as physically; ever-set to tidy up the books and move on; always pushing wider and deeper into the territory he pointedly refers to as enterprise risk management.
"The biggest misnomer in my field is that a risk manager's role is just a specialist's job," observes Kordus. "We're not majoring in minors here."
In his eight years with Banta, Kordus has created a high-powered position from what formerly was a compliance job, mostly focused on claims and safety matters.
Today, among other things, Kordus and his energetic assistant, Cassandra Coopet, are the main keepers of Banta's ambitious Disaster Recovery Plan--a 10-chapter book that Kordus and other company officials, especially Frank W. Rudolph, vice president of human resources, created entirely in-house.
"We didn't spend a dime on outside consultants," Kordus says.
Kordus is particularly proud of Chapter Nine: a 130-page plan for dealing with the pandemic flu, providing strategies for each of Banta's global facilities and covering conditions all the way through those outlined in the World Health Organization's Phase III scenario, which covers "very limited, isolated human-to-human transmission."
Although Kordus holds a master's degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas-Minnesota and is well-versed in economics to the point of easily citing how the notions of Nash Equilibrium and Prado Optimal apply to his work, it is his role as Banta's chief firefighter that appeals to him most.
"I'll be honest," he says. "The adrenaline rush is a big factor."
Mark W. Deterding, president of the Banta Catalog Group and a member of the company's senior management team, says, "No matter what time of night or day it is, I don't hesitate to call Art. In fact, if I didn't, he'd scold me for not calling.
"We're a worldwide company, and given the margins we operate on, we need somebody with Art's many-sided skill set," adds Deterding. "Art's passion for what he does is huge." Big enough that he was named one of the company's "Top 100 Employees" in 2005.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Kordus' multifaced capabilities were tested, indeed, the week after Easter. It was, in some important ways, a "Week That Was" for the young risk manager.
A devout Roman Catholic and with thoughts still in his head of a pleasant and especially meaningful weekend, he was loading up his two children in his silver 2004 Cadillac CTS to take them to preschool when, at 7:15 a.m., his cell phone rang.
"Arthur Kordus, Banta Corporation," he answered as usual, pulling out into the wide boulevards of his Twin Cities' suburb of Burnsville.
At the other end of the call was the plant manager of a company office building in the area. Over the weekend there had been, in Kordus' parlance, "a significant security breach."
"The perpetrators bashed in two heavy metal doors, and they knew where they were going once they got inside," Kordus says. "When something like this happens, a lot of people want you to focus on who committed the crime. I try to do that, but my chief function is to get the operation back to doing what it is supposed to do as fast as possible.
"'Mayberry' is gone," he says, referring to the pristine town on the "Andy Griffith Show." "There are a lot of angry people out there. Anybody can get 'turned over' at any time by anybody any place.
"That's why we've started working on a plan to create basic standards that address security protocol at all of our operations around the world," he says. "We've worked with human resources on the plan for nearly a year, and it will be going out shortly."
The next big call that week came from HR chief Frank Rudolph.
"Arthur Kordus, Banta Corporation."
Rudolph phoned to alert Kordus that a cyclone had struck a glancing blow to the company's supply-chain management plant in Houston.
Windows had been blown out of the plant, as well as windows of cars in the company parking lot, reported Rudolph, who is one of the company's five corporate officers.
Luckily, no employees at the plant were hurt, but many were emotionally shaken up and the plant's operations came to a temporary halt.
However, says Kordus, "The full emergency response plan worked fabulously, and the formal disaster recovery plan was set in motion swiftly. The cyclone struck at about 6:30 a.m., and within just two hours, the plant was fully up and running again. The key was that by following procedure, we were able to minimize collateral damage."
During the course of this busy week, there was also the usual full plate of casualty claims and other risk management functions to deal with. And, as always, Kordus was in regular touch with Environmental, Health and Safety Director Ed Roethke, with whom he's bonded outside of work as well as on the job.
"You've got to like somebody to ice fish with them for several days a mere 300 miles from the Arctic Circle," Kordus notes dryly.
Then on Friday of that eventful week, Kordus received a telephone call from his direct-report, Chief Financial Officer Geoffrey J. Hibner, saying that Banta was ready to bind cover in the London market for a special risk in Europe involving one of the company's major high-tech clients. The deal, proposed originally by Kordus, was deftly done by Hibner and Kordus that day.
OK, so Kordus loves his work.
"There's never a dull moment, and I love that," he says.
His superiors are quick to say they are big fans of both Kordus and his work too. But what about some bottom-line measure of his professional effectiveness?
Looking to the industry "Cost of Risk" benchmark used to determine the cost of insurance per $1,000 of revenue--with $5 per $1,000 a good rule of thumb for decent performance--Banta's cost of risk was $3.61 per $1,000 in revenue in 2004. That dropped to $2.73 per $1,000 in 2005.
On another important front, under Kordus' direction--and with the help of insurance legend Jim Hays, founder of the Minneapolis-based broker Hays Cos. and a professional consigliere of Kordus'--Banta has been able to hold its directors' and officers' premium coverage stable while maintaining exceptional coverage at or near the top of what the market has to offer.
This is especially noteworthy, of course, in light of the hardening of insurance markets and shrinking capacity in the wake of a slew of high-profile corporate scandal cases such as Enron, WorldCom, Adelphi and Arthur Andersen.
Kordus is an inveterate team builder, and as such is quick to praise others. In a recent example of that, Kordus sent Hibner an e-mail with the heading "GREAT NEWS." Making sure to direct much of the credit to his assistant Cassandra Coopet and another colleague in computer operations, Kordus said that he had just received a check for about $25,000 from a broker thanks to his associates' effort in reviewing payroll data and applying a retrospective rating process for workers' compensation in 2005.
Kordus is long on self-tailored risk management policies designed to serve Banta's special needs. One of Kordus' concepts is his "Broker Lite" policy.
"Don't get me wrong," says Kordus, "brokers can play a valuable role. But you can't just say, 'Here, you watch this ballgame for me.' That, in my opinion, is too much of a risk to take."
Core property/casualty programs are handled directly by Banta. Brokers utilized for international and nonstandard placements are the Hays Cos., Willis and Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs of Glen Allen, Va.
Insurers used by Banta, all of which have been with the company on a long-term basis, are Allianz Underwriters Insurance Co., Chubb Corp., Factory Mutual Insurance Co. of Rhode Island, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Travelers Commercial Insurance Co. and Zurich American.
Another Kordus notion is--put from the defensive coach's perspective--"No branch-management policy," and--put from the offensive coach's position--"We go for the best support talent in whatever market we're operating in."
"We find the best in each market through a combination of, yes, relying on advice from brokers, but also through other sources of information," he says.
Currently, Banta has 37 operations in the United States and seven overseas countries: China, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland and Singapore. The company has 7,100 full-time employees.
Having a head full of ideas has been true of Kordus ever since he was a child, and he was drawn to business early on, due to influences from both his mother and his father.
His mother was assistant to the director of a local chamber of commerce in Wausau, Wis., and he still remembers her coming home in her red sport jacket--"the Ambassador Club jacket," he says.
His father, Arthur, now 77 years old, was truly a man for all seasons, starting with studying to be a priest and Latin and Greek at the very St. Thomas where Kordus received his master's degree.
His father taught Latin at the outset of his career, but then he earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin and established his own law practice in Wausau. Later, he received a master's in speech and theatre arts from the University of Minnesota, while along the way tending to a farm and helping raise seven children.
The father says of his son, "Arthur has always been interested in developing himself. He always wanted to find out the reason behind something, how to put something together so it works."
That certainly has carried forth to how his son has schooled himself to be a global, enterprisewide risk manager. Toward that end, Kordus took international law and cultural relations classes while earning his business degree, a course in corporate finance and risk executive education at the University of Chicago, and multiple courses in human resource issues. He also took classes in medical technology at the Marshfield (Wis.) hospital.
"There were a lot of Latin terms," says Kordus, which suited him just fine because he enjoys dropping Latin phrases into his e-mails and even into presentations to his superiors.
Professionally, Kordus is a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (since 1995), and holds an Associate of Risk Manager designation (1997).
An important trait that Kordus and his mother share is an ability to stand out and rise in an organization. One organization that mom didn't want her son to rise through, though, was the U.S. Army.
"It was quite a battle in itself just to get my mom to go along with my decision to join the Army," says Kordus, whose middle name, Benjamin, is in honor of an uncle who was shot down over Japan in World War II while piloting a B-29 bomber. "But with my dad's support, I was on my way."
And was he ever, "mustanging" (an Army term for enlisted men who rise rapidly through the ranks versus "ring tappers" from West Point) his way from private to specialist, the rank he held when he left active duty after two years.
While in the military, in lieu of lunch and at night, Kordus attended classes at Georgia Military College, earning an associate's degree in business management.
"The Army was a good fit for me," observes Kordus. "It instilled many good habits and pride that comes into play in civilian life, such as punctuality, perseverance, confidence and respect. Also, esprit de corps in the face of adversity."
After completing his active duty in the military (he remained in the National Guard, rising to the rank of first lieutenant), Kordus moved swiftly on two fronts: He took his first job in the business world, in the claims department at Sentry Insurance in Stevens Point, Wis., and he began business courses at the University of Wisconsin in the same town.
By 1989, he had earned a B.S. degree in business administration and marketing, and he was well on his way to climbing up the ladder at Sentry. He was first promoted to senior claims adjuster and then to national accounts.
In national accounts Kordus, in conjunction with chief financial officers, risk managers and other senior management, was responsible for developing, implementing and managing the workers' compensation, employer liability, general liability and auto-fleet programs on as many as 40 accounts, including Ashley Furniture, Kimberly-Clark, Lands' End, and Modine Manufacturing.
When Kordus joined Banta after 10 years at Sentry, he had just turned 30 years of age. But clearly he had "been there and done that."
Hibner, second-ranking executive at Banta, says that if he had to choose one word to describe Kordus, it would be integrity--"high integrity" actually. "You don't have to be around Arthur for long to understand he believes in always doing the right thing."
Adds Rudolph, "Art knows his area inside and out, and he is very proactive. He makes things visible, very real for people. He does a great job of educating people, of letting them know exactly what their role is."
In his private life, Kordus is intensely focused on his family--starting with wife Nannette, who, he says, gives him the "loveliness" in his life and whom he enjoys cooking with in their new, state-of-the-art kitchen.
His hobbies, like his professional interests, make a long list. But at the top there is a love of nature, gardening, golf, archery and, avidly, listening to classical music.
Kordus has the build of a football linebacker. (He was one in high school, and a fullback on offense.) At 5 feet 11 inches and weighing in at around 240 pounds, he makes a habit of lifting weights in the exercise room at his house to stay in shape.
On the pensive side, Kordus is a regular reader. Right now he is caught up in the lives of the leaders of the American Revolution, chief among them Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.
"They were men of principle," he observes. "Too many leaders today are just men of opinion."
His main and sustained reading interest, though, is American poet Joyce Kilmer, no doubt immortalized forever for the schoolbook-favorite poem "Trees." On request, Kordus will happily read that poem aloud.
But the Kilmer poems that move Kordus the most were written when Kilmer, who volunteered for duty despite his five children, was a foot soldier in France during the Great War.
Says Kordus of such poems by Kilmer, who was killed in action defending Paris from the Germans: "Everyone has to look to history for that person they can identify with. For me, it was Joyce Kilmer. At a certain point, I really needed to stop babying myself and grow up. His poems helped show me the way."
That, in essential ways, is Arthur Kordus.
lives in Croton, N.Y.
September 15, 2006
Copyright 2006© LRP Publications