Tag Archives: Business

On Being Well Read

I attended a risk management conference last week, and one of my most important takeaways was the need to be more well-read. As a risk management professional, I seek to be more informed about news & current events, global business climate, and important business transactions among other things. Since returning home, this has been on my mind, and I have explored subscriptions to a few publications.

Yesterday morning, during my daily devotional time, the Lord offered up this reminder:

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This is what is most important: to be well-grounded. I must set my foundation on solid ground and let everything that I am be built on that. To be sure, I fully intend to subscribe to a few news and business publications. I want to be that informed, well-rounded individual. But my time in God’s Word comes first. It defines me. It sets the tone. The others will help me be well-rounded; God’s Word will help me be a better man as it keeps me well-grounded.

Soli DEO Gloria!

RIMS 2018: What Did I Learn?

I’ve lost count of the number of national RIMS (Risk & Insurance Management Society) conferences I have attended over the years, but I’m guessing it is around 20 or so. I always come away from the conference feeling a bit melancholy as I am reminded of how important the relationship aspect of this industry truly is and how much I enjoy hanging out with my friends in this crazy and wonderful industry. Here are a few key takeaways from my recent 2018 RIMS experience:

  1. Be well-read. I had the honor of joining Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg for lunch after he spoke at Chubb’s annual leadership luncheon. I am always impressed at his worldliness as he speaks on world affairs, American politics, challenges in business, and Chubb’s strategies. Given the plethora of misinformation out there these days, I asked him, “What do you read?” He responded that he reads three newspapers daily: The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times. He also reads The Economist each week. I have been pondering this ever since, as this is an area in which I can improve.
  2. Relationships are important. In this industry, people prefer to do business with people they know and trust. The purchase of insurance for a large publicly traded organization is an important two-way transaction: While I need to rely on my trading partners to be there if the crud hits the fan, they need to rely on me and my team to manage our risks the way we say we do to mitigate that potential. There is much at stake for both of us. Part of my process is to personally meet every underwriter in my portfolio, and to get to know well those who take on the most significant risk transfer. RIMS offers me an annual opportunity to nurture these relationships, and this is one of the aspects of my role that I enjoy the most.
  3. If you need something, ask. I had a need in my claims program that had not been addressed to my satisfaction. At RIMS I had the opportunity to state my case to senior management of an important trading partner, and within a few days my need was met. One important reason was the foundational relationship between our two organizations and us personally. See number 2 above.
  4. You own your program. We risk managers rely heavily on our brokers for coverage placement and addressing any issues or concerns that may arise. They are an incredibly important leg on this three-legged stool (broker, insurer, client), and I value their experience and expertise. Sometimes, however, we must take ownership of solving a problem, not because our partners are deficient, but because it is my problem; I have the greatest stake in seeing it addressed. See number 3 above.
  5. Never stop learning. I recently joined the Board of Houston’s RIMS chapter. Along with four other Board members, I attended a Sunday morning Chapter Leadership forum led by national RIMS. There was much discussion of the RIMS CRMP (Certified Risk Management Professional) designation. I had heard of it, but never explored it. You see, I am fairly seasoned in my career, I have a graduate degree, and I earned my ARM designation many years ago. “What’s the point,” has been my response to earning CRMP. The point is, retirement is several years out (God willing). I have much work yet to do and my organization deserves the most well-rounded professional I can be. And learning is fun. So I’m going for it.
  6. RIMS is worth supporting. The Chapter Leadership Forum offered the opportunity to learn from many very successful chapters from around the US and Canada. We have great people in Houston and we have a great Chapter but we can be better. I have gained much from my RIMS membership over the years and now it’s time to give back. I’m looking forward to working with my fellow Board members on several takeaways we gained in this session.
  7. Work hard, play hard. OK, it’s not really a takeaway. Those who know me well know how much I enjoy the social aspects of what we do for a living. Yes, it’s fun. But it is also very important. In these social settings, we get to know one another personally. We learn about each other’s families. We talk about life’s struggles. We celebrate life’s successes. We build bonds of trust that are personally gratifying, but also business beneficial. Many who I consider my closest and dearest friends are friends through this industry, and for their friendship I am truly grateful.

I suppose these are not really “learnings” per se. They are reinforcements of things I know to be true and sources of inspiration from which I plan to drive my future success and professional development. Thank you, industry friends and partners, and thank you RIMS for being a very important part of my life. I am blessed.

2015 Photo Some Days – Photobomb for Charity

The semi-finals were hard-fought, even as temps soared into the 90's

The semi-finals were hard-fought, even as temps soared into the 90’s

IMA Dallas’ annual Sandblast charity event took place on September 17, 2015 and was a smashing success. Benefitting Junior Achievement of Dallas and the IMA Foundation, we moved our venue this year to the Sandbar Cantina & Grill in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood. Several of IMA’s business partners and clients participated in the event. I was particularly impressed with the skill and stamina of many of the volleyball teams, as they continued to play hard as the mercury climbed into the mid-90’s yesterday afternoon.

Sandblast Photobomb!

Sandblast Photobomb!

Of course, we managed to have lots of fun in the process of raising money for these worthy causes. For me, the personal high point of my day was FINALLY delivering my first-ever photobomb! Indeed, I have attempted to bomb many a portrait as the phenomenon has gained in popularity, but have always managed to be busted prior to the shot. This, however, was perfectly timed as two of my coworkers posed for the camera. We work hard at IMA, and I feel particularly blessed to work with a group of good, fun-loving people.

But all joking aside, we raised $15,000 for Junior Achievement, and that is a worthwhile achievement in and of itself. It is indeed a blessing to work for a company that gives so much to the communities in which we live and work.

IMA Sandblast is an annual event. If you have interest in joining us next year, give me a shout. It’s lots of fun and supports a very worthwhile cause.

Sandblast 2015 raised $15,000 for Junior Achievement Dallas!

Sandblast 2015 raised $15,000 for Junior Achievement Dallas!

Cold Call Snafu

Surely you want to talk with this guy!

Surely you want to talk with this guy!

Those of us who cold call as part of our sales strategy know how difficult it can be to get that prospect to answer the telephone. I keep track of such things, and my personal average is a live person in only 7% of calls. I typically leave a message, and I feel especially gratified when a prospect actually returns the call. It’s rare, but it does happen. I received such a return call yesterday evening. I was on I-635 in Dallas headed westbound towards home when my cell phone rang:

Me: “This is Jeff, how may I help you?”

Caller: “This is Jan Brady.” (I changed the name. I had a crush on the real Jan Brady as a boy. Might as well pretend I spoke with her on the phone!) “My receptionist gave me a message that you called while I was in a meeting this afternoon. I don’t know who you are, but she felt I should return the call.”

Crap. The name rings a bell but I sure as heck can’t place the company she’s with. I made almost 50 calls this afternoon. And to make matters worse, I’m moving at 70 miles per hour and she is talking very fast, so of course I didn’t catch her name when she first said it. Buying time and hoping she’d say the name of her company I continued.

Me: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name. Would you mind repeating it and letting me know who you’re with?”

Caller: “It’s Jan Brady. I live in Dallas and I own a business here. You called me. Do you not know who I am?”

Double-crap. No. I don’t.

Me: “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. I’m in my car and I don’t have my notes in front of me. What company are you with?”

Caller: “This is a solicitation call, isn’t it. My receptionist knows I don’t take solicitation calls and this is why. I’m just one of hundreds of names on a list to you; you have no clue who I am, do you?”

Me: “Ms. Brady, I represent IMA. We are a regional insurance brokerage firm, and we help our clients mitigate their total cost of risk. I am actually very selective about the companies I choose to contact, and I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t think that we might be able to add value. I apologize for the confusion. You see, I have my office phone set up to automatically forward calls to my cell so that I don’t miss a client if I’m out of the office when they try to reach me. It’s part of the way I serve my clients, and I mean no disrespect.”

I figured it was best to be succinct in my honesty; perhaps I could salvage this call.

Caller: “I have no interest in speaking with you. Remove me from your call list.”

Click.

Of course, I have replayed this call time and again in my head. I’ve banged my head against the proverbial wall. I gave myself a good cussing out. When I arrived in the office this morning I checked my call list from yesterday afternoon and found Jan Brady. I removed her from my call list – for now. And, first thing this morning, I turned off the automatic call forwarding feature on my office phone.

Some day, when Ms. Brady is a client, I’ll relate this story and we’ll share a good laugh. Until then, back to the phones.

2015 Photo Some Days – Winds of Change

The parking lot sits empty as CEC's former  home awaits a new tenant. 9.14.2015

The parking lot sits empty as CEC’s former home awaits a new tenant. 9.14.2015

Given my lunch meeting in Irving the other day, I took a few moments to drive around the office building that, until recently, served as the home of Chuck E. Cheese’s Support Center. I’ve enjoyed a successful and rather fruitful career thus far, and CEC is in many respects my favorite stop along my professional journey. During my tenure at CEC I worked with many wonderful people, enjoyed a particularly vibrant and employee-friendly culture, and helped deliver some pretty impressive results along the way.

Things change. In business, ownership sometimes changes as it did at CEC last spring. With that change came new leadership, new people, a new culture, and new opportunities. In my case as with many of my CEC friends, CEC’s ownership change led me to a  new opportunity with another firm. For many colleagues who remain at CEC it led to new digs and a new culture that holds the potential for some nice financial rewards down the road. I wish them well.

Tattered flags on the breeze in front of the former CEC Support Center. 9.14.2015

Tattered flags on the breeze in front of the former CEC Support Center. 9.14.2015

In a way, it’s a bit sad to see this parking lot completely empty with tattered flags flying outside the front door. Seeing those tattered flags blowing in the North Texas breeze reminded me that change, although sometimes painful and often inconvenient, can lead to good things if we simply open our minds and trust God for that next phase in life’s journey.

What’s changing in your life? What is your attitude towards that change? Keep your chin up and trust the Lord. And all will be well.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of “Cheap” Insurance

I read a post on LinkedIn the other day that purported to offer tips on how to buy “cheap” business insurance. Ever since reading it, that post has really stuck in my craw. The phrase “cheap insurance” is like fingers on a chalkboard to me and it should be to you, too. Why? Because I’ve seen what can go wrong when price is king.

Photo credit: insurancejobs.com

Photo credit: insurancejobs.com

Why do businesses purchase insurance anyway? Because they have assets – people, property, profits – at risk of loss due to something accidentally going wrong. Furthermore, business owners and their employees are sometimes unjustly accused of wrongdoing, and in those situations, the cost of defending the claim often exceeds the value of the claim itself. The financial cost of defending claims, repairing, replacing or rebuilding damaged business property, and indemnifying claimants may exceed the business’s ability to pay for the loss on its own. Insurance is really a source of funds to cover the costs resulting from accidental loss; costs which the business cannot otherwise afford to absorb.

Truth is, insurance companies and the insurance policies they sell are not created equal. If the insurance buyer isn’t careful, that “cheap” policy may not respond as anticipated when a loss occurs. Perhaps the policy was cheap because the insurer’s financials are not real strong. Will the insurance company be around to pay the loss when it comes due? That day of reckoning often comes years after the temporary satisfaction derived from getting that cheap premium has worn off. Perhaps the policy was cheap because the underwriter excluded some key elements of coverage or reduced coverage limits on some aspects of the policy in return for cheapening the cost of his product. Such adjustments are sometimes the very thing that jumps up to bite the business in the behind when the claim is presented and declined by the insurer, leaving the business owners with nothing more than a three-ring binder full of paper that just might be worthy of campfire starter fuel. If you are the business owner or the owner’s designated manager of her risk management and insurance strategy, you do not want to place yourself or your business in this precarious position.

Photo credit: sorryaboutyourweight.com

Photo credit: sorryaboutyourweight.com

So what is a business owner to do? How can she be most assured that the insurance she purchases today will truly be there for her business later when it’s needed? Let me answer this way. I consider myself to be a pretty decent handyman. I’ll tackle basic repairs to many items in my home, but there are three items I will not touch: electricity, natural gas, and plumbing. If I mess with those systems and make a mistake, the result could be catastrophic. So when those systems need work, I call a pro. Business insurance falls into that category as well. The business owner is very skilled in her chosen field but probably does not have the expertise or the relationships to self-source the best possible insurance policy for her business at the best possible price. That’s where the insurance broker steps in.

A quality insurance broker will be familiar with the business owner’s industry and the insurers most qualified to cover it. A quality broker will interview the business owner or her designee to glean as clear an understanding as possible of the potential causes of accidental loss the business might face while counseling her on practical strategies that just might help prevent the loss from occurring in the first place. In transacting an insurance purchase, the broker’s job is to gather required underwriting data, prepare marketing materials for presentation to qualified potential insurers, receive quotes, and negotiate policy terms, conditions and price. The broker then presents quality options with pros and cons of each to the business owner or her designated insurance buyer so she is equipped make an informed purchase.

Photo credit: dearmediacare.com

Photo credit: dearmediacare.com

Managing the insurance transaction in this manner benefits the business owner in at least two ways: (1) The business owner is free to focus on her business while letting the insurance pro work the marketplace in her behalf, and (2) The business owner is now in the best possible position to achieve the optimal balance between coverage quality and coverage price. Even better is the fact that insurance brokers are typically compensated by the insurers via commissions; thus, the business owner should not incur additional cost for accessing the services of a quality insurance broker. (Note that there are other methods of broker compensation, but that is a topic for another post).

If you are a business owner with the objective of buying “cheap” business insurance, I hope you will rethink that strategy. Don’t put your business at risk to save a few bucks on your insurance premiums. Call a pro who will manage the insurance marketplace in your behalf to help you achieve a quality purchase at a reasonable price. That, indeed, is the wise business decision.

Note to the Reader: The information offered herein is derived from my personal experience as a risk management professional. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. This information should not be considered as a substitute for legal, tax and/or actuarial advice. Please contact the appropriate professional counsel for such matters.

Know Your Audience

“Did you know that workers’ compensation claims cost our company over $24 million last year!?” I asked incredulously. And, with that opening line, I lost my audience.

I had the best of intentions. I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to achieve buy-in. I wanted my audience of operations vice presidents and warehouse managers to leave the meeting with a sense of purpose and a committed resolve to run their distribution centers in the safest manner possible. Unfortunately, I only achieved one of my three objectives, and that only in part: They all left the meeting.

This squandered opportunity underscores an often overlooked component of successful communication: the need to tailor the message to the audience. Truth is, we did have an opportunity to reduce workers’ compensation costs. Achieving the buy-in of the operations professionals who ran the warehouses and loaded the trucks was essential to our success. And, in this instance, I failed.

I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority.

Fast-forward one year. After the debacle of the year before I had to battle to get the risk management team a spot on the operations meeting agenda. Quite frankly, I understood management’s hesitance; my presentation the year before used an hour of valuable time and achieved nothing. I told them I had learned my lesson. I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority. I showed them a draft of my new presentation as I told them this year would be different. And it was.

“I want you all to close your eyes,” I said. “Picture in your mind the best order selector in your warehouse; you know, the one with the near-perfect pick rate and lowest error rating. I know that each of you already has that person pictured in your mind. Now, picture him at home because he hurt his back at work. He’s off for six months. Open your eyes.”

I had their attention. I asked, “How many of you have had this experience in your operation at least once during the past year?” Many raised their hands. I asked them, one by one, “How was your warehouse impacted by that employee’s prolonged absence from work?” All of a sudden, a discussion broke out! Operations VP’s and warehouse managers shared how overall pick rates deteriorated and overtime costs increased. Several even talked about reduced morale and reduced bonus payouts. “If I could show you three simple things you can implement now to help avoid this disruption going forward, would you consider them?” I now had their full attention. I had a room full of risk management deputies. Mission accomplished.

During that second presentation, I never talked about money. I didn’t preach the virtues of prevention as a means of reducing retained loss costs. Why? Because this audience couldn’t care less about those things. That is not the world in which they live and breathe every day.

I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.

I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.

That presentation, now some 20 years in the past, was the catalyst for some amazing results. And, for me personally, it launched a true appreciation for and enjoyment of public speaking.

I offer this glimpse into my career learning process in the hopes that you might consider (or reconsider) each slide in that PowerPoint deck you’re about to present. Persuading a Board, a C-Suite, mid-management colleagues, and operations professionals to support any given objective will typically require a different approach tailored to each of those groups. To whom are you presenting? I’m sure the content is important to you, but is the content important to them? How can you make your objective meaningful to your audience? Will your supporting facts resonate with them?

After several years of absence, I rejoined a local Toastmasters club two years ago. I believe strongly that well-honed communication and presentation skills are an essential component to any leader’s success. I know they have contributed hugely to mine.

Click here to learn more about Toastmasters and how it can help you hone your communication and presentation skills!

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