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Ewing embraces challenges, rewards of risk management

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Colleagues, business partners and family members describe Lance J. Ewing as a driven risk manager with endless enthusiasm for his work and a taste for daring airplane rides.

The high-profile vp-risk management for Harrah's Entertainment Inc. is a bit of a "maverick," they say, who is willing to innovate and tackle new risk management challenges.

After Harrah's casinos suffered more $1.3 billion in losses from 2005's Gulf Coast hurricanes, Mr. Ewing quickly renewed his property insurance. That won him 18-month insurance policies with broader coverage than would have been available had he waited, as some market observers suggested.

When excess workers compensation insurers showed little appetite to cover a potential catastrophic loss from a terrorist attack or a pandemic outbreak, Mr. Ewing addressed their employee concentration concern by dividing his business between two underwriters.

His vendors and colleagues say Mr. Ewing is tenacious when pursuing a goal and doesn't stop until he finds a path around obstacles.

Those and other traits led an independent panel of judges to name Mr. Ewing the Business Insurance 2007 Risk Manager of the Year.

Colleagues describe the former president of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. as a role model who pushes people to excel, a tough but fair insurance purchaser and a dedicated father.

$100M cost of risk

Mr. Ewing currently oversees Harrah's total cost of risk that exceeds $100 million annually. That includes the gaming and entertainment company's insurance purchases and retentions, captive premiums, broker fees, and expenses to investigate more than 20,000 claims and incidents a year.

Combined, the claims and incidents reported by Harrah's employees and guests have estimated reserves exceeding $35 million.

Mr. Ewing's department includes 16 corporate-level employees and 31 risk control managers at individual Harrah's properties. Staff roles include aggressively addressing claims generated by 80,000 employees and more than 4 million guests who annually visit Harrah's 50 locations throughout 13 states and six countries.

Mr. Ewing said he has never shied away from adversity and challenges, and those around him agree.

He also said he thrives on leadership roles, stepping forward during a crisis and building the relationships required of commercial insurance industry leaders.

A monumental leadership challenge greeted him in 2005 when he became Harrah's risk manager.

Harrah's completed its acquisition of Caesars Entertainment Inc. in June 2005. Mr. Ewing, who was the risk manager for Caesars, arrived in Memphis, Tenn.--Harrah's home office--two months later.

He was saddled instantly with overseeing two parallel risk management programs while searching for areas to merge, recalled Mr. Ewing's property insurance broker, John J. Bullock, president of Willis of Mississippi Inc., a Pascagoula, Miss., unit of Willis Group Holdings Ltd.

Merging two Fortune 500 company risk management departments isn't easy, Mr. Bullock said.

Three weeks into that project, and having just arrived in Memphis with his family, Mr. Ewing learned that Hurricane Katrina substantially damaged three Harrah's hotels while destroying two floating casinos and other Harrah's properties. The destruction included a floating casino that Mississippi officials blew up after the hurricane tossed it onto a highway.

Within weeks, Hurricane Rita damaged or destroyed more Harrah's properties, including barges housing shops, restaurants and nightclubs that sank to the bottom of Lake Charles in Louisiana.

"So now he is staring down two humongous, staggering losses that he really doesn't have his arms around yet because you can't get the numbers in quick enough to know what (the losses) are," Mr. Bullock recalled.

Since Harrah's and Caesars merged, Mr. Ewing whittled his insurers to 42. But because both companies had separate insurance programs, 70 insurers were responsible for paying damages.

So far, the insurers have paid more than $600 million in claims. said Roger Davis, Harrah's director of claims management.

Harrah's has made claims for another $650 million and "possibly more" in the future, Mr. Ewing added.

The recoveries to date have come without legal conflict and only one insurer refused to negotiate. Mr. Rogers credited the close relationships Mr. Ewing forges with insurers for the successful recovery efforts.

"I think Lance is the best I've ever seen as far as maximizing our business relationships with the carriers," said Mr. Davis, an industry veteran.

For instance, Harrah's and one insurer were roughly $10 million apart in settling a hurricane-related claim. Mr. Ewing worked his relationship with the insurer's senior management to narrow the gap, Mr. Davis said.

"It didn't happen overnight," Mr. Davis elaborated. "It took a little arm twisting and give-and-take on both sides, but he was able to get it done."

Harrah's risk management division doesn't expect its insurers to pay for losses not covered under its contracts, Mr. Davis said. But Mr. Ewing does use his purchasing clout and expects a fair settlement for covered losses.

"He is very direct" with his insurers, Mr. Davis added. "He lets them know up front that we have a business relationship. That, 'If you are not going to work with me I'm not going to work with you.' He has been able to parlay that into a great relationship with the carriers and very effective recovery. The proof is in the results."

Mr. Ewing said he prefers purchasing from insurers with which he maintains relationships. For instance, he has been a member of client councils for American International Group Inc. since 2003, Zurich North America since 2004 and ACE Ltd. since 2005. Each insurer provides Harrah's with property and casualty policies.

Recovering insurance money is only part of Harrah's hurricane story.

After Katrina struck, Mr. Ewing volunteered for an airplane ride into the destruction zone.

He traveled to Gulfport, Miss., where Harrah's converted a damaged office property into a disaster recovery "command and communications center."

"I was the first one to put my hand up and say, 'I want to be on that plane,' and here I'm the new guy (in the company)," Mr. Ewing said.

This plane ride, however, differed markedly from the excitement of the one that took him to his first skydiving jump, Mr. Ewing recalled. The hurricane destroyed people's lives, homes and businesses. Those on the plane to the Gulf Coast were quiet in anticipation of how they would help in the midst of destruction.

"We didn't know what to expect," Mr. Ewing said. "We knew the devastation was bad, but we didn't know how bad."

The bottom floor of the two-story Gulfport building provided counseling, food and other services for impacted employees. The upstairs served as the brain center for recovery of Harrah's properties.

Travel trailers housed Harrah's disaster recovery workers, including Messrs. Ewing and Davis. They tallied weeks spent working from the location, Mr. Ewing said.

Risk management along with Harrah's design and construction department and upper management led the recovery's direction while other Harrah's departments lent support.

"Once we discovered how bad the damage really was, we had to pick up the pieces quickly," Mr. Ewing said.

Most days, though, Harrah's risk management department faces a normal array of work, including renewal meetings with underwriters, claims management decisions and overseeing loss prevention efforts.

But there are the unusual situations that arise when hosting millions of guests each year across several continents.

Within an hour on a recent day, Harrah's risk management department received notification of a fake hand grenade found in a bag, a possible tuberculosis case at another company property and the acquisition of a small zoo in South Africa.

"That's a fairly typical day," Mr. Ewing said.)/18Lance-Boss-p11">

Mr. Ewing plays as hard as he works, his wife and business partners say. But with his work a constant priority, play hasn't always come easily for him, said Kimberly Ewing.

She once purchased skydiving instruction for Mr. Ewing while searching for a leisure activity to pull him away from the long hours he works. The risk manager's jump instructor turned out to be a fellow with the first name of Chance.

Ms. Ewing said she was tense watching the preparations for her husband's first jump. The plane rolled down the runway twice in attempting to lift off before the pilot ruled the craft unfit to fly, Ms. Ewing said. After a second plane carried him off and Mr. Ewing completed his jump, Ms. Ewing asked if the aborted takeoffs scared him.

"'No, it was all in the challenge,"' Ms. Ewing said he responded.

Mr. Ewing said he has never shied away from adversity and challenges, and those around him agree.

He also said he thrives on leadership roles, stepping forward during a crisis and building the relationships required of commercial insurance industry leaders.

A monumental leadership challenge greeted him in 2005 when he became Harrah's risk manager.

Harrah's completed its acquisition of Caesars Entertainment Inc. in June 2005. Mr. Ewing, who was the risk manager for Caesars, arrived in Memphis, Tenn.--Harrah's home office--two months later.

He was saddled instantly with overseeing two parallel risk management programs while searching for areas to merge, recalled Mr. Ewing's property insurance broker, John J. Bullock, president of Willis of Mississippi Inc., a Pascagoula, Miss., unit of Willis Group Holdings Ltd.

Merging two Fortune 500 company risk management departments isn't easy, Mr. Bullock said.

Three weeks into that project, and having just arrived in Memphis with his family, Mr. Ewing learned that Hurricane Katrina substantially damaged three Harrah's hotels while destroying two floating casinos and other Harrah's properties. The destruction included a floating casino that Mississippi officials blew up after the hurricane tossed it onto a highway.

Within weeks, Hurricane Rita damaged or destroyed more Harrah's properties, including barges housing shops, restaurants and nightclubs that sank to the bottom of Lake Charles in Louisiana.

"So now he is staring down two humongous, staggering losses that he really doesn't have his arms around yet because you can't get the numbers in quick enough to know what (the losses) are," Mr. Bullock recalled.

Since Harrah's and Caesars merged, Mr. Ewing whittled his insurers to 42. But because both companies had separate insurance programs, 70 insurers were responsible for paying damages.

So far, the insurers have paid more than $600 million in claims. said Roger Davis, Harrah's director of claims management.

Harrah's has made claims for another $650 million and "possibly more" in the future, Mr. Ewing added.

The recoveries to date have come without legal conflict and only one insurer refused to negotiate. Mr. Rogers credited the close relationships Mr. Ewing forges with insurers for the successful recovery efforts.

"I think Lance is the best I've ever seen as far as maximizing our business relationships with the carriers," said Mr. Davis, an industry veteran.

For instance, Harrah's and one insurer were roughly $10 million apart in settling a hurricane-related claim. Mr. Ewing worked his relationship with the insurer's senior management to narrow the gap, Mr. Davis said.

"It didn't happen overnight," Mr. Davis elaborated. "It took a little arm twisting and give-and-take on both sides, but he was able to get it done."

Harrah's risk management division doesn't expect its insurers to pay for losses not covered under its contracts, Mr. Davis said. But Mr. Ewing does use his purchasing clout and expects a fair settlement for covered losses.

"He is very direct" with his insurers, Mr. Davis added. "He lets them know up front that we have a business relationship. That, 'If you are not going to work with me I'm not going to work with you.' He has been able to parlay that into a great relationship with the carriers and very effective recovery. The proof is in the results."

Mr. Ewing said he prefers purchasing from insurers with which he maintains relationships. For instance, he has been a member of client councils for American International Group Inc. since 2003, Zurich North America since 2004 and ACE Ltd. since 2005. Each insurer provides Harrah's with property and casualty policies.

Recovering insurance money is only part of Harrah's hurricane story.

After Katrina struck, Mr. Ewing volunteered for an airplane ride into the destruction zone.

He traveled to Gulfport, Miss., where Harrah's converted a damaged office property into a disaster recovery "command and communications center."

"I was the first one to put my hand up and say, 'I want to be on that plane,' and here I'm the new guy (in the company)," Mr. Ewing said.

This plane ride, however, differed markedly from the excitement of the one that took him to his first skydiving jump, Mr. Ewing recalled. The hurricane destroyed people's lives, homes and businesses. Those on the plane to the Gulf Coast were quiet in anticipation of how they would help in the midst of destruction.

"We didn't know what to expect," Mr. Ewing said. "We knew the devastation was bad, but we didn't know how bad."

The bottom floor of the two-story Gulfport building provided counseling, food and other services for impacted employees. The upstairs served as the brain center for recovery of Harrah's properties.

Travel trailers housed Harrah's disaster recovery workers, including Messrs. Ewing and Davis. They tallied weeks spent working from the location, Mr. Ewing said.

Risk management along with Harrah's design and construction department and upper management led the recovery's direction while other Harrah's departments lent support.

"Once we discovered how bad the damage really was, we had to pick up the pieces quickly," Mr. Ewing said.

Most days, though, Harrah's risk management department faces a normal array of work, including renewal meetings with underwriters, claims management decisions and overseeing loss prevention efforts.

But there are the unusual situations that arise when hosting millions of guests each year across several continents.

Within an hour on a recent day, Harrah's risk management department received notification of a fake hand grenade found in a bag, a possible tuberculosis case at another company property and the acquisition of a small zoo in South Africa.

"That's a fairly typical day," Mr. Ewing said.