William M. Zachry gives his Safeway risk management team freedom to excelReprints
Often in discussion about his risk management successes, William M. Zachry, vice president of risk management at supermarket chain Safeway Inc., interrupts the conversation to credit his department's staff — a staff that includes numerous industry experts and a very engaged group working to thrive in an environment where risk management is highly valued and innovation produces results.
“It's not your typical insurance-buying department,” said Andrew D. Lennox, San Francisco-based strategic account manager and director at Aon Risk Solutions, one of Safeway's brokers.
“He's accumulated a group of people that he's developed over the years that we've brought on board to take a very different approach to providing health care for injured employees,” said David F. Bond, senior vice president of finance and control at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway.
“Bill's a little bit of a Pied Piper,” Mr. Bond added. “He's got strong people from his past history that we've brought into the company. We've got other people that we've brought in that just wanted to be part of the experience.”
According to Mr. Lennox, one of Mr. Zachry's strengths extends beyond surrounding himself with highly skilled people — he gives them the opportunity to excel.
“One of the unique things about Bill is he allows his people to do great things. He doesn't get in the way,” Mr. Lennox said. “He's hired the best and the brightest, and he's given them latitude to go out and do what they do best, and that's a rarity these days.”
One of the individuals who values Mr. Zachry's leadership style is Juanita Hayes, Safeway's director of workers compensation. “We've worked at three different places together now,” she said.
“Bill and I came to Safeway 13 years ago. I have worked with him for 27 years,” Ms. Hayes said. “He's the dreamer, and I'm the organizer.”
Ms. Hayes added that Mr. Zachry brings much to the process of managing Safeway's workers compensation efforts, including an innovation that fits well into his overall strategy and a humanity that's always coupled with his initiatives. She also said that Mr. Zachry is eternally optimistic and quick to acknowledge others' achievements.
Anita Weir, director of medical and disability management at Safeway, has been with the company for 10 years. “It's very fulfilling,” she said. “I've been looking for an environment like this for a good part of my career.”
She said she appreciates that Mr. Zachry recognizes the scale of the challenge involved in various risk management department initiatives and understands that achieving them involves adequate resources.
“That's one of the things that I've enjoyed about working with Bill. He understands that if we're going to do these things it's going to be hard work,” Ms. Weir said. “That means we're going to need resources and the encouragement to keep doing it.”
In addition to their contributions to Safeway, members of the company's risk management team are actively involved in the risk management community.
“We participate in the community a lot,” Mr. Zachry said. “I have people throughout the organization who are active in giving back.”
Members of Safeway's risk management staff sit on the boards of organizations such as the Captive Insurance Companies Association, the Hawaii Captive Insurance Council and the Integrated Benefits Institute. And of course, the group is very active in the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.
“All of the risk directors are members of RIMS. Last year we took something like 14 of our staff to RIMS — we were one of the largest contingents,” Mr. Zachry said. “The day after RIMS, we gave a tour of our production plant, distribution plant and store, and we had 71 insurance underwriters, brokers and risk folks on the tour.”
In assessing his successes at Safeway, Mr. Zachry said, “It's not me, me, me at the end of the day. It's the team. The team is amazing. These folks have done an amazing job.”
The risk management innovations Safeway's risk management staff are allowed to pursue, and the successes the department experiences, create an environment that contributes to recruiting and retaining risk management talent.
“The culture is incredibly strong, and again a lot of it ties in to the latitude Bill is given from the C-suite to do what he does. He's also given the latitude to go out and hire people,” said Mr. Lennox. “That shared success and feeling of camaraderie is evidenced throughout the organization.”
“They can probably get more money elsewhere, but I don't think they'd have as much fun,” Mr. Zachry said. “And the results are astonishing.”