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IBM's Kathleen M. Ireland named Risk Manager of the Year®

Risk manager leads from the center of excellence

IBM's Kathleen M. Ireland named Risk Manager of the Year<sup>&reg;</sup>

When Kathleen M. Ireland joined IBM in 2005, her task was clear. At the time, the technology giant outsourced most of its risk management responsibilities to its brokers. Ms. Ireland, then a senior vice president at Marsh USA Inc. who had served as outsourcing international casualty risk manager for the IBM account, was brought in-house to create an internal risk management department for one of the world's best-known companies.

Her success in doing so earned her the designation of Business Insurance's 2015 Risk Manager of the Year®.

As head of IBM's risk management effort, Ms. Ireland — who was named vice president of global risk and insurance earlier this year — follows a straightforward approach to insurance: “Insurance is the last resort.”

That translates into a heavy emphasis on loss control throughout the Armonk, New York-based company's global operations.

Ms. Ireland said “we spend the time to prevent a loss from occurring in the first place, and then that allows us never to have a loss of life, no loss of our physical assets, no interruption to our income and no market share loss and — most important — never disappoint one of our customers.”

IBM's reputation, she says, is “not insurable.”

“Kathleen brings a wealth of specialized knowledge that ensures IBM has a portfolio of insurance coverage tailored to our ever-changing global needs,” Simon Beaumont, the IBM vice president and treasurer to whom Ms. Ireland reports, said in an email. “She and her team proactively manage this portfolio to ensure we have the required coverage on a cost-optimized basis, combined with a robust loss prevention and claims culture and process.”

Janine M. Smith, managing director of strategic account management at Aon Risk Solutions in New York, has worked with Ms. Ireland since she joined IBM.

“I have really watched her transform the risk organization at IBM in her tenure,” Ms. Smith said. “That transformation has been amazing, and I learn something from her every day. She changed how the risk management group was organized within IBM — Kathleen really centralized the team. She has the power because she has the blessing of senior management that no property/casualty insurance is placed without her blessing.”

“People root for her,” Ms. Smith added. “Every day she gets up and does the right thing. She takes care of the carriers — she never forgets to say thank you.”

And as one might expect from a risk manager involved with a company whose name is synonymous with technology, doing so includes using an arsenal of technology focused tools to protect IBM's assets. One is an online risk management guide; another is a repository of online insurance documents going back a decade.

Through the use of technology, IBM was able to weather 2012's Superstorm Sandy without losing electricity at any of the company's nine locations in the storm's path, including the company's headquarters in Armonk.

But loss control extends beyond property conservation. To assure that the company and its customers understand each party's responsibilities regarding insurance, Ms. Ireland crafted the company's Attorney Inside Guide for Contract Professionals.

Once again, technology plays a key role. The attorney's guide is available online and allows IBM's attorneys to understand the “construct of contract language as respects insurance, so we accurately represent what our insurance coverage does in each customer contract,” she said.

Of course, even when insurance is viewed as a last resort, situations arise in which it must be tapped to deal with losses.

IBM's insurance program is designed globally, it includes the use of a Bermuda-based captive insurer, and is run on a centralized philosophy.

“We take an overall consolidation of the exposures, do the risk evaluation at our corporate headquarters, review the terms and conditions and work with our brokers to design what the coverages will entail,” Ms. Ireland said. She is responsible for the direct management and oversight of an annual risk management budget totaling more than $80 million of risk transfer costs, excluding retained loss and operating expense.

The risk management department itself has been designated a “center of excellence” within IBM and “acts for the benefit of the whole” organization, she said.

Being a center of excellence means that all of IBM's risk management expertise is gathered in one place at company headquarters. And that team consists of only seven risk professionals plus Ms. Ireland. The small team can respond rapidly to questions and requests from the field, she said.

“Part of my job is to be the face of IBM to the insurance community,” Ms. Ireland said. She follows a philosophy of partnership with her insurers, brokers and vendors. To further this goal, she serves on multiple insurer client advisory committees, to provide insights about what works well — and what doesn't.

“It's a very collaborative approach,” she said.

“I would say each day brings new challenges, and some are large and some are small, because IBM is a global company with operations in 170 countries. So we always find there is something new that we are undertaking,” she said.

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