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William M. Zachry took unusual journey to role as Safeway's risk manager

William M. Zachry took unusual journey to role as Safeway's risk manager

William M. Zachry brought a solid background in workers compensation when he arrived at the Safeway Inc. supermarket chain — even if it was one he acquired somewhat accidentally.

Mr. Zachry, Safeway's vice president of risk management, began his career as a claims adjustor for California Casualty Group in 1979 after completing a bachelor's degree in business administration, personnel and industrial relations, wage and salary administration at San Francisco State University.

“I was looking for a job,” Mr. Zachry said. “I got married ... came back from the honeymoon on a Thursday... on a Friday night I was playing softball.”

A teammate informed him California Casualty had just hired someone and encouraged him to apply. Mr. Zachry got the job.

“As usual, nobody sort of plans to get into the industry,” he said.

“Nine months after I started, I was a supervisor in claims and went off to a third-party claims administrator for a couple of years and then went back into the insurance industry. About eight or nine years into it, I was the vice president of claims at C.E. Heath,” Mr. Zachry said.

Mr. Zachry worked at C.E. Heath Compensation & Liability Insurance Co. from 1987 to 1998, and later joined Zenith Insurance Co., where he was a vice president from 1998 to 2000. He worked at eStellarNet Inc., an Internet medical bill and attachment clearinghouse for the workers compensation industry, from 2000-2001 as senior vice president and chief operations officer. Mr. Zachry then joined, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway as vice president of workers compensation before being named to his current position in charge of Safeway's overall risk management efforts in 2008.


Mr. Zachry, a “nearly” native Californian born in Phoenix, calls his background rather unusual for a risk manager.

“Most of the risk managers don't come out of claims,” he said. “I think they come out of underwriting or broking.”

“I came at a very early age (to California), but my dad was a civil engineer, so we spent 31/2 years in Iran, a year in the Australian Outback and a year in Singapore as I was growing up,” he said.

That experience gave him a “unique international perspective on cultures,” Mr. Zachry said. “You learn about how people are all human, and there are significant cultural differences, but there are significant similarities in terms of the values of what humans care about and who they are. Besides, who else had a pet kangaroo growing up?”

Mr. Zachry's wife, Lisa, retired last year after serving as an elementary school principal and her school district's special education director. They have two daughters, 30-year-old “mirror image identical twins” Lauren and Elizabeth. “One's right-handed, one's left-handed, one's right-brain and one's left-brain,” Mr. Zachry said. “They're both great ladies.”

“We found out we were having twins 17 hours into labor, and my wife is 4 feet 10 inches tall, so it was a big surprise,” he added, calling the experience “a surprise that lasts a lifetime.”

The Safeway risk manager is an avid photographer, a hobby evidenced by the Canon camera that sits on his office credenza along with some of his displayed images, like shots he took atop the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. A friend with the Golden Gate Transportation District arranged the tour with a bridge metal inspector, Mr. Zachry said. “We got to the top and the inspector said, "Don't fall off.'”


Mr. Zachry is also a diligent editor of his photographs.

“When I go on vacation, I'll take 1,000 a day, then the object of the game is to whittle that down below 100,” he said. “So I'll keep 100 per day of what I saw. The nice thing about that is by editing it that night, it reinforces the memory of what I saw.”

Mr. Zachry is also a cancer survivor.

“One other thing I'm very proud about is that I was diagnosed with cancer pretty much the day I got the job, when I was promoted to risk manager,” Mr. Zachry said. “It was prostate cancer. I've had some surgery, and the latest tests show everything's fine. It's nice to be a survivor, if you will.”

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