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Risk managers who worked as brokers say experience enhanced industry knowledge

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Risk management professionals who have spent some time walking in the shoes of insurance brokers say the experience enabled them to be better at what they do by enhancing their knowledge of the insurance industry.

While historically it was common for risk managers to move to the brokerage side of the business later in their careers, today the reverse is more likely, with many risk managers having gotten their start in the insurance industry either working for brokers or insurers.

In many cases, these industry professionals are recruited into the risk management field by the client companies they had served while they were in their broker roles.

Such was the case for Tanya Santry, wrap-up insurance manager at Lend Lease U.S. Construction Holdings Inc. in New York. The company was her client when she was at Willis North America Inc. specializing in construction.

“Construction is a very niche business,” she said, adding that she became familiar with the company's operations while helping to place its insurance program. “I was their broker, so it wasn't like it was a company that I wasn't familiar with or I didn't place insurance for. So it was a little bit easier of a transition than just coming to a company you know nothing about. My interview was a lunch, and seven years later, I'm still here.”

Ms. Santry thinks her prior brokerage experience has made it easier for her to function in the role of risk manager, particularly when it comes to handling requests for proposals for insurance coverage and services.

“Broker to broker, you know what they're supposed to be doing for you. You know what services they're supposed to be providing, you know timeframes, you know deliverables,” she said.

Leslie Lamb was recruited from Marsh L.L.C. by San Jose, California-based Cisco Systems Inc. in 1999, while helping the company address its Y2K exposures. Though she started in the insurance industry as an underwriter at Chubb Corp., she moved to the brokerage side of the business so that she could work closer with clients.

“I underwrote Cisco, I broked Cisco,” she said. “It helped me really understand Cisco before I came here. I think starting in underwriting is the right way to go. As a broker you get a feel for different industries. You get close to the risk management world from the outside. But if you want to really know a business from the inside out, then coming into risk management is a great learning path. I came in reporting to the risk manager, and now I am leading the team and am involved in business continuity.”

For Eric Marsh, becoming a risk manager at Air Methods Corp. enabled him to marry his love of aviation with his knowledge of insurance. Prior to joining the Denver-based air medical transport company, Mr. Marsh worked as both an insurance agent specializing in benefits and as a property/casualty insurance broker at Willis North America after serving in the U.S. Navy.

“I had been longing to get back into aviation, and this opportunity came along, in which I could couple my experience with insurance and risk management and my passion for aviation,” he said.

Mr. Marsh learned about the risk management position at Air Methods while serving on the board of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. After announcing at a board meeting that he was leaving Willis to pursue his passion, a fellow board member told him he was friends with the CEO of Air Methods and facilitated an introduction.

“Really knowing the insurance side of things, and with all of my years of dealing with underwriters, knowing how underwriters think, and how the whole broker process works has really helped me manage the broker that we use and our insurance program,” he said.

“We've got a massive insurance program. We've got almost 500 aircraft across the country. There wasn't any learning curve on the insurance side. I jumped in and just had to learn the company.”

Kevin Shane recently made the transition from practice leader in engineering, construction and real estate at Marsh in Denver to senior risk manager at engineering firm CH2M Hill Cos. Ltd. in Centennial, Colorado. CH2M Hill had been one of Marsh's clients, and whenever someone from the firm would call with engineering or construction questions, he would advise them.

He said his brokerage experience involving contract review has been especially helpful in his new role, especially when working with CH2M Hill's subcontractor clients. He also is able to better identify the appropriate type of coverage for each risk.

“I'll get on the phone with our client and walk through the contract language so we can more quickly get to the point where contracts can be signed,” Mr. Shane said. “I also like the fact that being fresh out of the brokerage world, I can very effectively help the project managers and project teams in CH understand how insurance can and should be utilized.”

Yvette Connor began her career in brokerage with USI Insurance Services L.L.C. and spent some time as an underwriter at Superior National Insurance Co. before becoming the director of insurance and risk financing at Sutter Health in Sacramento, California. She also held risk manager positions at two other firms — Roll International and Vulcan Inc. — before returning to brokerage at Marsh Inc. in 2010. Today she taps these collective experiences as managing director of risk management advisory services at Alvarez & Marsal L.L.C. in New York.

“My role in having sat in each of those chairs has made me a better risk manager,” she said. “The reason they hired me as a consultant at A&M is that I know the struggles of the internal dialog around risk management that tend to get in the way of folks understanding the value of insurance and the value of risk management. I can be a translator and a facilitator, because I get that struggle.”

Dale Lindstrom, director, insurance and legal compliance at Erickson Aviation in Portland, Oregon, said his experience as a broker also has enhanced his risk management skills.

“It gets back to understanding risk,” said Mr. Lindstrom, who worked at Marsh Inc. from 1994 through 1999 and then again from 2003 until 2008.

“It helps to educate stakeholders that insurance is not a commodity,” he said.

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