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Warren Perkins working hard in rebuilding New Orleans

Relationships win renewals

Warren Perkins working hard  in rebuilding New Orleans

When Hurricane Katrina set its sights on New Orleans nearly two years ago, Warren C. Perkins Jr. did what many of the city's residents did—got himself and his family out of the way.

After sending his wife and daughters to Houston, Mr. Perkins and his son high-tailed it to his aunt's house in Montgomery, Ala., where he waited to see what the hurricane would do to his home and his city.

But as risk manager for one of New Orleans' most well-known construction companies, Mr. Perkins also had to concern himself with what the storm would do to millions of dollars' worth of equipment and property, and the fate of the company's more than 1,500 employees.

Like other managers at Boh Co. L.L.C., he also had to figure out how the company and its various affiliates would get operations quickly back to work and ready to repair the damaged city.

That task in particular took on huge proportions when levees failed and about 80% of the city was under water.

Mr. Perkins had to rely on more than 30 years of experience in risk management and safety to perform his role in getting Boh Bros. Construction Co. L.L.C., the group's main construction unit, ready to play a major part in the ongoing effort to rebuild New Orleans.

Claims, class actions and more

Those efforts included Mr. Perkins and his staff: assessing and processing millions of dollars in claims, ensuring employees had access to medical providers, procuring insurance for employee housing, renewing construction and property/casualty insurance in what for many companies became an almost impossibly tight market, processing a multimillion-dollar extra-expense claim and organizing legal counsel to defend Boh Bros. from a slew of class action lawsuits alleging the company was partially liable for the failure of the flood protection system in New Orleans (see story, page 71).

Meanwhile, he had to deal with his and other family members' personal insurance claims and housing, and organize repairs to his home, which suffered significant damage in the storm.

It was for those efforts and the years of solid risk management practice before the storm that Mr. Perkins has been named to the Business Insurance 2007 Risk Management Honor Roll.

Indeed, it was Mr. Perkins' skill in managing the exposures of Boh Bros. and the relationships that he fostered and maintained with his insurers in the years before storm that helped the company deal with the crisis.

Those relationships helped get claims paid and helped ensure that Boh Bros. had adequate coverage when, after Katrina struck, Gulf Coast businesses faced one of their toughest insurance renewal periods ever.

"A lot of risk mangers say, 'Let's get everything at the lowest price we can,' and that is not the way with Warren," said Charlie Eshleman, vp at Gillis, Ellis & Baker Inc., a New Orleans-based independent agent that handles property, hull, boiler and machinery, and several other placements for Boh Bros. "That's not to say that he is not concerned about the dollars spent. He is extremely concerned, but the philosophy of the company is that they like to have long-term relationshipsÖand they believe in idea of, 'We'll stick with you if you stick with us."'

As a result of the focus on the long term, Boh Bros. managed to keep the same property, equipment and hull insurers they had prior to Katrina for the renewals since the storm, despite the huge reduction in capacity available for Gulf Coast risks, Mr. Eshleman said.

Those relationships have been important on the liability side of the program as well, said Michael Tubbs, vp at Willis of Louisiana, a unit of Willis Group Holdings Ltd., who handles much of Boh Bros. liability placements.

"As a company, they believe in relationships and they have to have a lot of good reasons to change a relationship," Mr. Tubbs said. For example, American International Group Inc. has been the main liability insurer for Boh Bros. for more than 20 years, he said.

The long-term relationships "have paid off in claims situations. He gets the opportunity to say, 'I want you to take one more look at this situation,' and that has sometimes allowed him to take a tougher stance" rather than settle questionable claims with a third party, he said.

In addition, Mr. Perkins has fostered relationships within Boh Bros. to ensure that managers at its various units and departments are aware of the risks they face and that they are sufficiently well-protected, said Mr. Tubbs.

"We have a pretty sophisticated insurance program and all of that is because of his curiosity and his approach," Robert S. Boh, president of Boh Bros., said of Mr. Perkins.

"He's pushed us into some new areas in terms of managing risks," Mr. Boh said. For example, over the years Boh Bros. has taken much greater control of its claims and is more comfortable taking on larger deductibles since Mr. Perkins brought in a third-party administrator.

In addition, Mr. Perkins secured significant builders risk capacity for Boh Bros. after Hurricane Katrina, when many insurers were reluctant to take on risks in New Orleans.

"He had to get out and educate the markets about New Orleans," said Mr. Boh, who noted those efforts likely have helped other businesses in the region. "The future of our community depends on private investment, and you can't have private investment without insurance."