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The risk management department at Harrah's Entertainment Inc. works hard and plays hard.
An aluminum foil ball rests atop Darren Tupman's office bookcase. Mr. Tupman, senior manager-risk control for Harrah's, kept the ball as souvenir from the time coworkers foil-wrapped every item in his office--from his stapler to the doorstop. The foil incident was retribution for a prank Mr. Tupman pulled on a colleague, inspired by the television comedy "The Office," in which he put a stapler in a gelatin mold.
He wasn't surprised his colleagues went to such lengths for a laugh in revenge, Mr. Tupman said. His boss, Harrah's vp of risk management, Lance J. Ewing, encourages fun among his staff.
But Mr. Ewing also demands achievement from his department of 16 corporate-level employees and 31 risk control managers.
Apart from their demanding work schedule, Mr. Ewing requires that they continually pursue professional designations and professional development courses.
Employees can grow stale in their thinking because some risk management roles do not introduce them to enough new concepts, Mr. Ewing said. Requiring that they continually upgrade their education also helps diminish a stereotype that risk managers only understand insurance purchasing.
"With things like enterprise risk management, hedging, derivatives and new types of risks, I want my staff to get exposed to those things that they normally wouldn't if they just handled claims, or they just did safety, or if they just handled insurance," Mr. Ewing said.
It's also part of Mr. Ewing's nature to push those around him to succeed.
"My viewpoint isyou need to push yourself out of your comfort zone when it comes to education, and if you don't push yourself, then sometimes you need a little nudge from the boss," Mr. Ewing said. "I never ask (employees) to do anything I wouldn't do myself, and I think it is very important that they are always in the learning mode."
His own educational achievements include two master's degrees, one in occupational safety and engineering and a second in law and justice.
He holds the Associate in Risk Management and the Certified Risk Manager International designations. Mr. Ewing is also a faculty member for the CRM designation, and a board member and instructor for the Austin, Texas-based National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. (see story, page 30).
Family and colleagues describe Mr. Ewing as a perfectionist who rarely ceases working.
Each morning when Roger Davis, Harrah's director of claim management, arrives at work at 7:30 a.m., Mr. Ewing is already there. And Mr. Ewing is still there when he leaves, Mr. Davis said.
The work goes on into the night and on weekends.
"I get e-mail from him on Friday nights, Saturdays, Sundays," Mr. Davis says. "With a BlackBerry, Lance is always around."
The demands that Mr. Ewing places on his staff members can be tough, some of them admit. But they also say he never lacks confidence in them, doesn't micromanage their work and helps drive their success.
Pushing staff to succeed
The success is marked by an array of awards, professional certifications and leadership roles.
Scott M. Lee, Harrah's risk administration manager in Las Vegas, for instance, is this year's winner of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.'s Cristy Award. The Cristy is presented each year to a risk manager who scores the highest academic average for the three examinations required in the ARM program.
Other staff members also are pursuing educational opportunities.
"Eventually, one day I want to be Lance, and to do that I need to have more knowledge of claims and loss control," said Angela Miller, insurance services manager for Harrah's.
She recently obtained a CRM designation and is working toward an Associate in Claims designation and plans to pursue an ARM.
With two children at home, pursuing designations is challenging, she said. But the continuing education benefits her children while broadening her knowledge of the insurance industry, Ms. Miller said.
Before Mr. Ewing became her boss, she felt "pigeonholed" in her work roles, she said. She didn't strive for the professional success to which Mr. Ewing drives her.
"I'm very grateful that (Mr. Ewing) has pushed me to do what I have done," she said. "He's a great mentor and he pushes you out of your comfort zone to do things that you might not have ever thought you could do."
The same is true at home, says Kimberly Ewing, Mr. Ewing's wife. Over the years, he has challenged her to pursue promotions during her nursing career that she otherwise thought she couldn't attain, Ms. Ewing said.
At Harrah's, Mr. Tupman said his risk control efforts require regular travel and 13-hour workdays inspecting company properties. Yet he is also earning an ARM designation and says he doesn't think Mr. Ewing's educational requirements are unreasonable.
"Frankly, I might not be doing that if it were not for Lance wanting me to have that on my objectives," Mr. Tupman said of his ARM pursuit. "It's a very good thing."
Others in Harrah's risk management department can similarly rattle off the designations they're pursuing.
"I received an ARM at the end of last year, so I am going to start working on my CRM," said Mary C. Oddo, supervisor-risk control for Harrah's. Everyone in Harrah's risk management department is "pretty driven," she said.
Some of that drive predates Mr. Ewing's arrival at the company.
Debbie Burd, Harrah's director of financial services, risk management, is immediate past chair of the Minneapolis-based Captive Insurance Cos. Assn. and serves on CICA's executive committee. Ms. Burd joined Harrah's 11 years ago and she joined CICA in 1999 to learn about captives and work her way up in the organization.
The risk management department's drive also earns its staff internal recognition.
Mr. Davis recently garnered the Chairman's Award for the long hours spent on post-hurricane recovery efforts.
His job was a full-time effort before 2005's hurricanes damaged or destroyed several Harrah's properties. Afterward came many more hours of work, including travel to Harrah's damaged Gulf Coast properties and endless hours of meetings to settle the resulting property claims, he said.
The recognition accompanying his Chairman's Award was a welcome change from the usual role of addressing problematic claims.
"We are in the problem business here," Mr. Davis said. "I don't deal with people every day because they are happy. They have claims, they are unhappy, they have a problem and I am the problem solver. I hear horror stories every day, so it's nice to get some positive feedback from people that you work with."