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Family insurance legacy provides solid foundation for career

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Unlike many counterparts, Scott B. Clark was born into the insurance business.

In 1917, his great-grandfather founded Merchants Property Insurance Co. of Indiana, a small Indianapolis-based property insurance company that still is family-owned. "I kind of grew up in the business," said Mr. Clark, risk and benefits officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Given his family ties, Mr. Clark never considered working in another field. "It just seemed very natural," he said. "I never thought I would end up as the risk manager for a public entity, but everything happens for a reason."

Aside from the family business, Mr. Clark sold accident and health insurance for Combined Insurance Co. of America while attending the University of Illinois and graduating in 1980 with a bachelor's in business administration.

After graduation, he joined Crum & Forster Insurance Cos. and participated in a yearlong program that exposed him to all aspects of the insurance business, including underwriting, claims, loss prevention, accounting and actuarial analysis. He chose the claims arena and became a multiline field claims adjuster in Freeport, Ill.

His first opportunity in risk management arrived in 1981, when he became a claims manager with Alexsis Risk Management Services Inc. in Chicago, which was a subsidiary of the brokerage known at the time as Alexander & Alexander Services Inc. There he directed administration of self-insured claims for workers compensation and general liability for major clients, conducted risk analyses for existing and prospective clients, and sold services to help them organize or manage their claims departments. "It was a neat opportunity," Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Clark credits his early experiences in working for various segments of the insurance industry as a key part of his success as a risk manager, success that has earned membership on the Business Insurance 2007 Risk Management Honor Roll. For example, when the school district faced significant losses due to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Mr. Clark drew on his adjusting experiences to ensure that the district's loss was appropriately compensated by insurers.

"When I became a risk manager, it really provided me with an opportunity to draw upon all those individual backgrounds, which I think has served me well because I didn't have to do it and learn at the same time," Mr. Clark said.

That early experience has helped him in some of the most basic elements of his current job, such as reading and understanding contracts. That skill is particularly important because, in more than 30 years in the business, Mr. Clark has never seen a 100% accurate contract in its first draft.

"Part of my success, if there's been success in this career, has been that I learned the basics early on," Mr. Clark said. "I've been able to draw upon those and grow from that."

Growing up in the insurance business has been tremendously helpful to Mr. Clark as a risk manager, said David Marcus, vp, southeast regional manager at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (Florida) and a managing director of Gallagher Public Entity and Scholastic Division, based in Boca Raton.

"He's been in every nook and cranny of the business and because of that he understands every aspect of the business," said Mr. Marcus, who has worked with Mr. Clark more than 20 years as the district's broker.

"He takes a very big-picture view of risk management and understands how it fits within the organization."

His background in the insurance industry also gave him a good perspective on what insurance is actually designed for—to place the policyholder in the position they would have been in had a loss not occurred, he said.

"I think a lot of people have expectations and give their employers false expectations of what insurance is supposed to do and what the return on that investment will be," Mr. Clark said.

In addition to being the risk and benefits officer of the fourth-largest school district in the country, Mr. Clark has been an active member of the New York-based Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. for more than 20 years. He helped found the Greater Miami chapter of RIMS and sits on the organization's board of directors, working with the Conference Programming Committee.

RIMS participation has had many benefits, Mr. Clark said. Key staffers, such as Assistant Risk and Benefits Officer Carol Erbs and Workers Compensation Supervisor Rosa Royo, were risk managers for other organizations whom he met through RIMS and recruited to work for the school district.

In addition, professional relationships developed through RIMS have helped Mr. Clark resolve major risk management problems. For example, when Miami hosted the Super Bowl in 1995, dozens of Miami-Dade County students were scheduled to participate in a Walt Disney Co.-sponsored halftime show involving a pyrotechnics display. About a week before the game, Mr. Clark got a call that stadium managers wanted proof of insurance due to the children's participation.

Securing the insurance in that time frame was practically impossible and Mr. Clark wanted the students to participate. So he called Steve Wilder, vp-risk management at Disney in Burbank, Calif., who he met through RIMS. Within 30 minutes, Mr. Clark had a certificate of insurance naming the school district as an additional insured, which he sent to stadium managers and allowed the students to participate.

"That would never have happened if I didn't have that relationship," Mr. Clark said.