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As senior vice president of risk management for one of the largest retail real estate owners in the world, Michael D. Horvath's role extends far beyond buying insurance for Simon Property Group Inc.
In addition to purchasing and managing the company's complex array of insurance programs — which typically run in excess of $100 million in premiums a year and cover $32.6 billion in assets including some 350 corporate and retail properties in North America and Asia — Mr. Horvath is primarily responsible for developing and overseeing Simon Property's risk management, safety and loss prevention policies and procedures.
Since joining the Indianapolis-based real estate giant in 1996, Mr. Horvath has been the driving force behind the company's deep integration of enterprise risk management into its corporate and field-level operations.
“The whole premise of this department is that we're a counselor, as opposed to an authoritarian,” Mr. Horvath said.
During that time, Mr. Horvath and his department — made up of Simon Property staff and in-house risk management specialists from the company's insurance brokers, Marsh Inc. and Boardman, Ohio-based Donald P. Pipino Co. Ltd. — have expanded their responsibilities to include strategic planning and contract review in concert with Simon Property's other segments.
“That people in the company now say, "Talk to risk management and they'll give you the answer,' that's a level of professionalism that I've always wanted to achieve, and it's what I'm most proud of,” Mr. Horvath said.
Those who work most closely with him say Mr. Horvath's emphasis on preventive, data-driven risk mitigation and loss prevention strategies has transformed Simon Property's attitude about the value of risk management.
Those strategies and Mr. Horvath's aptitude for developing captive insurance structures, contractual risk transfer provisions and other risk financing solutions have proven crucial to Simon Property's successful navigation of market-changing events that include the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 2007-2009 Great Recession, and more than a decade's worth of hurricanes and other natural catastrophes.
It is for those reasons and more that Mr. Horvath has been named a member of the Business Insurance 2013 Risk Management Honor Roll®.
“I've met other risk managers in the real estate business, and I haven't met anyone who is more proactive or who understands the markets and the process better than Mike does,” said James Barkley, general counsel for Simon Property and Mr. Horvath's direct supervisor.
For example, his early insistence that the company's shopping malls and other properties be designed and built to codes above local requirements not only saved millions in insurance premiums, it also is credited with the low insured property losses the company incurred after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.
“Everyone here has a great deal of confidence in Mike's abilities,” Mr. Barkley said. “We lie awake at night and think about a lot of things, but the risk management program usually isn't one of them.”
Mr. Horvath joined Simon Property via the company's acquisition of Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., where he spent nine years as director of corporate insurance.
A devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Mr. Horvath likens his approach to risk management and the positive effect it's had on Simon Property's broader corporate interests with the Steelers' tradition of emphasizing football's critical, if unspectacular, fundamentals as the building blocks of sustained success.
“It comes down to just blocking and tackling,” Mr. Horvath said. “It would be nice if there was this magic elixir that we used and it solved everything, but it was really setting up the blocks and tackles that were going to make us successful.”
Steven Sachs, Baltimore-based real estate and hotel practice director at Willis North America Inc. and a longtime friend and colleague, chose a different sport.
Mr. Sachs, who nominated Mr. Horvath for the award, said Mr. Horvath's risk management philosophy is perhaps most analogous to his ardent passion for golf, particularly his appreciation for the game's history and evolution.
“There's a parallel there to how he does his job in risk management, in that it's all about preparation and discipline and a respect for the past,” Mr. Sachs said.
“The way he approaches it is that it's not just about pure loss, it's about looking at dynamic loss. It's about collecting and integrating information that improves a decision.”
Safety management is not a phrase one readily associates with exploring new frontiers.