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Safeway risk manager's traumatic experience shapes his view of workers comp

Posted On: Apr. 27, 2014 12:00 AM CST

Safeway Inc.'s William M. Zachry brings a rare commodity to his work with the company's workers compensation program: a grisly experience as a workers comp claimant.

And in the office of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway's vice president of risk management, there's actually a testimonial to his experience.

“My introduction to workers compensation was as an injured worker,” Mr. Zachry said. “I was putting myself through college and I was working in Daly City, which is next to San Francisco, as a playground director.”

Arriving at the playground one afternoon, Mr. Zachry encountered a fight. “There were two girls fighting, and there were eight or nine guys standing around watching the fight,” he said. “And when I broke up the fight the eight guys attacked me.”

And so began Mr. Zachry's introduction to workers compensation.

“The knife went through my back, through the lung, through the diaphragm, through the spleen,” he said. “I was in the hospital for a week, and they took out my spleen.”

The experience shaped the risk manager's view on workers compensation, its purpose and his philosophy on how it should be managed.

“For me, workers compensation is an extraordinarily personal thing in terms of making sure that you provide the right benefits, the right kind of medical care, get people well, and get them back to work,” Mr. Zachry said.


The serendipity that someday he would not only be overseeing a major company's workers compensation program but be a member of the board of the entity that handled his workers comp claim decades earlier isn't lost on Mr. Zachry.

“I like the irony in the world here, because many years later (then-Gov.) Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed me to the board of directors of the California State Compensation Insurance Fund,” he said. “And it was the State Compensation Insurance Fund that handled my claim.”

In January, California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Mr. Zachry to another five-year term on the compensation insurance fund board. “So I'm probably one of the very, very few board members of any insurance company that had their claim handled by that insurance company,” he said.

Today, the certificate announcing Mr. Zachry's board appointment by then-Gov. Schwarzenegger hangs on a wall in his office.

And the certificate from Daly City that's also displayed in his office?

“That little Daly City thing is actually an award of bravery from Daly City,” Mr. Zachry said before joking, “It probably should have been an award of stupidity.”