Read as Mark Habersack talks about his career as a Risk Manager.  Find him on the Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I currently work in the field of Risk Management.

How would you describe what you do?

I help with the success of our organization by helping to identify the risks that we could encounter.  From there I rate the risk to see how often it could happen, and if it happens what effect will it have on our operations.  Once I have identified the risk and what effect it will have, then I look at how we can reduce the risk.  Reducing the risk may encompass transferring the risk, eliminating the risk, or accepting the risk.

What does your work entail?

Risk Management in itself encompasses a number of areas.  Depending on what industry you work in, you might have more or less job functions than what I currently do.  At the present time I am the Senior Risk Management Analyst for the Clark County Nevada Department of Aviation.  Outside this industry the position can be classed as Risk Manager or Senior Risk Manager. This position currently encompasses 5 airports which includes two general aviation airports, an executive (business jets) airport, a sport airport, and McCarran International Airport.  In addition, I also have a Consolidated Rental Car Facility, and our department is one of the largest landlords in Southern Nevada with a number of properties spread out across the County.

For me, the position has me handling the following areas directly:

  • Liability incidents, claims, and law suits
  • Property damage, and theft incidents, claims and law suits
  • The review of insurance language in contracts for vendors, construction projects
  • Handling the renewals of our insurance policies
  • Review and approval of Certificates of Insurance
  • Provide reports and stats on incident, claims and legal activity
  • Collect from third parties for damage to Department of Aviation (DOA) property
  • Investigate incidents and claims
  • Provide information to and work with attorneys on claims in litigation
  • Review workers compensation claim activity and provide reports to management
  • Review and update as needed the Risk Management manual
  • Conduct training classes on Risk Management and Report writing
  • Ensure that the incident reporting system is functioning and reports are complete
  • Train staff on changes in the Risk Management programs
  • Management of the Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) program including maintaining the information required to ensure the program is current and up to date
  • Perform risk assessments, and make recommendations on how to reduce risk which can range from an engineering fix, a risk transfer, additional insurance coverage, training, or working with management on awareness programs
  • Attend pre-bids for services and activities for the DOA to ensure the successful bidder can meet and provide the DOA with the proper insurance coverages.

In addition to risk management I am also responsible for the management of our fleet operations which has over 800 units that allow us to maintain our airport facilities.

What’s a typical work week like?

One thing about risk management is that it always changes and being flexible is a huge key to being successful. However the typical week starts with Monday morning reviewing what transpired over the weekend.  I review all incident reports and perform any needed follow up to those reports.  In addition I review emails and return phone calls. Generally there are always different things to do such as reports, investigations, insurance reviews, collections activities etc.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays are generally days that I may be involved in meetings in between the normal day to day activities like Mondays.  Friday is generally a catch up day to wrap up anything that started during the week.

I am also involved in a number of trade associations and attend meetings and conference calls.  Some of the trade associations include but are not limited to: the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) and the Council on Litigation Management (CLM).

How did you get started?

Years ago not many people had heard of or wanted to be a risk manager.  So most of us older risk managers simply got into the business of risk management by accident.  For me, I was in casino operations at the time and after 17 years in the food and beverage side of the business, there was a posting asking for someone from operations to learn human resource functions in an 18 month temporary position with the primary duties of managing employees.  Well that was the start of a whole new career path that I never thought of or even considered.

Not one time during the interview did any one talk about risk management, safety or work comp programs.

Of the 100 plus people who applied, I was hired for the position.  On my very first day in this new position I was in my new office and some workers delivered a file cabinet and an OSHA log.  I asked what it was and was told workers’ comp.  I had no clue what that was at the time, but it was my start in the risk management field.  Well the temporary position has turned into 25 years of an exciting career that I would not trade with anyone.

What do you like about what you do?

The fact that you never get bored!  Even after so many years in the field, just when you thought you’d heard everything, you find out something new, or see a claim you never even thought about. This position changes all the time.  Insurance changes based on what is happening throughout the world, government regulation changes, risk changes all the time, and incident and claims are always a daily occurrence. So I like and thrive on the ever changing industry.

What do you dislike?

For a long time I took it personally when I would bring something to management and management failed to act on it.  Also I did not like it when we paid on claims when we knew there was no merit to the claim; however I learned two important things.  1. In looking at the big picture management felt that it was worth the risk not to act on something, and 2. When you weigh the cost of fighting something based upon the principle and not what is in the best interest of the company as a whole, in another words would it be cheaper to settle something for a nuisance value then to spend the company’s money to fight something.  It is hard to think in the bigger scheme of things, but to be successful you need to be open minded.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

In this business there are a number of ways you are compensated, however I am paid a salary, and working in a government position our benefit package is great, the time off is great, and the medical insurance is great.

How much do people in your field/career make?

Starting out and depending on what area of risk management you want to practice in, the pay can be an hourly rate of $12 – $18 per hour for clerks to claims examiners at $25-$35K.  General Risk Managers can make $50 – $80K, Directors of Risk Management can make $75 – $120K plus bonus.  There is a senior management position called Chief Risk Officer (CRO) that can make $150-300K plus bonus.

How much money did/do you make starting out?

Back when I got into the business I was working in the casino industry, and the pay back in the day was not a lot of money, however casino benefits were very good, so I cannot give a good comparison, except, to say the my benefits at the time were special parking and even a company vehicle, free meals, laundry service, free shows/drinks etc. free hotel stays, great travel benefits, and the opportunity to travel, as I was on the opening team for a casino in New Zealand for example.  The pay was $40-50K.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

Today there are schools and programs for risk management.  Back when I started out there were no resources.  You learned from others, and asked a lot of questions.  A lot was trial and error.  Many resources were with insurance agents, and insurance brokers.

Today, through trade associations and some colleges there are risk management programs.  There are also risk management certifications.  Much of what we do is common sense, doing the right thing.  What you need are general management skills, organizational skills, and the trust to learn from each other.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Many people do not understand what risk management is and what we do.  Risk Managers are to blame for many of this; however a good risk manager will show the Total Cost Of Risk (TCOI), and the Return On Investment (ROI).

The best way to describe this, would be to look at the commercial from Progressive, where Flo is selling insurance and has all these shelves with boxes on them for auto, home and bundles.  The boxes are empty, but people are buying them.  This is called selling the invisible.  There is a book that you can read called by the same title “Selling The Invisible” which every risk manager should read.  It is not an easy read but if you understand the message and apply it, it will help you understand how to sell risk management.  The challenge is getting management to understand that risk management is not a cost of doing business but brings value to the bottom line of the company.

What is most rewarding?

I would have to say that when you can show an ROI to your company it shows your net worth.  For example in the 5 years that I have been in my current position, I have shown an ROI of over six million dollars.  These are real to the company bottom line.  Good claims management, insurance marketing, legal management, collections of damage to company property, reduction of claims and the reduction in the severity of claims.

When management comes to you and tells you for the first time they “get it” and they understand what risk management is all about, is the highest pay back you as a risk manager can get.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Go for it!  Do not be over bearing!  Be flexible! Look for the big picture!  Learn everything you can!  Invest in yourself.

How much time off do you get/take?

I do not take the time off that I am entitled to for the most part, but that is just me.  I earn about three weeks per year, plus every government holiday.  I take the holidays and some time here and there so I do not lose it.  When you enjoy what you’re doing, it does not seem like work, so vacation time is not an issue for me.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

I am an insurance salesman.  I cost the company money.  I hinder people from doing their normal jobs.  All of these are misconceptions that risk managers have to deal with, however a good risk manager can overcome this with the ability to see risk management as a part of a team, and that using risk management is a tool to protect the company, and maximize the company profits.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I dream of teaching others, and mentoring those who want to be successful in risk management and in business as a whole.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

The most important thing about risk management in any company is that you have a part in every area of the company.  There are not many jobs except for the CEO and CFO that someone touches every part of the business.  This is very exciting, and good risk managers will take the time to learn about every facet of the company.  Learn every position within the company.  Become an asset to the company.  Be a team player.  Most importantly,  you have to be flexible.