Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind us, but the holiday shopping season is far from over. With 600+ stores in 48 states and more than 15,000 associates, fashion retailer EXPRESS has no choice but to manage its risks effectively. Barry Wilson, director, risk management, for the company and CLM Fellow since 2010, discusses the challenges he faces and his strategies for achieving success.
How did your risk management journey begin?
A. I started by working on property & casualty and healthcare claims for an insurer. Since I understood policy and loss control by being on the claims side, I wanted to get the alternative perspective by giving corporate risk management a try. I began at an elevator/escalator company before going to work for a large retailer in Columbus, Ohio, where EXPRESS was a division. When it was spun off, I was presented with a very exciting opportunity: the chance to build a risk management department from the ground up.
How did a claims background—particularly in healthcare—help you in your job?
I think my claims background was very important. We routinely deal with premises liability and workers’ compensation claims. Understanding that process and the trials and tribulations that claims adjusters go through in trying to get information allows me be more efficient in providing our adjusters with all of the information they need in a timely manner so a proper investigation can be done.
The medical management side continues to grow in importance on the workers’ compensation side. Delivering quality care to employees is our primary objective, and my background definitely helps me understand how to provide that while navigating the claims process. Even the basic knowledge I learned, such as medical terminology, has been very helpful in understanding what is going on with a claim.
How do you manage risk?
My philosophy to risk management is to identify, prioritize, and quantify the risk/reward proposition. From there, I try to understand and build mitigation plans for those risks. It’s also important to work with other risk owners within the business to manage the risks together. It’s not a one-man show when it comes to mitigating risk.
What is your day-to-day professional life like, especially during the holiday season?
Being a fashion retailer, things at EXPRESS move very quickly. So instead of planning for an entire year, we tend to plan season to season. Something new is always happening and my team needs to be ready to support that.
As far as the holiday season, workers’ compensation claims tend to increase as our work force swells with seasonal associates. And with customer traffic increasing, there are simply more people in our stores. So before the holiday season kicks into full gear, we’re preparing by doing things like making sure our holiday displays are easily installed and safely positioned.
Are workers’ compensation claims your top priority?
Yes, given the nature of our business. We also see premises liability and property claims, along with the occasional product liability claim. With so many mall-based stores, it’s not uncommon for us to sustain property damage due to something happening in an adjacent property or the food court.
Do you pursue subrogation actions?
We do a lot of subrogation actions; they are really important. Let’s say a leak from another store damages our ceiling. That’s a cost to the organization. My department goes out and tries to recover those funds from the at-fault party.
Is there a risk-related success you are proud of?
One of the proactive things we do is work with non-profits to find transitional work opportunities for injured associates. We use a vendor that helps us identify non-profits that need help and can accommodate the kinds of restrictions an EXPRESS associate may be facing. What we find is that a lot of these non-profits have retail stores, so our associates are able to help them understand the retail environment and make them more efficient.
The goal is to provide people with meaningful work as they recover. When we came up with this program, we wanted to make sure that we were giving something back to the associate as well as the community.