What did you want to be growing up?
I considered many careers, and I even studied at the Air Force Academy. I had never considered a career in insurance or law. My bachelor’s degree was in mental health and human services, but I realized that it was not going to help me support my family, so I decided to go to law school.
Were you in private practice?
Yes, for 22 years. For the first four years after law school, I was on the plaintiffs’ side dealing mostly with workers’ compensation and black lung cases. Then I moved to the defense side doing the same kinds of cases. For the last seven or eight years of practice, I moved into what we called risk management, where we essentially acted as chief claims officers for companies with large self-insured retentions.
What attracted you to claims?
I didn’t really see claims as being different than what I was doing in private legal practice. It was more about doing what I was good at. American Mining was a signature client of mine for years, so the transition was an easy one.
What type of claims do you see in the mining industry?
Mining is not just coal mining, which is what most people think of. Coal mining actually accounts for a small portion of our book of business. We work with companies that are pulling mineral resources out of the ground, which could include silver, potash, clay, salt, sand, and gravel. Our industry is full of hard-working people who generally are high wage earners. It’s also a high hazard class of business. When someone is hurt, they are usually hurt severely. We manage the promise for them that when someone is hurt, we’ll take care of the injured worker. We also deal with some fairly esoteric disease issues, like black lung claims.
Do you look for experience in a specific line, then?
We’re always looking for folks who are adept at workers’ compensation—that accounts for over 90 percent of our book of business. I look specifically for those who are savvy in workers’ compensation claims. It’s even better when someone has multistate experience. I’ve found that specific experience with mining industry claims isn’t as important initially as general workers’ compensation expertise. I look for claims professionals who like the work and are good at it. I like people who are eager and hungry to do this work.
What skills do good claims professionals have?
I think good claims professionals are born that way, even though they don’t know it until they get into the industry. Claims professionals generally are curious people who like to solve problems and like to take something from beginning to end. They like to take a group of facts and pull them together. I say that good claims people are part Colombo and part priest and confessor. They also are people with compassion and passion for solving problems.
Do you find it difficult to find those people?
It’s easier to find entry-level folks because there are people out there just looking for a job. To find midlevel professionals who have decided that claims is their career is more challenging. That’s why I enjoy working with the CLM and why I’m active in the School of Workers’ Compensation. I think it’s important to foster the careers of claims professionals, and the CLM helps do that.
What would you say to attract people to a claims career?
If you like to be busy in what you do, if you like to do different things every day, if you like to see the work that you are doing have immediate results, if you believe doing the right thing is important, then you can have a successful claims career because these are all important qualities. It’s a rewarding career with a lot of room to move up and income potential.