Inside Risk: Michael Liebowitz, New York University

Michael Liebowitz, director of risk management and CLM fellow since 2010, discusses his biggest exposures, the impact of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, the traits needed for success, and more.

March 12, 2012 Photo

Primarily located in the heart of downtown Manhattan, NYU faces risk on a larger scale than most. Michael Liebowitz, director of risk management and CLM fellow since 2010, discusses his biggest exposures, the impact of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, the traits needed for success, and more.

Q. How did you find risk management as a career?

A. When I graduated from college I took a job as an outside independent adjuster, so I came up on the claims side. As such, when I began working in risk management many years later, I was able to look at things from two very different perspectives.

My background helped me because I was able to understand the risks and exposures I was trying to cover, but I could also equate a value to them. So the claims person in me was seeing what went wrong, and the risk manager in me was figuring out how to best mitigate the exposures to reduce the risk.

Q. What is the biggest exposure for NYU?

A. The biggest exposure at NYU is the brand. If it gets tarnished, then that has a direct effect on our operation. The brand is owned by everyone we come in contact with, no matter who you are in the organization. It’s my job to tickle out of these individuals the issues, problems, and exposures that could tarnish the brand. A claim doesn’t need to be insurable. In fact, many things that can tarnish the brand and bring exposure and risk to an organization are not insurable.

Specifically, though, I would say my biggest exposure is our student dormitories. We sleep, feed, and provide activities for students in our buildings, which makes us more like a hotel than a university from a benchmark perspective. Because of that, we benchmark ourselves more to the hospitality industry than other providers of higher education.

Q. What is your overall approach to risk management?

A. My approach is enterprise wide, and the way I look at risk management is that there are three powers of risk if I’m looking at the entire organization: operational risk, compliance risk, and audit risk. I don’t own any of them, but I help facilitate changes in that risk structure to help mitigate them. I do this on a global basis, not just domestically or in New York.

Q. What risk-related challenges do you face in your position?

A. The biggest challenge is continuity of the insurance program globally. We’re a global network university, and that means we have brick-and-mortar sites all around the world. I need to make sure at the lowest level of the organization that my risk transfer programs will respond, that they meet local regulations of a particular country, and that they also work back in the U.S. and tie back to my overall domestic program so that I don’t have gaps in coverage.

The other big thing is taking an enterprise risk management strategy and rolling it out to both the academic and administrative side of the organization. I try and do things that will prevent a claim from occurring, whether it’s insurable or not.

Q. What kinds of claims do you and your staff resolve?

A. My number one claim is really simple: trip and falls on the sidewalks. We are a very large landlord and owner of property in New York City, so my exposure is very big there. Because of the way city laws are written, I’m responsible from the curb to the building, and millions of people go past our buildings in New York every day.

Q. Did the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 affect your risk management strategy?

A. I was involved with the task force that was commissioned by the governor of Virginia to look at the shootings. We’re always reviewing and looking at better ways to provide a secure environment, and that includes looking at our policies and procedures for “active shooters,” which was already in place prior to Virginia Tech. Every one of our buildings has its own security officers and we have a policy in place, but the first place we call is 911. We have the NYC police department—the finest in the country—at our beck and call.

Q. What personal and professional traits make for a good risk manager?

A. Be open and honest with people. Be a good communicator. Be a member of professional organizations so you can network, be it CLM or RIMS. I find those as the most helpful. At the end of the day, we try not to say no to people; we try and find a way to mitigate the exposure so people can do what they need to do in our organization in order to further themselves, the organization, and the student body. 

About The Authors
Eric Gilkey

Eric Gilkey is vice president of content at the CLM, and serves as executive editor of CLM magazine, the flagship publication of the CLM.

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