Inside Risk with Tommy Ulrich
Messer Construction's insurance and risk analyst builds a strong foundation of success on his experience.
By Eric Gilkey
Employee-owned since 1990, Messer Construction Co. specializes in complex commercial construction in nine cities throughout the Midwest and Southeast, and even surpassed $1.1 billion in revenue in 2015. CLM Fellow Tommy Ulrich explains how his experience in other insurance-related fields helps him maintain a strong foundation of support for all of the company’s projects and risks.
Q. Tell us how you landed in risk management.
A. More than 10 years ago, I started my professional career with the Cincinnati Insurance Companies (CIC) as a commercial lines underwriter with very limited knowledge of insurance, but the company was willing to take a chance on me. During my time there, I earned several designations and eventually grew into a senior underwriter role. After six years at CIC, I seized a unique business development manager opportunity at the Matrix Companies, which specializes in workers’ compensation claims administration, case management, safety services, investigations, and unemployment cost control. After spending four wonderful years at Matrix, I left to join Messer Construction Co. as their risk and insurance analyst.
Q. How did your previous experiences in workers’ compensation and underwriting help you when you moved to risk management?
A. My most recent experience with Matrix gave me a solid grasp of the monopolistic system in Ohio through working with the state’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, their programs, compliance requirements, and how they apply to state-funded employers. As a commercial lines underwriter, I gained a strong understanding of what commercial insurance policies cover and what they don’t, how they dovetail with each other, and what criteria are important to a carrier. Because Messer has three regions in Ohio, some of my major responsibilities include subcontractor insurance compliance, managing contractor-controlled insurance programs, and balancing relationships with our carriers and brokers. My background made for a smooth transition into my current role.
Q. What’s it like to go from a seller to a buyer?
A. Being on the client side of the insurance world, the principal challenge for me is knowing what the majority of the carrier’s criteria will be when they underwrite our account, and then challenging them to give us the most competitive rate while still maintaining a healthy relationship with them.
Q. What is your day-to-day life like as an insurance and risk analyst?
A. The best thing about my role with Messer is how the various responsibilities I have enable each day to be completely different from the next. I could spend all day on one or many tasks, whether it’s managing pricing and material for our contractor-controlled insurance program, assisting subcontractors with insurance compliance issues, analyzing contract documents for potential projects, or working with our partners to discuss mitigation strategies. Some days also include being on the road to meet with project teams or owners to discuss risk management opportunities and procedures. Each day provides new opportunities, which makes every itinerary distinct from another.
Q. Describe some of the risks you manage.
A. When taking on larger construction projects, we move forward with the contractor-controlled insurance program (CCIP). This program provides higher limits for general liability, workers’ compensation, employer’s liability, and excess liability not only for us, but also for all enrolled subcontractors that come onto the site. We understand that we are taking on more risk, but the program is a superior way to manage the additional risk of a project because it provides universal limits from a single insurance carrier for all enrolled workers, a site-specific safety program, and a single defense team. Having a single carrier insuring the project eliminates the considerable uncertainty of relying on proper risk transfer and indemnification. Since all of the enrolled workers are considered our insureds, there is no debate over who is responsible for a claim.
Q. Have you ever turned a risk into an opportunity?
A. From an underwriter perspective to a sales perspective, I would say that all risk has the potential for opportunity. We have a significant amount of resources that we utilize when determining our approach to a risk, including but not limited to our base of historical data, up-to-date risk management software, modernization of our prequalification process, and our risk management partners. By utilizing our assets, we are able to decide if we are comfortable with the risk. Then, if we agree to move forward, we have the capability of properly assessing the risk and applying adequate risk mitigation strategies to be put into place.