Chad Jackson, director of risk management at FedEx Corp., stumbled into finance, but he hasn’t taken a wrong step since. After working as a Spanish language teacher after college, Jackson wanted more control over his life and thought a coffee shop might be a fun way to provide for himself and his family.
So he enrolled in business school at Indiana University. It was a new world, but one where he fit in well, he says. “I just had my eyes opened at that point to the world of business and to the fit that I had in the business world,” he says. “I found I had analytical skills, good critical thinking, and a good strategic mindset.”
Five years working for insurance brokerage Marsh USA as a client executive followed. Then in August 2008, Jackson took on his current role at $39 billion FedEx just in time for the financial crisis. “I felt like I got about five years worth of experience in 2008 and 2009,” he says.
These days, Jackson, 35, is busy negotiating the best possible insurance coverage for all four of FedEx’s reporting segments, making sure that if the unthinkable happens, the company will remain sound. Among his recent successes was reducing the cost of FedEx’s aviation insurance while increasing the insurable value of its fleet by $1.5 billion.
Any lessons learned from that 2008 experience?
Absolutely. It completely changed the way the risk management community and the financial community viewed insurers. Rather than solely trusting published info from people we had never spoken with before, we looked at every insurer we had—we have about 40 insurers—to determine how much exposure we had to them and looked at what percentage of our risk was with any individual insurer, and whether that made sense. We became both analytical and strategic about the relationships we have with insurers.
Do you see risk management as a hot topic in finance?
Enterprise-wide risk management is a big buzzword these days. I think most people will tell you, if they think long enough about it, that enterprise wide risk management is just good management—managing your company well, insuring that you understand the risks that are out there, and avoiding the ones that you want to avoid.
What did you like about the insurance field?
My first couple of years in the business, I was poring through insurance policies, thousands of pages in a week or two. I was making sure they were accurate and met the needs of my clients. It was tedious and detail-oriented, but it was a great education. What got me passionate about it was the clients. I could sit down and say to them, “Here are three options, let’s talk about what would make the best sense for you.’ It was exciting and motivating.
What has been your biggest challenge or learning experience?
My biggest challenge, and also the most fun I’ve had, has been coming over to FedEx and learning to work within this organization. We have an operating company structure, with four very distinct segments [FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight and FedEx Services]. It’s been striking that balance between protecting the balance sheet of the corporation, while still understanding and valuing the relationships at the operating company level. The reason it’s a challenge is because you have so many different companies to get to know. There are some that have specific insurance requirements and some that can be handled at the enterprise-wide level. Finding that balance is kind of key to what we do.
What has been your most rewarding project?
Hopefully the most rewarding projects are yet to come, but one of the most fun that I’ve worked on already was taking on this big challenge of FedEx Express buying a bunch of new airplanes and increasing the insurable value of our aviation fleet by over $1 billion. I needed to go to insurers and find the right program structure for that.
I undertook a three-step process, first by meeting individually with the insurers and listening to what they thought about FedEx and what was important to them. Second, I gathered the right resources to answer the questions they had, and third, I met with new insurers who may cover the business a bit differently from what we have done in the past.
With those three steps, we were able to not only manage the increase in our exposure to the insurers, but decrease the premiums. Couple that with another major placement at around the same time, and I was riding on a high for a few months.
Did you have a mentor in your career?
Every boss that I’ve had has been a mentor to a certain extent. I’ve been very fortunate in that, even in my teaching days. I’ve learned a little bit from each of them, but if I could point to somebody in particular, it’s a predecessor of mine here, Ben Seward, who was also at Marsh. He really helped me see how to apply analytics to companies like FedEx. He had also seen things from the perspective of the Marsh client, and he taught me a lot.
What skills would you like to improve?
I’m constantly working on communicating appropriately with various parties, to be able to speak to an insurer in insurance terms, and a treasurer in finance terms. Finding the balance between those is key. I also want to continue to improve my management skills, to make sure everybody who works in my department is motivated and excited, and moving in the right direction.
You use some of your teaching skills to help business students at the University of Mississippi. Tell us about that.
University of Mississippi has one of the largest risk management programs in the nation, and it’s at our back door, an hour’s drive from Memphis. What I’ve done is driven down and spoken with the risk management classes about a day in the life of a risk manager. I’ve talked about what it’s taken to get me where I am today, and areas that I think can be successful for them. I also try to help them focus, because as you can see from my background, I had very little focus. It’s been really successful. Some students have already graduated, and I stay in touch with them. That’s been great. I can utilize my teaching skills, and help increase professionalism in our industry.
For the complete 2011 40 Under 40 list, see Ready to Take Charge.
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