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Inside Risk: Terry Sampson, Director of Risk Management, Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago's Terry Sampson is dedicated to building an insurance program to address many unique exposures. Find out how he does it.

March 22, 2013 Photo

The iconic “American Gothic” painting by Grant Wood—featured in altered form on the March issue's cover—is one of many works of art housed at the Art Institute of Chicago, where CLM Fellow Terry Sampson works as director of risk management. Founded in the late 1800s, the institute consists not only of one of the largest museums in the U.S. but also the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a higher education art school with more than 3,000 students from around the world. These two distinct operations challenge Sampson to respond to each one’s diverse needs while also building an insurance program that comprehensively addresses both exposures.

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

A. I graduated college with a degree in safety. I’m an analytical person and like to delve into why things occur or analyze the “what if’s.” I strived to increase my knowledge in areas such as workers’ compensation and claims management, and I eventually expanded into other areas of insurance and risk management, achieving my ARM and CPCU designations. My prior skills allow me to bring a wide variety of situational experience to my work at the Art Institute for mitigating risk. 

Q. What is your overall approach to risk management? 

A. The Art Institute examines risk from an operational, compliance, and audit perspective. Most of my time is spent on the operational side, with involvement in the other areas to a lesser degree. Our insurance programs are designed to complement these areas and help meet our corporate objectives. We are a contract heavy organization due to the constantly changing activities at the museum and school. We look to transfer risk where we can, but in the art world, there are some risks that aren’t insurable, and we do our best to pre-plan how to respond to these. We have been successful thus far.

Q. What is your biggest risk-related success?

A. Claims can be a significant cost driver to any organization’s bottom line. I believe in self-insurance and people controlling their own destinies. I also am a strong proponent for implementing measures to reduce accidents through employee education and training, and I receive strong support from our safety personnel in this regard. For example, we implemented a procedure where students are not allowed to use machinery, power saws, and other potentially dangerous tools until they have gone through a safety training course. Once completed, it is coded into their student ID badge so the department supervisor knows that they have completed the training.

Q. Have you ever taken a risk and turned it into an opportunity?

A. Recently, we conducted an extensive audit of our insurance programs. In most cases, the result was that we moved insurance to other carriers, which resulted in significant savings. For our general liability insurance, we not only achieved significant savings but also enhanced our coverage. The new carrier provides a significant amount of resource and training materials on its website. They are amazed with how much we use their resource materials. It was a win-win for both sides.

Q. What is your day-to-day like as director of risk management?

A. I’m not sure if any risk manager can say they have a typical day, but that is what makes the profession so exciting. Risk managers need to be multi-taskers. There are days when you know what you intend to do that day, and then there are days when you discover that your day has been planned for you due to a recent crisis that occurred. I always have to be ready to adapt and re-prioritize my day.

A typical day can involve contract reviews; examining business travel coverage as it relates to the number of international trips undertaken by our students, staff, and museum members; identifying and mitigating risks to ensure that we have fully addressed them; responding to requests from our staff and meeting with them to address projects that they have ongoing; as well as attending standing committee meetings.

Q. How do you benchmark yourselves against other similar institutions?

A. Recently, our broker assisted us with performing a benchmarking analysis. The results revealed that, in some cases, our accident experience was well below what others in our business experience. While we do have incidents on our property—mostly from a general liability and workers’ compensation standpoint—in the majority of instances a formal claim does not result. Because of that, we have low claim volumes, which means I am not required to devote too much of my time working on claim files. But I still adhere to the basics: A thorough investigation at the time of an incident is very important while it is still fresh in everyone’s memory.   Eric Gilkey

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.  eric.gilkey@theclm.org

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