Michael Winschel – Risk International
Knowing where risk hides and understanding how to manage it are two different things, and neglecting to manage risk can become very costly.
Yet where to turn for risk management assessments and options for solutions is an intricate and nuanced challenge. Independent expertise providing knowledgeable, unbiased opinions and recommendations that deliver cost-effective results can be hard to find.
As chief operating officer and general counsel for Cleveland-based Risk International, Michael Winschel appreciates the impact risk and risk management have on a business enterprise and how market perspectives, expertise and a program strategy can return control to the client.
In his roles, he is helping to guide Risk International through a sustained period of growth and transformation in order to make it a valued asset in new and emerging areas of business and industry.
With a recent outside investment and an infusion of intellectual capital as a catalyst for new growth, Winschel says the company’s continued success remains rooted in the collaboration and expertise that set the company apart from its beginnings.
“Risk International is a fully integrated solution and operates as an extension of its clients,” Winschel says. “We have a hard working group of accomplished people, and the group dynamic is how we deliver best in class services and drive optimal results for our clients.”
Taking the risk
Founded in 1986 as a carve-out operation of an offshore drilling and marine services company, Risk International was created to manage risk and handle claims. Its unique business model earned the company its first external customer soon after, and Risk International moved north to the Cleveland area to better serve its new client.
The not-so-secret success for Risk International is found in its role as an advisor to, and not a transactional consultant or broker for, businesses needing efficient and cost-effective methods of managing benefits and risk. The company does not sell insurance nor does it accept any compensation other than from its clients. Instead, it remains completely independent of the insurance market, offering unbiased expertise in the best interest of its clients.
While Risk International has gone through a number of growth stages over the years, the most recent was triggered in 2018 when a Boston-based private equity firm bought an ownership interest and became its strategic partner. This transaction was about facilitating growth and assisting the company in attaining its full potential, Winschel says.
Historically, Risk International worked largely in the energy, heavy manufacturing, chemical and aviation industries—areas that by their nature have complex and sophisticated risk profiles. Now it is expanding into industries such as light manufacturing, real estate and retail by capitalizing on its breadth of knowledge, experience and expertise, he explains.
In 2020, Winschel says that Risk International will strive to better articulate its value proposition and the lasting implications and positive outcomes that long-term engagements bring.
From strategic guidance on program structure and procurement management to tactical execution with data gathering, exposure review and insurance placement, Risk International positions itself as a partner offering innovative solutions and optimal results to drive enterprise and increase shareholder value, he adds.
Winschel has been active in streamlining internal procedures, including strategies for the longer term service contracts that provide ongoing benefits to its clientele. This includes leveraging software and other technology such as a Salesforce platform to assist in project management, collaboration, employee utilization and capacity modeling.
“These tech-enabled services and automated delivery models will position Risk International to grow and scale, while continuing to offer best in class services and superior outcomes,” Winschel says.
Helping deliver those services and outcomes was not Winschel’s original career path. Born and raised in North East, Pennsylvania, he earned degrees in political science and sociology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Winschel credits a Case Western professor with steering him toward law school, and he earned his J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law in 2004. Following his graduation, he was in private practice for nearly a decade before joining Risk International.
Since Winschel joined Risk International in 2013 as a risk analyst, the company has more than doubled its staff and revenue has more than quadrupled. The ongoing growth will accelerate in the future, he predicts.
Winschel’s steady ascension through the ranks mirrors this corporate growth trajectory. From risk analyst to senior claims counsel to general counsel to his ultimate promotion to COO in April 2019, it’s an impressive climb. He has not ascended alone, as he’s quick to point out the “Risk International way” relies on strong talent and a group dynamic.
“You have to be a team player, to be collaborative and bring new ideas to the table,” Winschel says. “We’re able to balance world class expertise, creative thinking and a fearless approach to converting risk into opportunity.”
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