Five Questions with Jennifer Hills, Risk Manager, Department of Executive Services

Jennifer Hills Photo1. What was your first role at King County? I came to King County in April of 1999 as the Loss Control Manager in the Office of Risk Management. My position was new and was added as a result of a budget proviso.  The council wanted more resources dedicated to preventing liability losses. One of my early attempts at sharing lessons learned with departments was through a publication called the Risk Management Recipe (I love to cook, hence the name!).  The publication did not last but the concept of collecting, sharing, and disseminating lessons learned has remained.

2. What do you do as King County Risk Manager? I recently had the pleasure of meeting with a graduate student in the Evans School of Public Affairs about her interest in public sector risk management as a career. I described our lines of business within the Office of Risk Management: claims investigation and resolution, purchasing insurance coverages for county operations, consulting with agencies on appropriate risk transfer in their contracts, managing our insurance fund to finance our retained risk, and enterprise risk management which I’ll explain in a moment. It was so much fun describing my job to this student because I am certain I have the most interesting and enjoyable job in King County!

3. What do you like most about your job? I love the variety and the people I get to work with.  My office interacts with every executive branch agency as well as all the separately elected offices. We are often brought in as consultants to help managers evaluate opportunities and exposures.  We work together to help them maximize benefits and reduce liabilities. I also work with my colleagues in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Executive Constantine on the resolution of claims and lawsuits. Over the past few years, at the Executive’s direction, we have taken a more aggressive approach to defending the county through litigation with very successful results.

4. What project are you most excited about in 2015? I am so excited about our new approach to managing risk in King County through Enterprise Risk Management (ERM).  Through ERM, King County is addressing emerging and persistent challenges in the areas of operational, reputational, strategic, compliance, and financial risk.  What this means in practical terms is instead of managing risk by looking in the rear-view mirror and trying to prevent loss based on past claims and lawsuits, we are actively working with front-line employees, supervisors and managers in all departments to proactively identify and assess risks and opportunities.  Through this collaboration, we are participating in decisions and actions to support departments’ objectives by managing the impacts of their risks.  Sean Catanese is the ERM Program Manager, and he is available to consult with any county agency to identify and prioritize sources of risk and how to address them, assess an organization’s risk appetite, or review lessons learned from claims and lawsuits.   Sean also chairs the ERM Work Group which is comprised of nine agencies who are identifying, assessing, and managing the priority risks facing King County as a whole.

5. What is the biggest challenge in your job? Every day is different and exciting!  I am fortunate to work with a staff of very talented individuals in the Office of Risk Management. The number one risk facing King County identified in a county-wide survey is the loss of key personnel through retirement.  I am currently experiencing this challenge in my office. I have two vacancies and anticipate some retirements in the near future.  I look forward to attracting diverse candidates with the soft skills we’re looking for who can grow in the position.  With King County winning national recognition as a model of government excellence, it should be easy to find talented applicants who want to make a difference in their community.  The Enterprise Risk Management Workgroup is currently capturing the positive strides agencies are making toward succession planning will be sharing those throughout the organization.