Michele Adams, Risk All-Stars

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Michele Adams, VP, Risk Management Operations & Casualty Claims, Walmart

Michele Adams
VP, Risk Management Operations & Casualty Claims

What is your educational background?

Rollins College (undergraduate degree in organizational communication), Crummer Graduate School of Business – MBA

Did you know you wanted to go into the risk profession? If not, what was your journey to get here?

I did not plan to go into the risk profession. My journey started in 1989 when I was working at a jewelry store, and a co-worker shared that there were opportunities at a third-party administration company. (I didn’t even know what TPAs or workers’ compensation were at the time.) I accepted a job as a claims assistant and obtained my workers’ compensation adjusters license within a couple of months.

One of the adjusters I supported went out on maternity leave, and I was promoted to adjuster – with zero experience. This was before voicemail and email, and I am still feeling very sorry for the claimants I was responsible for back then! I believe I had a caseload pushing 200. After about a year, I figured out what I was doing and really liked handling claims. I left that TPA for another one, and eventually went to Walt Disney World in 1996. After 24 years with Disney, I held several interesting roles that expanded my depth and breadth of experiences. I left Disney in April 2020 as VP risk management. I joined Walmart at that time in my current role, VP risk management operations & casualty claims.

I have had the good fortune of being able to raise my hand for new challenges and projects throughout my career, charting my own path at times with jobs I designed, and working for leaders who saw more in me than I was able to see in myself. I sometimes joke that I had the good fortune to work for people who retire, but the reality is that opportunity needs to meet readiness – and I was ready when the opportunities came to me. I’ve had a great career so far and feel like I am just getting started.

How long have you been working in the risk profession?

In total, from that first job in 1989 until today — 32 years.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love the variety of work. It’s never the same from day to day, and I am never bored, which fits my personality perfectly. I can work on things that require singular focus, quiet, and individual attention; and I can collaborate across teams and businesses to make an impact. This occupation is one that has so many different paths – finance, data analysis, legal, medical, advocacy — the list goes on. There aren’t very many jobs that allow you to work from both sides of your brain and have so much variety.

Has managing risk changed over the course of your career? If so, how?

Just consider all of the major world events – natural and manmade – that have occurred for the last 32 years, and risk management has been central to each event. The markets are moved by the environment in which they operate, and the operations must respond to the markets. I believe that occupational and personal safety are viewed very differently than they were 30 years ago. There’s more ownership and responsibility, and I believe we are much safer and smarter. Technology has been central to so many changes and improvements. We work smarter and faster than ever and have probably only scratched the surface of what’s truly possible. It’s an exciting time to be part of this profession.

What advice would you give to someone who is about to start their career in the risk profession?

Be patient and take any opportunity to learn. When I think back, I know that I never would have believed anyone who told me when I was 19 that I would one day lead the risk department for the world’s largest retailer and Fortune 1 company. I never intentionally charted this path, but by being open to different experiences and challenges and learning from those experiences, I found myself ready and willing.

Do you have a personal motto? If so, what is it?

I’m not sure it’s a motto so much as a quote that I have in my office: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill. I want to be successful, but I also will own my failures along the way. They are scars of experience and the path to success.

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