A Smart Leaders Series Interview – Michele Adams – Director of Claims Management and Business Strategies at Walt Disney World Resort

Our “Smart Leaders” series continues to move ahead.  Today we sat down with Michele Adams – Director of Claims Management and Business Strategies at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL.

If you know someone or you would like to be featured in our series send an email to reporter@wcinsights.com

WCI:     Where did you attend school and what was your area of study?

MA:     I went to Rollins College in Winter Park for my undergraduate degree in organizational communications.  I also have an MBA from Crummer School of Business at Rollins College.

WCI:     What person or persons have had the most influence in your life and why?

MA:     My parents, and I like to think of them separately.  My dad is a retired public servant.  He retired from the Air Force.  He was a deputy chief of police and also a director of public safety.  The way I look at him is he has dedicated his life to the care and safety of other people.

My mom I will call semi-retired because she will go in and work whenever she gets bored.  She was a stay-at-home mother, then decided to enter the workforce and held a variety of different positions in the banking industry.  That was a big influence on me, because it showed me that you can do whatever you want no matter what stage of your life.  She demonstrates that if you stay focused on your goals you can pretty much achieve whatever you want.

WCI:     What are your hobbies outside of work?

MA:     I like to work out with weights, I enjoy running, and I bike.  I try to take one down day a week but prefer to be active.

WCI:     If you had a few more hours in a day whether it be for business or personal use what would you do with the time.

MA:     For business it would be to get more stuff done because there are never enough hours in a day for business.  Personally I’d spend more time with my kids because they are growing up so fast right before my eyes and I want to spend more time with them for sure.

WCI:    Can you give us an overview of your career so far?

MA:     I have come up through the workers’ compensation world.  I started out working for a TPA and knew someone who worked at Disney.  I decided early on that if I was going to stay in this industry, I want to do it for Disney.  I applied for a position in the early 90’s and at the time did not have enough experience – so I decided to get more experience.  In late ’95 there were some openings so I actually took a a step back in my career just to work for Disney as a claims adjuster.

Since then I have held more positions can I can actually count in Risk Management Services.  I have managed Provider Relations, worked as a data analyst, worked on a major Y2K project, managed the workers compensation department, and now I am Director of Risk Management and Business Strategies.  In my current role, I have oversight of all our Guests and Cast Member claims, compliance oversight, and all data analysis relating to claims as well as the administration of all our claims.  My area of focus is the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

WCI:     What do you enjoy most about working for Disney?

MA:     I really love the company.  We are a global company with five different business segments. And our brand is so well-known.  But what stands out most is that we really care about our Guests, our Cast and our community.  When I say I work for Disney, people smile because they have had a positive memory about Disney – whether it’s a movie, a product, our parks, or a vacation.  Why wouldn’t you want to be involved with something that evokes such a positive response in people.

WCI:     Where do you see the comp industry heading?

MA:     Well, for Florida in particular it’s going to be interesting because we have several high-profile cases that are pending at the Supreme Court level that could have a significant impact. Our system here in Florida has been relatively stable since 2003, so depending on how those cases come out, it could really shake up workers’ compensation in Florida.

Beyond the legislative things that are going on, I really believe that improvements in technology are changing the way we think about how we administer claims. We definitely have improved our precision and our efficiency over the last several years, so I believe we will see changes in how the industry begins to take advantage of what we can get out of all of the investment.  I believe that is where organizations are turning now and realizing, “Hey I have this vast amount of data, what can I learn?” I think that’s true for every business but particularly when you think about claims and the way this industry affect peoples’ lives.  How can we take this data and maybe analyze it to look at more preventative methodologies we can put in place. That’s where the real opportunity is.

WCI:     Do you feel that because you self-administer that you have an advantage over someone who uses a TPA?

MA:     I do not like to compare one versus the other. Each company needs to find out what’s going to work for their organization. For Disney, we pride ourself on what we like to call the Disney Difference. We believe that Cast serving our Cast is the best model that works for us. I like to call it our “Differentiator.”  We have approximately 70,000 Cast Members here so we understand our business, and that really makes a difference in administering our claims. That is the business model that we see as most effective for us. That’s what really draws us to a self-administration model.

WCI:     Is there a piece of equipment or technology that you feel would make your job that much easier to do?

MA:     I always say I have all the tools I need it’s just a matter of having the time and the energy to direct our talent to get things done.  There’s not a piece of technology or equipment that I don’t have or I can’t access or utilize. It’s really just making time to really think about how you’re directing your energy so that you’re doing it the most efficient way possible, prioritizing your business appropriately and getting things done.  Unless you can give me a clone, there’s really nothing you can offer me that will make it easier.

WCI:   What are a few pieces on technology that you use on a daily basis and could not do without?

MA:     I’m on call 24/7 so I cannot go anywhere without my phone. When I sit down to have lunch or dinner with anybody I tell them, “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to check my phone periodically because I’m on call.” I’m always looking at either text messages or phone calls that I might get. I cannot go anywhere without my phone and I do not  have a day that goes by that I don’t touch my Mac.  If I have my phone, my iPad or my Mac and WiFi I can pretty much get anything done.

WCI:     What do you feel makes your team at Disney a success?

MA:     When I think about my team I think, and specifically about my leadership team, and I know I couldn’t function without them. I always say they’re my golden nugget. They’re incredible. Each are unique, they each have different leadership skills and different talents, but they are very good at challenging me.  They know how to question the status quo.  I want them to really think, “How can we be better than we were before?”  I always say I want to surround myself with people who are smarter than me because that’s what I need. I need them to help me guide our business. That’s what makes us a success – we all work together.  Nobody owns it all. We’re all in it together, but we all bring our unique skill set and talent to get it all done.

WCI:  Can you think of a time when one of your adjusters went above and beyond for an injured Cast Member?

MA:      I would say that they do it a lot and the no one instance stands out.  I’ve had claims representatives go to the hospital and sit with family members. I’ve had my Cast, my claims representative personally deliver equipment to a work location to make sure it’s installed and working property. We have our claims representative meet with our injured Cast at our on-site clinic to sit down and personally go through things with them to make sure that they understand the how to navigate workers’ compensation.   The Claims Representatives at Disney really want to take the extra step to give a personal touch and to show that they actually care, “Hey, you’re my fellow Cast Member. Yes, I’m administering your claim, but we work for the same company.” We do not refer to them as “claimants,” they’re our injured Cast. I think that’s what makes a success story just for the way we run our operation.

We encourage our Claims Reps to go out into operations, understand the areas, go job shadow.  If you are a Claims Representative for a resort, go out and do a housekeeping job for a day. You understand what that takes to get that done.  You need to actually do the job to be able to understand when the Cast are telling you, “Hey, this is what happened to me,” what really happened. We really encourage them as much as they can to be out and work with their areas that they’re responsible for so that they can be compassionate and can understand.  They go above and beyond every day.

WCI:  What strengths do you feel make you a great leader?

MA:      I set a high bar because I know that we can achieve it. Whether it’s for myself, personal goals that I might set for myself, or for my team. I don’t like just saying, “Okay. We’re going to do next year what we did this past year.”  Every year we conduct business strategy and planning.  Every year we say, “Okay. What did we not achieve last year that we wanted to achieve? Is it still relevant?” If it’s not then let’s take that off our list, if it is then let’s go after that.  We’re always trying to differentiate ourselves to say, “Okay. The company chooses us to have us administer claims. Why? What makes us better? How can we keep improving?”  That’s what I’m constantly looking for – how do we improve? How do we make it better?  If there’s an opportunity for us to teach others what we do then I want to do that.

WCI:  What have been some of the hardest decisions you have had to make as a risk manager?

MA:     I think anytime we have to juggle competing business priorities.  Deciding between two very compelling business priorities or issues – how do you pick one or the other? Sometimes you want to get it all done but you just can’t. For me, it’s really trying to make sure that are we moving our business forward.  How are we supporting our company’s vision and mission and getting it all done? We have a limited number of resources and at the end of the day, I work for an entertainment company, not an insurance company.  That’s always in the back of my mind.  I need to make sure that what I’m doing is advancing the company’s goals not just Michele’s goals. At the end of the day I just have to be able to go to bed and go to sleep and know that I made the right call.

WCI:  What resources do you use to stay on top of what is going on in the industry?

MA:     I have a variety of different industry periodicals, whether it’s online or in paper form. Though, fewer and fewer come in paper. I am engaged in industry associations. I attend a few conferences every year. I try really hard to network because working for a large company, you need to make time to also be in touch with people who are outside of these large walls that we have here, and learn from others.  I  to stay in touch with others that are within the industry to make sure that we’re all up to speed on what’s happening in our industry. I am a big advocate of WCRI (Workers’ Compensation Resource Instituted) as they provide some of the best information in the industry.  They use the data and report the facts.

WCI:     What do you feel Disney does for their injured Cast Members that sets them apart from another company?

MA:     I think it starts with our claims management team. I know that I have a great team that understands what our goals are and what our mission is – to serve our Cast Members. We have a Provider Relations team who wants to offer the very best practitioners to care for our Cast.  We have an excellent on-site medical staff here as well  – that’s definitely a differentiator.  We have a terrific vocational rehabilitation staff to help our Cast return to work.  It’s no single thing.

Our goal in claims is to help our injured Cast recover and return to work.  It’s ultimately what we’re here to do – ensure that our guests are having a wonderful experience when they’re visiting, and that happens when our Cast are healthy and helping create wonderful memories.  We really believe in what Walt Disney said, that it’s our people that make the difference.


Michele AdamsMichele Adams is the Director of Claims Management and Business Strategies at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. She leads a team of Cast Members who manage all aspects of the Company’s claim management program, including Workers’ Compensation and General Liability claims, as well as Compliance and Auditing, Business Insight and Support, and Advanced Analytics.

Michele serves as the Chair of the Medicare Advocacy and Recovery Coalition, Secretary of the Board of the Florida Self Insured Guaranty Association, and the Florida Advisory Board and National Research Committee for the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute. Michele is a graduate of Rollins College and received her MBA from Rollins College, Crummer School of Business in Winter Park.

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