Brand Story – New CEO points to bright future for Oregon workers’ comp company.
When Chip Terhune took the reins July 1 as SAIF president and CEO, it came at a critical juncture for Oregon’s not-for-profit workers’ compensation insurance company. Like most Oregon businesses, SAIF was weathering the pandemic, while still looking for ways to fulfill its mission, which includes providing exceptional service to Oregon workers and employers.
As a testament to its employees and leadership, and commitment to policyholders, SAIF paid out $210 million in dividends to its policyholders in July — the second since the start of the pandemic.
That’s just one way SAIF is supporting policyholders and injured workers these days, and Terhune aims to build on that success.
SAIF’s new CEO Chip Terhune
Vision for SAIF
At SAIF, Terhune says, “I need to give credit where credit is due — the board and its leadership, especially Kerry Barnett,” the previous CEO who passed the leadership baton. “SAIF is very well organized and its people are excellent. They’ve established a common mission and vision around workers’ comp, with the mission of making it more accessible and affordable and driving it with exceptional service. There is a high level of talent embedded in its DNA across the chart.”
Part of Terhune’s mission is easing customers’ worries and ensuring they know they are in good hands. SAIF employees successfully turned on a dime during the early days of the pandemic. Working remotely, they maintained a high level of customer service while riding a logistical and emotional roller coaster.
But the uncertainty of the past 16 months has left Terhune clear-eyed, knowing there is no straight line to success.
“I have tremendous empathy for business owners, leaders, and all of Oregon’s workers who have had to adapt in ways never thought possible. Now with [COVID]variants out there, vaccination’s role is very important,” he says.
“Navigating the new normal is going to take as much time — and probably more — than it took us to go remote. There will be more complications to come.”
Building on SAIF’s stability
SAIF has been recognized in the workers’ comp space not just in Oregon, but nationally. “We are the model and are envied by the rest of the nation,” Terhune says.
Terhune has set an ambitious agenda for continuing SAIF’s upward trajectory. His priorities include building, sustaining, and growing partnerships with a wide variety of customers and stakeholders, developing more digital connectivity for policyholders, and making resources more user-friendly across an ever-evolving space.
“There are real opportunities to be innovative, helping and serving the customer from where they’re at,” he says. “Different size businesses have different needs and expectations. Understanding and developing the proper response is important.”
Right now, the laws surrounding workers’ comp are relatively stable given the tumultuous changes businesses have faced recently. “Stability and strong financial stewardship matter more now than ever before and allow SAIF to continue to keep premiums affordable while improving safety,” Terhune says.
Senior safety management consultant Naomi Hernandez and investigations supervisor John Patterson on a policyholder visit.
Focusing on safety and health
SAIF isn’t just a workers’ comp company; it’s a safety and health company. So, those are always top-of-mind issues but especially since the pandemic. SAIF’s safety team is passionate about its work in reducing the severity and rate of accidents and improving well-being on the job.
“We always keep an eye on preventing accidents from happening, which is the best possible way to keep claim numbers falling,” Terhune says.
SAIF safety consultants work with customers in offering advice, counsel and recommendations, imparting training and demonstrating how to improve safety. They host educational talks and opportunities — both digital and in person — to drive down injuries. When accidents do occur, every effort is made to ensure the injured worker is well cared for, but the incident also is seen as an important learning experience on ways to improve.
“Not only is it our business to be experts at safety and help businesses understand and incorporate measures and strategies to keep workers safe, but it’s incumbent on us to keep our own employees safe,” Terhune says.
That objective extends beyond physical health and work-life balance to showing empathy and giving grace. “We want to be purposeful in making sure workers are comfortable and in a place where all voices have a chance to be heard and people feel safe and valued,” he says.
Terhune’s eclectic experience has allowed him to thread the needle between labor and business and between public and private entities. Stepping into the SAIF leadership role, Terhune has come full circle. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a master’s in public affairs from the University of Oregon, one of Terhune’s first clients after grad school was SAIF, so he feels like he’s come home.
His impressive resume includes years in executive leadership for government and corporate operations including serving as former Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski’s chief of staff, as a founder and investor in health care technology startups, helping develop business strategy for Cambia Health Solutions, leading government relations teams around the Affordable Care Act and executing programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and directing environmental and public affairs at Schnitzer Steel.
Terhune lives in a house full of young adults. He has two children — a daughter, Morgan, who is 24, and son Cole, 22 — and some of their friends. “It’s humbling and fun. They like to play games, watch movies and hang out. It gives me an opportunity to learn from my kids and their friends,” he says.
During the pandemic, Terhune still managed to find time to volunteer. He chaired the board of trustees and oversaw the closure of 125-year-old Marylhurst University.
SAIF is in good hands with Terhune at the helm. “I would like to honor and value the journey SAIF has been on through its leadership,” he says.
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