|The Entertaining Adjuster|
By Michelle Logsdon - January 8, 2002
Ronnie Kessler grew up in a small town in Florida but she is no small town girl. In fact, she has rubbed elbows with some of the biggest names in any town like Brenda Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sonny and Cher.
As a professional dancer for most of her young adult years, Kessler paid her bills by dancing and choreographing in Florida, New York and Canada.
She got her first claims examiner job at the age of 22 and decided to make that her main career objective for the next 20 odd years. Surprisingly, she probably sees just as many stars at work today as she did back when she was a full-time dancer. Kessler is the workers’ compensation manager at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, CA.
"I enjoy going out on the lot and seeing things being filmed. It’s kind of fun being back in the entertainment business and now I’m seeing a whole different side of the industry," she said.
Working in the entertainment field was probably in Kessler’s genes. "My mother was from the theater. She was a trained opera singer." Because she grew up around performers, Kessler is comfortable in a business where many others would feel intimidated. She thrives in the unique atmosphere at Warner Bros.
As the workers’ compensation manager, Kessler works with tens of thousands of employees but she talks about them on such a personal level that she exudes almost a motherly tone. "My favorite thing about claims adjusting is the interaction," she said. You get to know the workers well. It’s definitely like a family here."
A Sorted Past
With such a long history in the insurance claims industry, Kessler has a long rap sheet of employers. She began her career in 1972 at ESIS, and then she moved on to Fred S. James & Co., followed by Gallagher Bassett Insurance Services where she worked in a managerial position for 5 years.
"In our industry, as a female back then, you had to move in order to better yourself. You couldn’t really accomplish a whole lot by staying in one place."
From there Kessler joined Bierly & Associates—an office that worked hard and played hard. "Mike Bierly always hired very young, good-looking females. We were called the 'Bierly Bunnies'." The nickname was not indicative of the women’s intelligence though. "We were all very capable ladies," said Kessler. "I loved Bierly, that was a great place to work."
Kessler cut her teeth on workers’ compensation at Bierly and was soon offered a position with R.L. Kautz & Co. She tried to help revive the ailing business but the company was bought out and Kessler moved on to claims management positions at Comco Management, Inc. and then Associated Risk Services. In 1989 she set up her own shop as an independent consultant.
Kessler returned to the corporate office environment in 1991 working as the vice president of workers’ compensation programs at the Stockman Group.
While reading the Los Angeles Times in 1995, Kessler ran across an ad for a full-time claims manager at Warner Bros. She applied and got the job but shortly afterward the company decided to change from self-insurance to a guarantee program. Most of Kessler’s department was eliminated and she remained as the only claims adjuster for the entire company. "It was scary because I hadn’t been here very long but I felt good that they kept me."
She has stayed at Warner Bros. for six years and says she won’t leave until they kick her out. "They say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth; I say it’s Warner Bros."
A Life-Saving Message
The relationships Kessler has built in and outside of work are important to her. In fact she puts them at the top of her priority list since surviving her recent battle with ovarian cancer. "You really learn what is important," she said.
Kessler underwent surgery on May 2, 2001 and was back to work within a month. "The best thing for me to do was to come to work. There’s only so much TV you can watch."
Kessler endured three months of chemotherapy but she was able to work throughout the course of her treatments. "My family and my co-workers got me through." The chemicals made Kessler’s hair fall out so her son shaved his head in support.
Kessler’s positive attitude is charming and she makes you feel like a good friend as soon as you meet her. She cares enough about others to mention, more than once, that everyone should go in for regular physical checkups. "I know it’s not fun but it’s so important—my tumor showed up in just eight months."
She Keeps Going and Going and Going
Kessler maintains her physical health by doing dancing exercises and she keeps her wits sharp by attending classes at the University of Laverne. She is working toward a bachelor’s degree in organizational management. Going to school helped Kessler keep her mind off of her illness. "You don’t have time to think about it, you’re concentrating on your papers or your studies."
Kessler looks forward to graduating in June of 2003.
The Good Life
Every day, Kessler’s health improves, no doubt because of her positive attitude, "From the time that they diagnosed me with the potential of cancer – I never thought I was going to die," she said.
Kessler has a lot to live for with two grown children to keep track of and a marriage entering its fourth decade.
Kessler’s past is full of rich experiences and it appears her future is full of promise.