The ’90s was an exciting decade. The new President, soon to become Chairman, President and CEO of Liberty, Ted Kelly was committed to the concept of a world class research activity. This, plus the support of first Ken Brock and then of Karl Jacobson, senior vice presidents of loss prevention was critical as we moved from a hand-full of researchers to over two dozen graduate scientists working, not in a couple of insulation block buildings from the 50’s but in 93,000 square feet of purpose-build laboratories. We saw progress in terms of our scholarly activities but also in the way we were perceived externally in press coverage.
Along the way there were challenges: the original laboratories were primitive in comparison with UM, TTU, OSU and others we aspired to as peers, staff levels were low and the breadth of research necessarily narrow and, perhaps most challenging, the need to fight off the comment “they are only an insurance company”. This latter, with the implication of our focus on researching and servicing the perceived interests of our customer base, was the most threatening.
Fortunately for all of us, Kelly, familiar with the concept of peer review from his experiences in academia, was the ultimate bastion throughout the company against our becoming a customer service function. Despite this, the number of visitors, both international and domestic, customer and non-customer grew to over 2000 per year.
During this period we established our mission:
To differentiate Liberty Mutual Group as the market leader by
performing and supporting business-relevant research
in injury prevention and disability reduction.
This mission was made possible by our sister organization in Loss Prevention, which was tasked to control the losses in customers enterprises by technical consulting. Our symbiotic relationship, headed first by Ken Brock and then by Karl Jacobson, was essential in insulating our peer reviewed activities from customer pressures and simultaneously providing the finest loss prevention services in the nation – utilizing where appropriate our findings.
To achieve this mission we had to establish performance criteria and align the personnel functions to meet these criteria and were so lucky when company accepted the overall performance metric for the institute as the number of peer publications published – surely unique in corporate culture. Internally, we established for the first time an institutional review committee, we invited a global elite of occupational safety and health leaders for form a Scientific Visitors Advisory Board, the research staff collectively established a ranking of peer-reviewed journals to be used in performance measurement and the white board appeared…..which appeared to lead to significant improvements in our productivity.
This productivity would not have been possible but for the outstanding partnerships between the researchers and the “support staff”
To justify our own programs and (initially) to counteract the distortion caused by the focus of popular press on CTD or RSI we developed the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index which received, and continues to receive, a wider and longer significance around the world than we originally expected.
To leverage our impact and to provide development opportunities, at both the institutional and individual researcher levels, we sought relationships with premier institutions in our field wherever in the world such opportunities arose.
To further develop and enhance our international standing in the global field of peer reviewed research the concept of the Hopkinton Conference was established. We invited a group of preeminent researchers from around the globe to meet at Hopkinton to address an issue in our field and to collectively produce a body of peer-reviewed work meant to serve as a mark on the ground for current thinking on the issue.
While we actively pursued international recognition we developed our own awards guided by two criteria they were to be with premier institution and our involvement in the selection was to be arms-length.
Various media productions were introduced by Liberty, including: an overview of the program From Research to Reality,
As we made progress on this track, some long time functions in the center did not meet this criterion leading to the difficult decision to spin off Liberty Technologies – a move made to address the “only an Insurance Company” issue and to convince the Chairman of our commitment to becoming a truly world class research center. Fortunately, the long service employees involved more than proved their mettle and developed their own company, Liberating Technologies which thrives to this day.