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Mar 28, 2023

Welcome to RIMScast. Your host is Justin Smulison, Business Content Manager at RIMS, the Risk and Insurance Management Society.


Today’s guests are Peter Woo, Founder and Chairperson of AAIN and Principal at Jackson Lewis, and Melinda Yee-Dong, Board Member of AAIN, Sr. Risk Manager at Panda Restaurant Group, and RIMS DEI Advisory Council Member. Peter and Melinda discuss their roles at AAIN, its mission and goals, and how it is growing. They talk about social awareness of the anti-Asian hate that rose during the pandemic. In the second segment, Melinda covers how the Panda Restaurant Group managed risk during the pandemic and how they came through it. Listen in for ways to support the Asian Pacific Islander community in the risk industry.


Key Takeaways:

[:01] About RIMScast.

[:27] In today’s episode, guests Peter Woo and Melinda Yee-Dong discuss the Asian American Insurance Network (AAIN) and the Asian American community in risk management. Melinda tells about risk management efforts at Panda Restaurant Group.

[:47] All about upcoming RIMS webinars, workshops, events, and more!

[1:28] About RIMS-CRMP.

[1:41] About RIMS-CRMP-FED.

[2:16] About RISKWORLD 2023 with closing keynote speaker Danica Patrick!

[2:32] About recent RIMScast episodes.

[2:53] About today’s episode with Peter Woo and Melinda Yee-Dong, Founders of AAIN.

[3:16] AAIN will be hosting the Asian American Pacific Islander Community meetup in the DE&I Lounge on Monday, May 1st at RISKWORLD.

[3:25] Later, in this episode, Melinda Yee-Dong will discuss her risk philosophies as Senior Risk Manager for Panda Restaurant Group.

[3:36] Justin welcomes Peter Woo and Melinda Yee-Dong to the podcast!

[3:54] Melinda Yee-Dong is the Senior Risk Manager of the family-owned Panda Restaurant Group that operates Panda Inn, Panda Express, Hibachi-San, Uncle Tetsu, and Yakiya.

[4:23] Peter Woo is a Co-founder of AAIN and an Equity Principal Partner at Jackson Lewis in Orange County, Cal. His primary practice area is employment and labor law.

[5:08] How AAIN began and why it was important to launch AAIN now. AAIN has 1,300 members on LinkedIn and people showing interest in the country and around the world.

[6:24] Peter is a Co-founder and the Chairperson of AAIN, and the president of the network. His role with the other board members is to grow AAIN across insurance lines.

[6:56] Melinda is a board member at AAIN and also represents the client side, to bridge the gap between insurers and brokers and the clients’ needs.

[7:16] Peter outlines the AAIN mission to amplify Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals in the insurance industry.

[7:39] What are the four pillars of AAIN?

[8:15] Peter mentions some issues faced by the Asian and Pacific Islander community, including derogatory terms and stereotyping related to the origin of COVID-19.

[9:34] Melinda talks about social awareness. API people are part of the community and did not cause the pandemic. It’s important that the anti-Asian hatred not persist.

[10:21] AAIN supports the risk management profession through its four pillars. They work with insurance companies and industry organizations to increase DE&I awareness.

[11:06] AAIN helps the members talk to each other and help each other reach their professional goals utilizing this network they would otherwise not have.

[11:46] Asian Pacific Heritage Month in May increases awareness of the API community for a month. Peter hopes AAIN will amplify API industry voices all year long.

[12:52] Peter shares examples of AAIN activities at recent events by RIMS, PLUS, CLM, APIW, NAAIA, and HIRMA.

[14:53] Melinda aims not only to elevate the API community in the insurance and risk management space but to elevate the entire insurance and risk management space.

[15:04] Melinda was asked recently to join the RIMS DEI Committee and Advisory Council.

[15:22] Justin recalls having Omari Jahi Aarons of NAAIA on the podcast and others who look to enhance the profession while driving their mission.

[16:12] About goals for AAIN. There are seven committees within AAIN and each has the goal to become self-sustaining with strategic plans for 2023 and beyond.

[17:23] AAIN will launch a mentorship program in 2023, both virtual and in-person, depending on how many people have an interest.

[17:40] About upcoming educational initiatives with C-Suite industry API individuals.

[18:20] About the recently launched AAIN website, including a Lunar New Year launch party! Website signups since January are going strong.

[19:47] Melinda shares her hopes for the future of AAIN including connections with major universities including Columbia University and USC.

[20:18] Melinda is very excited about the formalized educational opportunities being developed for the risk management industry. These have only recently been available.

[21:38] Peter’s final words: AAIN has been a tremendous success because supporters like RIMS promote sustainable DE&I! Peter invites everyone to the website.

[23:16] Melinda’s final words: Networking is very important. AAIN is about inclusion; we want to lift the insurance and risk management community as a whole. Reach out!

[23:55] Justin congratulates Peter and Melinda on the launch success and looks forward to seeing them at RISKWORLD!

[24:13] RIMS plug time! Sponsor a weekly or dedicated episode of RIMScast! Contact us at Register for RISKWORLD 2023, and workshops before RISKWORLD.

[25:14] Justin revisits his interview with Josh Linkner, highlighting why live events are so critical, with the demand for human connection in this era of remote and hybrid work.

[26:58] Interview with Melinda Yee-Dong, Senior Risk Manager for Panda Restaurant Group. Most people know them as Panda Express, making the best orange chicken!

[27:42] Panda Restaurant Group is located in Rosemead, California. Their concepts include Panda Inn, Panda Express, Hibachi-San, Uncle Tetsu, and Yakiya.

[27:53] Yakiya and Panda Inn are full-service restaurants in California. Family-owned Panda has over 2,300 locations in the U.S., Japan, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

[28:21] Melinda leads the safety and workers comp managers, she manages the insurance program, which includes a captive. She has a team of 14 people.

[28:37] Melinda’s team does a lot of things both risk- and non-risk-related to support operations. Being in a family-owned business, they have some latitude.

[28:50] Justin’s kids love the Hibachi experience! Hibachi-San is a fast-food version of Hibachi. If you watch the cooks at Panda Express, they are very skillful at flipping food!

[29:33] Melinda has been trained to do the cooking, but she’s not good at it, so she stays in her lane to do risk management!

[29:49] Melinda’s team of 14 handles claims in-house, all aspects of insurance,  and compliance. They have an internal auditor that reports to Risk.

[30:03] Executive Director of Risk, Shaun Jackson, Melinda’s leader, led the Group skillfully through the pandemic. Melinda appreciates all the support.

[30:13] Panda is family-owned. Licensees are in locations at universities, airports, or some locations they can’t own and operate. The majority of stores are family-owned. 

[30:34] This is Panda Restaurant Group’s 50th Anniversary, starting in Pasadena, California, with a restaurant called Panda Inn, growing from there.

[30:59] Melinda says as a family-owned business, they think of each other as a family, at Panda. They think of their operators as family and do their best because they care.

[31:43] Panda is one of the few companies Melinda has worked for where the owners and founders know their team members by name and will talk to them.

[32:01] How Shaun and Melinda navigated the challenges of the pandemic when businesses were ordered to shutter.

[33:02] They relied heavily on their TPA, Sedgwick, who helped them with COVID-19 claims and reporting.

[33:45] They had to take a moment to consider the problems of the pandemic, and then move on. Risk is all about making sure that the business continues despite issues.

[34:01] Melinda reviews how a business responds to a fire. Take care of the people, restore the business and associates, serve the customers, and work it out.

[34:36] How the drive-through and online ordering options became more used during the pandemic. There were big upgrades that were needed to help the customer experience.

[37:31] Melinda enjoys working with the people behind the food. Panda is a company that’s looking to inspire better lives. Cooks can move up in the company.

[38:40] Melinda talks about how people view each other and relate to each other with care and trust.

[38:53] There’s a fully-automated McDonald’s in Texas. Melinda talks about the art that goes into the creation and preparation of food. Some things may not be automated well.

[40:11] Justin thanks Melinda for being on the show and sharing her insight. Justin looks forward to meeting her at a RIMS or AAIN event!

[40:42] Special thanks to Peter Woo and Melinda Yee-Dong. Check out the links to AAIN and look for them at RISKWORLD! Sponsor a RIMScast episode to reach a global audience! Justin shares other RIMS offers including a transitional membership!


Mentioned in this Episode:

RISKWORLD 2023 — April 30‒May 3 in Atlanta, Georgia! Public registration is open!

Riskworld: In-Person Workshops April 29‒30 | Save 30% on pre-conference workshops when you register to attend RISKWORLD!

RIMS-CRMP Exam Prep Course — In-Person at Riskworld, April 29-30! Register by April 21.

RIMS-CRMP-FED Virtual Prep Course — May 8‒10, 2023 | Register by May 1.

RIMS Diversity Equity & Inclusion page

Asian American Insurance Network

Contribute to Risk Management Magazine

Upcoming Webinars:

“Cyber Solutions: Parametric Protection of the Digital Supply Chain” | Sponsored by Parametrix | March 30, 2023

“Forced Labor and Supply Chains” | Sponsored by Sayari Analytics | April 13, 2023

“The Future of Climate and ESG” | Sponsored by Gallagher CORE360 | April 20, 2023,

See the full calendar of RIMS Virtual Workshops

Related RIMScast Episodes:

“Riskworld Keynote Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM President, and CEO” (2023)

“Innovation and Improvisation with RISKWORLD Keynote Josh Linkner” (2023)

“Taking the ‘Next Steps’ with NAAIA Executive Director and COO Omari Jahi Aarons” (2023)

“On The Menu: Restaurant Injury Risk Trends in 2023”

“Diversity as a Successful Business Division with Rodney Johnson”

“RIMS DE&I in June 2022: Pride, Juneteenth, and National Indigenous History Month”

“RIMS DEI Council Chair Kevin Thomas and Vice-Chair Monica Merrifield” (2021)

“Launching DEI Initiatives with Tara Lessard-Webb” (2021)

“Pride Month: How Risk Pros Can Protect and Uplift LGBTQ+ Employees” (2021)

“RISKWORLD 2022 Keynote Michael C. Bush On Risk and ‘Greatness’”

Sponsored RIMScast Episodes:

“Analytics in Action” | Sponsored by Alliant (NEW!)

“Captive Market Outlook and Industry Insights” | Sponsored by AXA XL (NEW!)

“Using M&A Insurance: The How and Why” | Sponsored by Prudent Insurance Brokers Ltd.

“Zurich’s Construction Sustainability Outlook for 2023”

“Aon’s 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Overview”

“ESG Through the Risk Lens” | Sponsored by Riskonnect

“A Look at the Cyber Insurance Market” | Sponsored by AXA XL

“How to Reduce Lithium-Ion Battery Fire Risks” | Sponsored by TÜV SÜD

“Managing Global Geopolitical Risk in 2022 and Beyond” | Sponsored by AXA XL

“Keeping Subcontractors Safe Through Partner Elevation” | Sponsored by Highwire

“ESG: A Responsibility and a Growing Megatrend” | Sponsored by Prudent Insurance Brokers Ltd.

“Prioritizing People: Focusing on Your Team to Deliver Exceptional Quality and Service to Your Clients” | Sponsored by Gallagher Bassett

“Bermuda Opportunities in 2022 with BDA Chair Stephen Weinstein” | Sponsored by Bermuda Business Development Agency

“SyncR: A Tool to Enhance Your Risk Quality & Insurance Strategy” | Sponsored by Prudent Insurance Brokers Ltd.

“RIMScast: Navigating the Risk Landscape in 2022” | Sponsored by AXA XL

“RIMScast: Prioritizing People: Expertise and Innovation” | Sponsored by Gallagher Bassett

“RIMScast: Risk Findings for the Industrial & Manufacturing Industry” | Sponsored by Aon

RIMS Publications, Content, and Links:

RIMS Membership — Whether you are a new member or need to transition, be a part of the global risk management community!

RIMS Virtual Workshops

On-Demand Webinars

RIMS Advisory Services — Ask a Peer

Risk Management Magazine

Risk Management Monitor

RIMS Risk Leaders Series

RIMS-Certified Risk Management Professional (RIMS-CRMP)

RIMS-CRMP Stories — New interview featuring SKRIMS President Katherine Dawal!

Spencer Educational Foundation

RIMS DEI Council

RIMS Path to the Boardroom

RIMS Events, Education, and Services:

RIMS Risk Maturity Model®

RIMS Events App Apple | Google Play


RIMS Buyers Guide

Dan Kugler Risk Manager on Campus Grant

Sponsor RIMScast: Contact or for more information.


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Follow up with Our Guests:

Peter Woo

Founder and Chairperson of AAIN and Principal at Jackson Lewis


Melinda Yee-Dong

Board Member of AAIN, Sr. Risk Manager at Panda Restaurant Group
and RIMS DE&I Advisory Council Member


Tweetables (For Social Media Use):


“AAIN was born from a simple gathering … last year … at an industry event. We saw many other Asian Pacific Islander professionals walking around. … And we asked each other, ‘Why don’t we know these folks? … We should know these folks!’” — Peter Woo


“At AAIN, I’m a board member but I also represent the client side … to bridge that gap that the insurers and brokers may not know what needs the client may actually have.” — Melinda Yee-Dong


“The mission is … to amplify Asian Pacific Islander professionals in the insurance industry. … There’s a lot involved with that. … We’re talking about four different pillars … mentorship, education, networking, and increasing social awareness.” — Peter Woo


“When it comes to social awareness, it’s … getting the word out there that API people are part of the community and did not directly cause the pandemic. … We faced a lot of anti-Asian hate. It’s important to make that awareness first and foremost.” — Melinda Yee-Dong


“A few months ago [at] the Western Regional Conference … we met with a number of senior RIMS folks who were completely supportive. … We were able to set up a booth at the event. … We had a networking event one of the evenings … [with] over 100 folks.” — Peter Woo


“People, at the end of the day, are always going to be very important.” — Melinda Yee-Dong