Best's Review

AM BEST'S MONTHLY INSURANCE MAGAZINE


ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Leadership 2.0: CEO Advice
Words of Wisdom

Insurance industry leaders share their insights into leadership and what they have learned as they’ve moved up the ladder.
  • Lori Chordas, Jeff Roberts, Kate Smith
  • February 2019
  • print this page

 

Today's insurance CEOs may be in a top role now, but it wasn't always that way. Along the way, they had to develop their skills, build networks, take chances and learn from experience. Best's Review reached out to several insurance industry CEOs and asked them to share with rising executives some of the lessons they've learned and offer words of advice that might help the next generation as it prepares to move into leadership roles.

Pina Albo

Pina Albo

Take Risks

If I had to choose one subject to stress as the critical area of focus for our industry, it would be talent. And by talent, I mean the 21st century version: a combination of multifaceted skills, bold perspective, innovative mindset and unshakable courage. Our current and developing leaders need to possess a broad and deep array of attributes in order to succeed, and to lead, in our rapidly evolving industry.

Why? Because insurance has taken far too long to acknowledge and respond to the winds of change. Rapid advances in data science and technology, a lack of interest in the sector as a career, the rise of diversity and inclusion as a business imperative, and the expectations of a multigenerational workforce demand a reshaping of how our companies are managed.

Today's leaders need impeccable technical skills as well as effective “softer skills”—a bit of a misnomer, as the empathy and compassion included in that description can be much harder to master than professional qualifications. But in today's working environment, they're also critical.

My best advice for charting a satisfying and successful career in insurance is to ignore the maxim “Stay in your lane.” You can't gain the skills, perspective, mindset and courage I mentioned earlier by restricting your experiences and opportunities for growth.

I know that my career has been enriched by taking advantage of every opportunity—no matter how large or how small—and taking a few risks along the way. Doing this introduced me to people I'd never have met and took me to places I'd never have gone if I'd been rigid in my focus.

So stay open, flexible and curious, and have the courage to get in over your head from time to time. You'll develop the talent you need to be a leader—and you'll be surprised at where that talent takes you.

Pina Albo
CEO
Hamilton Insurance Group


Dennis R. Glass

Dennis R. Glass

Focus on Strengths

So often, we tend to focus on our weaknesses and areas for development as we look to advance our careers. More important, I believe, is recognizing and developing your strengths. Once you understand these, you will more confidently approach new and different career opportunities.

Dennis R. Glass
President and CEO
Lincoln Financial Group


Robert D. (Bob) O’Leary

Robert D. (Bob) O’Leary

Be a Team Player

My advice to future leaders in the industry would look something like this:

  • Accept the fact that you are not the smartest person in the room and listen to what others have to say. A leader needs to make decisive decisions, but the backdrop for those decisions most often comes from others. Once the decision is made, have your team execute and make sure the people responsible for providing the key points in favor of this decision get the credit.
  • Get close to your employees and meet with them on a regular basis. You will be amazed at what you can learn from employees on ways to improve efficiency and workflow.
  • Avoid the use of the word “I” as much as possible. Replace “I” with “We” whenever you can.
  • One of the main reasons someone gets to a leadership position is because they are well-liked and well-respected. Remain approachable and do not retreat to the ivory tower once you reach the top position. Answer your own phone and get your own coffee.
  • Avoid implementing any process designed to catch someone doing something wrong. Trust your people 100% of the time—until they give you a reason not to.
  • Check your ego at the door every day. Just because others might think you are the most important person in the company doesn't mean you have to. You win as a team and lose as a team. It's not all about you.
  • Be polite and respectful to everyone you work with. There is nothing wrong with a CEO saying “please and thank you” to others on a regular basis.

Robert D. (Bob) O’Leary
President and CEO
Philadelphia Insurance Cos.


Roger Crandall

Roger Crandall

Aim High, Then Recharge

We all know the world today is moving incredibly fast, led by rapid developments in technology that are causing disruption in multiple industries—including ours. To thrive in an environment like this, I have two pieces of advice.

First, whatever your role is or where you sit in your organization, shoot for the moon. Establish big, bold, audacious goals that stretch the limits of what you think you can accomplish. The people who are running companies that are redefining the customer experience—whether it's Amazon, Apple or Netflix—think this way. They are never content with where they are today and know there is always a way to do better. When you think about the role our industry plays in providing security and peace of mind for hundreds of millions of people, it's important for all of us to think this way. And if you fail or face setbacks along the way, don't let that stop you. Learn from your mistakes so you can deliver a better outcome next time.

On your way to the moon, you may need to recharge, and that's my second piece of advice—take time to unplug and refresh. We're all tied to our devices 24/7, so this is harder than ever, but disengaging does wonders for your mindset and outlook. Over the past few years, I've become a big believer in getting the right amounts of exercise, meditation and sleep. In fact, I am going to a weeklong retreat in February for a complete “digital detox” where the only thing on my agenda is to read, think and reflect. And you know what? The company will still be there when I get back—and I'll be more invigorated and revitalized to rejoin it.

Roger Crandall
Chairman, President and CEO
MassMutual


Jim Morris

Jim Morris

Clients Matter

The best advice and mentoring I received early in my career was to get as close to the customer as I could. This wasn't easy for someone trained as a product actuary, but I had a mentor who helped create opportunities for me to interact with producers, and eventually with their clients. I learned a lot, and continue to practice that same advice today with the goal of trying to understand what's going on in clients' lives and how I can help solve those challenges.

Jim Morris
Chairman, President and CEO
Pacific Life


Ben Salzmann

Ben Salzmann

Stay the Course

Three words will make more of a difference in your career path than any other: Never give up.

I was never the first person picked on the playground in grade school. I'd wave my hands in the air saying, “pick me!” but I was always the last one picked. Yet I never gave up. I played my hardest. In my professional career, I was often passed over for promotion. When I was offered a position, I was usually the second or third choice. But I took every opportunity, gave it my best, and I never gave up. It sounds so simple, but persistence will propel your career—ultimately into a leadership role if you choose. I guarantee it.

Also within the lesson of never giving up is the importance of action. When I fail, I always want to fail by action. I never want to fail by passive fear. When you encounter an obstacle—and you will—it's difficult to overcome your initial paralysis. It's daunting, even frightening. But if you don't act, failure is guaranteed. Yes, take time to analyze the situation, but then take fearless and decisive action. I would rather go down swinging. I would rather fail while giving it my best rather than have inaction determine the outcome.

Lastly, have fun in everything you do. Wait—have fun in your job? Absolutely. Your workday never ends if you're not having fun. Find anything in your work and career that you like doing, and then find ways to do more of that. Find ways to make your role in life as enjoyable as possible. Life is simply too short not to have fun.

Ben Salzmann
President and CEO
Acuity


Steve Rasmussen

Steve Rasmussen

Be a Good Listener

Throughout my career and at Nationwide, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues who are smart, have a natural curiosity and an ability to build strong relationships and demonstrate influence. In addition to those personal characteristics, identifying opportunities for continuous learning and seeking out individuals who will question your ideas creates better outcomes. Combined, these are all qualities that are central to advancing in leadership.

As influence increases, leaders should be confident in setting high goals and accountable when managing through challenges. It's important to be open to taking calculated risks to achieve success. For example, early in my tenure as CEO I knew I wanted members of my leadership team to have broader experiences. With that in mind, I asked most of them to lead business areas in the organization with which they had little or no experience. In doing so, their learning would open the door for them to share new perspectives, and possibly challenge past practices. It also created an environment for more holistic strategic planning discussions as a leadership team. This has become an effective ongoing practice for Nationwide.

Each of these thoughts on leadership connect to one crucial recommendation for those who want to have a significant leadership position —never stop listening. Effective listeners gain insight that unlocks the potential for endless success.

Steve Rasmussen
CEO
Nationwide

 

Senior Associate Editors Lori Chordas, Jeff Roberts and Kate Smith contributed to this story. They can be reached at bestreviewcomment@ambest.com.


Back to Home


ADVERTISEMENT