Emerging Leaders Conference
Own Your Career
Stanley Galanski, president and CEO of Navigators: To build a successful company, focus on communication, results, authenticity and people.
- Best's Review staff
- May 2019
Stanley Galanski, president and CEO of Navigators told attendees at the Emerging Leaders Conference in Miami that one of his defining moments in leadership was the realization that you learn more from dealing with adversity than you do from good times.
“I've learned more from working for bad bosses than you ever will from working for a good boss,” Galanski said. “People say, [complainingly]'My boss...'. I'm thinking that's a great opportunity. Find out whatever their flaws are and just exploit it. Take advantage of it.”
Galanski, who has been CEO of Navigators for 15 years, said he has developed management guidelines that focus on four key concepts: communication, results, authenticity and people, or “CRAP” management.
Following are some excerpts of Galanski's address.
You’ve got to surround yourself with the best team of people and bring them along with you every step of the way. Maybe the second is more important than the first because we all know that C teams can perform like A teams if they’ve got the right support around them and you’re working hard with them to help them succeed.
What do most people say if you talk to your employees or you survey them? What do they want? Information. “We don't know where the company is going. We don't understand the strategy. Nobody talks to us.”
It's really a matter of being like a mushroom. They keep us in the dark, and every once in a while they throw some manure over on us.
What are you going to do about that? Well, it's actually a little worse than that because so many times what people really think about communication is like information is currency.
It's this hierarchical thing. That leads to controlling information.
Back in the late '90s when I was running a little microcap company in Chicago called Intercargo Corporation, I'd have weekly staff meetings with my direct reports. I'd share stuff with them and hear from them. You'd hope they'd go back and talk to their teams about it.
What I realized is, some did, some didn't.
The only way I could really deal with it in a company with 150 people, largely in Chicago but [also] in London and Hong Kong, was to do a monthly, all-hands-on-deck team meeting. We're all going to talk about it.
That way, at least I knew they would hear what I thought they needed to hear in a no-nonsense type of way, unfiltered, no political currency involved, just straight at it.
If you can take that attitude of communication into your unit, your department, your company, your team, whatever it is you're running, I think it'll make your team much more effective and cause people to become engaged and have a greater sense of belonging.
Same thing happened in communication. Nobody wants to sit in unproductive meetings. We used to do a quarterly, all-employee telephone call before the era of video conference. At one point in time, my management team of maybe 10 years ago said, “Nobody really likes those meetings. They're torturous. Get rid of them.”
OK, so I did. Immediately, all the emails started coming in, “Where was the meeting this quarter?” So, we've done it by video.
Listening to my own managers, they're out of touch with their own people. The bottom line is, the front line wanted to know. They wanted to hear it from my mouth. They want to hear it from your mouth. You can tell the story, and people get it. You're investing in them. You're giving them the time. I strongly think that's important.
Why is Winston Churchill great? Because he didn't lose World War II. At the end of the day, that's the only reason he's great.
He gave great speeches. If you watch these Churchill movies, they are inspiring and make you feel good, but if he lost, it didn't matter.
If you've read about Churchill, it didn't come easy. There was a lot of resistance to entering the war here in the U.S. Churchill's ability to get FDR and get the U.S. in, ultimately, was the one thing that mattered.
He didn't lose. He was able to win.
When you think about the speeches that were great speeches—London's being bombed, France is falling—it's hard, it's awful. Those speeches were pretty inspirational, but at the end of the day, he wouldn't be a great leader if he lost.
He was a great leader because he won and ultimately, got bounced out.
What are those defining moments in leadership that, again, are results-focused? I thought I'd just share a couple with you.
I joined our company in 2001. For those of you who don't know much about us, we were formed in 1974 as a family business, as an MGA [managing general agency]. We created an insurance company in '83, took it public in '86.
The founder ran the company from '74 through 2001, hired me as his successor. I come in as kind of not the CEO and was named CEO Jan. 1, 2003. Two leaders in a 45-year period of time is pretty interesting.
In 2004, we had no analyst calls, even though we had been public since '86. We had no real investor relations effort. I decided to do our first analyst call. On Jan. 21st, 2004, I discovered we had an asbestos problem. We're a small company. At that time, our market capital was probably, I don't know, $200 million. We had a $78 million asbestos problem.
At the end of the day, it was a wonderful opportunity for me as the new CEO, relatively new, still only one year in the job, the way we handled and managed the thing. We identified it. We researched it. We contained it, announced it, all in about four-and-a-half weeks.
It gave the board great confidence in the executive team to see the way we reacted to it. What was possibly the most difficult thing that we could have faced actually was a great moment for me in my career because it gave that board confidence. “Boy, we've got the right person in the job.”
Willingness to shut down nonperforming businesses, I think, is part of the results orientation. We've had a pretty good track record of entering businesses, excess casualty, directors and officers liability, have a ton of businesses over the years.
When we see things don't hit our KPIs [key performance indicators] we're not shy about shutting down quickly. As one of our retired directors said to me, “You guys shut things down more quickly than anybody I've ever seen.” Most companies, they'll debate it. They'll think about it.
If we see the KPIs aren't there—and more importantly, don't have confidence in the team that they're going to be able to execute it—we cut loose. That's just the way it is. I think it's one of the things that really helps us as leaders in focusing on the results.
We've known each other now for about 12 minutes. I think you see that what you see, is what you get, with me. I've always believed that the front line can smell a phony a mile away.
I can remember in the late '90s, living in Chicago. United Airlines couldn't seem to do anything right at the time. I remember being in their red carpet club one day. It was just another flight being delayed by an hour and a half, or canceled.
I said to the person working at the desk at the airline's club, “God, what's wrong with you guys?” She says, “I don't know. They tell us all these things and explanations to give to you, but we just have a really bad management team in this company.”
The front line doesn't lie, you know? They could smell a phony a mile away.
The CEO of one of the largest brokerage firms in the U.S.—well, in the world actually—and I were having dinner a couple of months ago. He said, “Stan, there is no way that Navigators should have the share of our market, of our business, that you do.
“You get there because you guys just simply refuse to not have your share. It's the hustle. It's the service.”
It's that whole approach. I think those kind of things in their culture, brand, strategy, communication are very, very powerful when you bring them to the market because they're such differentiating factors.
I'm leaving you all to head to London tonight. I know it's going to be a great experience. I don't know how many times you guys have flown Virgin Atlantic to London. It's always a great experience because Richard Branson has built one heck of an airline.
We believe we're in a people business. All companies say, “People are our greatest assets,” and then they treat them the way Charles Dickens would describe employees in the novel, “Hard Times”—as hands. It's just awful.
We believe in our business, we compete on the basis of the caliber of our intellectual capital. It's the only way we went. If you want to do that, you've got to treat people well, have a strong bond. Treat them as adults. Give them the authority to do their jobs.
Have, obviously, safeguards and the ability to oversee what they're doing, but stay the heck out of the way and let them do their jobs. We believe that's an effective way to work. I think technology enables things.
As productivity pressures continue—by the way, our industry expense ratio is not better today with all the productivity gains we have than it was 10 years ago, or 20 years ago—we're going to continue to face those pressures.
You're going to have to do more with less. You're not going to be able to spend time managing people. You've got to hire people you can trust to do their jobs.
We have some real core values about people in our company. Obviously, I've talked about that. We compete on that basis. We really believe that people do business with people they know, like and trust.
We may not always do what you want, but we're going to listen to your story. Really emphasizing the people side of the business.
We really believe there is no such thing as B-to-B, there is only P-to-P, because even if you're trading on a B-to-B basis, maybe that risk manager ... had a particularly bad day, maybe his boss is a real jerk. You don't know. Maybe he's got a spouse with cancer, or just lost a parent or something. People have a lot of things impacting their lives.
If you can really focus on making that transaction, that customer experience with you, humane, interactive and caring—it's a heck of a competitive advantage. Of course, one of our core values is integrity, professionalism and pride. Always conducting business that way.
Believe in Yourself
First, I'd say, if you don't believe in yourself, you're beat before you start. Our now 79-year-old founder, Terry Deeks, taught me that. I believe, in our company, we've been able to achieve things.
This is not podium talk, this is just true. Whether it's terms we got on a reinsurance deal, or relationships that we've got with brokers or policyholders, or whatever, that really defy logic. The conventional wisdom would say you're not going to get it done. We've always believed in ourselves, and we felt that the team hustled.
We were willing to work harder. It all starts with the mental attitude of not accepting losing, not accepting being second-class as an option. That's true for your team, it's true for your company, it's true for you as an individual.
Somebody said on a prior panel, not to contradict anybody, but this is an industry that you don't get promoted quickly and there is no such thing as a 28-year-old VP. I hope you guys, and the other generation coming on behind you, prove that to be just dead wrong.
I spent my first 14 1/2 years in the underwriting business at Chubb, and at age 36, AIG gave me the chance to be the president of a $500 million insurance company. At age 38, the Intercargo Corporation board of directors gave me the chance to be public company CEO.
Was I ready for either of those jobs? I can assure you, I was not, but I didn't fail.
It starts with that point, number one. Seize the moment when that opportunity presents itself for you.
Keys to Success
You've got to surround yourself with the best team of people and bring them along with you every step of the way. Maybe the second is more important than the first because we all know that C teams can perform like A teams if they've got the right support around them and you're working hard with them to help them succeed. There is a lot of lessons in there.
You need to avoid being consumed with internal problems. Again, I've been very fortunate because running a smaller, entrepreneurial company, we only have about 850 employees worldwide. It's embarrassing because I used to know everybody's name. Now, I walk into London, I'm looking at the receptionist thinking, “Carol? Carly? Who is that?”
The fact is, we're small enough that we communicate and we don't get focused on the internal stuff. We try to stay focused on external realities.
Never stop contemplating future sources of growth, future sources of revenue, future sources of earnings. I had a CFO who didn't understand that one time back, I don't know, 12, 13 years ago.
“Oh, look. We've got all these growth businesses. Look how great our construction business is.”
Then with the financial crisis, California construction hit a dead stop. Had we not been investing in other things, I don't know where we would have been. There is just never enough good sources of revenue. Things will turn south.
There is a real value to always incubating future sources of growth and revenue.