Where did you grow up?
Scott McAlindin: I was born in Newark, New Jersey, and am the oldest of seven children. My father was head of repair and maintenance for the Newark Board of Education. When I was five, we moved to Scotch Plains, a suburban community 20 miles southwest of New York City. We lived in a small, three-bedroom, split-level home with one bathroom for nine people. After my youngest brother was born, I was assigned to the couch in the family room because all the beds upstairs were taken.
What was your first job?
I started working at 13. I was a paperboy like many at that time. When I was 14, I worked at a local confectionery store called Harold's Corner, which was two blocks from my house. We sold ice cream, newspapers, cigarettes and candy. I worked there for a couple of years. Then, my first job in insurance was when I was a junior in high school, believe it or not. I was a file clerk at Allstate in Murray Hill, New Jersey.
I worked at Allstate after school (when it wasn't baseball or soccer season) from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. and then all day on Saturday. I worked in a huge open room with over 500 five-drawer file cabinets. They gave us what was called "drop filing," which involved filing the billing records. We took those pieces of paper, identified the policyholder, and then just dropped the paper in there. We did that for hours on end. When the drawers were filled, we'd purge them and take the old files to what we called the "morgue" in the basement.
I worked with a lot of my buddies, and we had a lot of fun. I would look at my bosses at the time—the guys in the office in white shirts and ties. I remember one day I turned to my buddy and said, "Shoot me if I ever turn out like that." Forty-one years later, I'm still in the business.
Where did you go to college?
I went to West Chester State University, about 30 miles southwest of Philadelphia. I majored in psychology. I didn't know at that time what I wanted to be. I thought maybe a guidance counselor, but it wasn't a passion. I just knew sooner or later I'd find a job and a way to make some money. I worked both during the school year and in the summer throughout college to supplement loans I had taken out to get me through.
What was your first job after college?
When I graduated, I responded to an advertisement in the Newark Star Ledger for a claim adjuster job at Aetna Life and Casualty. They offered me the job, and the rest is history. I went from graduating college with very little money and school loans to pay off to having a job where I could work outside the office…how good is that. I was driving a purple 1964 Volkswagen Beetle I bought for $150. The floor in the back seat was rusted out, so if you sat back there you could watch the road under your feet.
When I got the job, it came with a company car—a 1976 Chevy Nova. I was on cloud nine. At that time, my family had one car, which my dad took to work every day. My mother did not have a car during the day, so I gave the Nova to her to use since Aetna allowed anyone in your immediate family who lived in the house with you to drive the car. I continued to drive the Beetle until the back seat ultimately fell out onto the road.
Was there a point at which you decided to pursue a career in claims?
Not really. In fact, I've been in and out of claims over the years. I've held leadership positions in IT and underwriting and was even out of the P&C industry while with Aetna. The reason I pursued the opportunity in IT was to learn that critical side of the business.
What do you think are some of the biggest roadblocks for new, young professionals?
You have to be a student of the business. You have to look outside your workstation to see what's going on within your company and the industry at large. You need to understand how what you do every day fits in with the strategy of the company. Don't be afraid to take a risk. I think many of us are still trapped in a traditional career track that says, "I'll be a claims adjuster, move up to supervisor, etc." If you do that, you get contained in the department where you first enter. There are so many opportunities in this industry to do all kinds of things. Just go with it, and it will take you on a great ride.
What advice would you give to executives?
You need to know the business and stay connected to all the things that are going on in the organization, particularly on the front lines. Be in touch with people who interact with your customers every single day. If you want to understand how to improve processes, how to adjust workflow, and how to understand the constraints of the systems your people work with, you have to be in touch with your frontline staff. I advocate to my frontline leaders and middle managers to spend at least 15 minutes per day with each of the people on their team to understand how to make things better for customers and the employees who serve them. Your job is to support the people who work in the company. When I speak to people who are entering the organization—new supervisors or managers—I never mention my title. I describe myself as someone who supports the 1,200 people who serve our customers. My job is to make it easier for them to do their job so they can better meet customer needs.
Reach out and understand what's going on in other areas of your company—underwriting, actuarial, etc. Stay close to the metrics and data that are coming out of your claims organization. It gives you insight into how things can be changed for the better. You have to convert data into information and information into actionable opportunities to drive real change and innovation.
As a senior claims executive, what do you need that you don't have?
I wish I had more time. More time to spend with the individuals in my operation. More time to get to the locations outside of Webster, Mass. With the speed at which business is moving today and our significant reliance on technology, I wish I had more time to explore opportunities to better leverage the tools we use to service our customers. And, ultimately, more time with my family.
How would you define a top-notch claims person?
They have to be smart, creative, analytical, have technical capabilities to use the tools we provide, and be a student of the industry and highly engaged with their teammates and customers. They must be adaptable and demonstrate the ability to look out from behind their desks. They must also have high emotional intelligence—be able to get along and connect with other people.
Is it more difficult today to find that kind of person?
I can't say it's any different today than it has been, but it's becoming more difficult to attract some of the technicians. As I look out to the future, I'm concerned about where I'm going to get the next generation of real property and material damage experts. Our industry needs to do a better job of promoting the variety of opportunities that exist in our business.
MAPFRE is a Spain-based insurance organization. What are some of your observations about European-based operations as compared to domestic carriers?
It's interesting. Generally, when you grow up in the U.S., you have a sense that nothing can be as advanced as what we know here, so it's been a great opportunity at this stage of my career to have been exposed to MAPFRE, which purchased [Commerce Insurance] in 2008 to expand its presence in the U.S. market. MAPFRE really is an incredible organization. It does business in 44 countries around the world and has over 36,000 employees. When I've traveled to Madrid to see the operations, I have been amazed by the sophistication and innovation taking place there. For example, MAPFRE maintains a research and development operation where it explores new and innovative ways to repair cars, complete with its own crash center.
Another example is their salvage center, which is like nothing I've seen in the U.S. The salvage operation employs a technological sophistication that would have great applicability in our markets. Picture a process where cars are rolled in and torn down, and their parts are catalogued digitally and stored for electronic access. It's really impressive and not what we envision when we think of salvage operations here in the U.S.
Is there anything about you that people would be surprised to know?
I don't think so. I'm a fairly transparent person. I like to play golf, ski, and landscape. I'm an avid Yankees and Giants fan which garners me a lot of ribbing from the Red Sox and Patriots fans in Massachusetts.
I'm lucky enough to have married my high school sweetheart, and we have three wonderful children. My wife and I love to work in the yard designing beds and selecting plants. It brings me great joy to pull into my driveway and see the sanctuary we have created for our family. I also like to take hikes with my golden retriever, Buddy. He never leaves my side when I'm home.
Marc Lanzkowsky and Taylor Smith are contributing writers for Claims Advisor. Lanzkowsky is founder of The Claims Spot—a Claims Advisor media partner and award-winning blog dedicated to claims professionals. Smith is a contributing editor for The Claims Spot. Chief Concerns are interviews with C-suite and top-level claim executives that seek to give insight into the insurance claim industry's highest leaders.