Current Position: Vice President, Chief Claim Officer, Chief Risk Control Services Officer
Years in Current Role: 3
Years in Insurance Industry: 30 years
Education: Attended College of Saint Francis and Joliet Junior College. Earned both CPCU and AIC designations.
Originally From: Joliet, Ill.
First Insurance Job: Claims Adjuster at GAB
Where did you grow up?
Joliet, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. I’m one of four boys in my family. All of my brothers are over-achievers in terms of sports and academics. One has his own dental practice, one went to Illinois State University on a football scholarship, and one won the state of Illinois golf championship at age 13.
What did your parents do?
My dad was an optical tooling expert at Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory. My mom worked at the same bank from the time she graduated high school until she retired.
What was your first job?
I worked at Caterpillar. I was in a four-year manufacturing management training program. One of the areas I worked in was loss control. In the mid to late 1970s, when the economy had a downturn, I was laid off from Caterpillar, and I went to work at GAB as a claims adjuster. I had never thought of it as something I wanted to do, but I liked it.
What did you like about it?
Being an insurance adjuster is a noble profession. If you’re handling property claims, you’re helping people put their lives back together after a devastating loss. I got great satisfaction out of that. I also dug into the liability side of the business and was an aggressive proponent for first-party versus third-party plaintiffs. That was something I really enjoyed.
Would you advise a young claims professional to specialize or generalize?
First, I’d advise that they get very good about what they are doing—including the technical aspects. Second, I’d advise them to get a diversity of experiences by exposing themselves to other lines of claims and then expand out beyond to underwriting and other areas. You have to be patient to let those opportunities present themselves. It’s not going to happen in a year or two. It’s going to evolve over the course of your career.
Are there any operating tenets that you think are fundamental to good leaders today?
A good balance between people, process, and technology. You have to have good balance among those three items. For me, a good measure of a leader is how they treat those they are leading. A lot of people think that because they are a good communicator, they are a good leader. Just because people listen and hear you doesn’t mean they are going to engage. One of the things I’ve done here is forget about change management. We don’t engineer change and force it on staff. We engage our people, and together we create change.
Are there particular aspects of process management that you think leaders should be focused on today?
When you read a book, you read from left to right. When you put together a process, you do it from right to left. You create the process with the end in mind and then you create the technology that enables the process—not create the technology and then build the process. That’s something we’ve done successfully here at State Auto.
What wisdom would you share from things you learned in early management positions?
When I was first promoted into my first leadership position, we were utilizing legacy green-screen technology, but we learned to make it work. Our processes were people-driven workarounds and not technology driven. It was a horrible waste of staff time. If I could go back and do it again, I’d change that in a heartbeat. I would have pushed for greater technology investment early on.
How would you rate the efficiency of today’s claims professionals?
Efficiency has gotten better over the years, but there’s so much more that can be done through technology and predictive modeling. The technology of having a caller’s profile and related claims appear on the adjuster’s computer screen is a simple function that saves administrative time and allows the adjuster to focus on real business. The more we can push useful information into the hands of the adjusters, the more efficient they can be.
Do you find today’s younger generation of employees different than those from past generations?
No matter what generation, what I love about most young professionals is their ability and eagerness to teach and learn. Today’s young professionals want more information quicker, want to see their production, and want to see how they’re doing relative to their peers. They also challenge those of us who have been in the industry for a long time by questioning processes and suggesting better ways to do things. They aren’t hampered by the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.
Do you use social media to communicate with your customers?
Not yet, but we’ve hired a social media director to help us put together a strategy for everything from underwriting to billing to claims. It’s an exciting area, but we must approach it strategically and securely to make sure we meet people’s needs and expectations while also maintaining their privacy.
Do you see a talent crisis in claims management?
Absolutely. There’s a talent crisis of experienced individuals, which creates competition among insurance companies and vendors for those talented people. To help, as an industry we have to be committed to training young professionals. Companies have to be committed to training people straight out of school. The companies that don’t take training of entry-level people seriously are a detriment to themselves and the industry.
What could the industry do to encourage claims as a viable career?
We should talk more about what we do in public. Emphasize that claims management is a noble profession, not a center for complaint control. Look at all the tornadoes we had last year. Think about the damage and how it ruined people’s lives. Think about how it was the insurance adjusters who enabled those people to put their lives back together. It’s not every profession that allows you to have that kind of impact on peoples’ lives.
Are you a Windows or Mac person?
Both. I have Windows at work. At home I have a Mac laptop, iPhone, and iPad. I’m reading Steve Jobs’ biography on my iPad right now.
Have you learned anything from that biography that you’d take back to the workplace?
He was a visionary. Back in 1989, he knew what the iPad was going to look like. Think about the patience he had to corral while waiting for the market and technology to advance. He drove for something that wouldn’t be delivered for decades. And he believed in his convictions. I think we can all learn from that.
What further career aspirations do you have?
When I retire, I want to write a book called The Complete Practical Leader. It will be practical leadership advice, not theoretical advice. I want to share my experiences and what I’ve learned along the way. My dad always said there are three types of people in this world: those who learn from their mistakes (the smart ones); those who don’t learn from their mistakes (the not-so-smart ones); and those who learn from the mistakes of others (the wise ones).
Do you have any hobbies?
My wife, Barbara, and I enjoy being outdoors. Whether we walk, bike, or go on trips to national parks, we like good weather and being outdoors. I’m also a huge Chicago Bears football fan. I have a few pieces of Bears memorabilia, including a helmet signed by Mike Ditka and an autographed copy of Mike Singletary’s biography.
Do you and Barbara have children?
Yes, we have one adult son, Thomas. We also have a great labradoodle named Bud McBarker.
Taylor Smith is a contributing editor and president of CLM Advisors, which provides consulting and talent acquisition services to the claims and litigation management industry. He may be reached at email@example.com, (224) 212-0134, clmadvisors.org.