Current Position: Senior Vice President, Chief Claims Officer, ARI Insurance Company
Years in current role: 5
Years in Insurance Industry: 22
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Management and Industrial Relations from Seton Hall University; Master’s degree in Organizational Change from the College of Saint Elizabeth
Originally from: Butler, N.J.
First Insurance Job: Corporate Management Trainee at Selective Insurance
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Butler, N.J., a small working-class town. Throughout my childhood, Butler was a community in which everyone knew each other, looked out for each other, and worked together to make the town a great place to raise a family. Growing up in such a community showed me at a young age the value of hard work and the importance of valuing possessions that you worked hard to obtain.
What was your family like?
I am the youngest of seven children. I have three brothers and three sisters. My father worked his entire career for American Cyanamid. In addition to his full-time job, he also worked part-time at night to help put us through college, pay for weddings, and take us on family vacations. My mom had probably the hardest job, which was raising our family.
Did anyone work in insurance?
I had some family members at State Farm who worked in the IT group, but all of my conversations with them were about technology, not claims and coverage. I really had no prior knowledge of what the insurance industry truly was before joining it. I knew insurance was a product that everyone needed to have, so I thought it would be a stable industry in which to get involved.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I had two desires growing up. My first was to play hockey for the New York Rangers. There was nothing better than hearing the roar of a Ranger crowd at Madison Square Garden. As a child, I would imagine scoring a goal and celebrating while practicing out in the road or on the frozen pond. Realizing that was not likely going to happen, I then wanted to be like Dad: be well respected in my field, have a long business career, and work with the same company.
Where did you go to college?
I graduated from Seton Hall University with a major in Management and Industrial Relations. My experience at Seton Hall was great, complete with well-qualified professors and many opportunities. I continue to be an active alumnus in various aspects, primarily in the mentoring program. Through their Career Services Department and LinkedIn, Seton Hall has groups set up for current students so they can connect with alumni for career guidance. Oftentimes, students do not fully understand the value of the mentoring opportunity when they are in school. Therefore, it is important to help them realize that mentoring is about developing relationships, not just a one-time interaction. For me, I feel being part of this program is a great way to give back to a university that helped me start my career and obtain my first insurance job at Selective Insurance Company.
Tell me more about your first job.
I was looking for a job with sustainability; somewhere I could develop a career and, specifically, an organization that was offering a corporate training program. At the time, Selective Insurance had a management training program in place and was rather successful. Trainees were based in the corporate office for eight months, where we would spend time rotating everywhere in the organization—the mailroom, customer service, billing, collections, claims, underwriting, agencies, and branches. Not only was this training program an extremely valuable experience for learning about the insurance industry but also it showed how each area was connected and how the company worked as a whole. It was a great opportunity.
What was your first claims job?
Upon completion of the corporate training program, I was asked what I’d like to do next. The majority of trainees wanted to go to underwriting because it was perceived as more glamorous. I shocked a few people when I stated that I wanted to go into claims. It was the constant variety that claims offered that intrigued me. I loved the idea that I would go into work each day not knowing what was ahead of me. I particularly enjoyed the investigative aspect of the job; for me, it was like putting pieces of a puzzle together.
Do you see many similar training programs in the industry today?
I don’t see many companies providing that level of training anymore. The retention level for the programs like I went through was low. After a few years of training, other companies would come in and offer the trained professionals a new position, making the continuation of such programs difficult for everyone.
How can companies enhance their training while mitigating the risk that their people will leave?
That’s a great question. In today’s business world, smaller companies don’t really have the resources to do this. The larger organizations struggle with consistency in their training and planning career tracks that help keep those professionals in place. Creating mentoring relationships can help, as it allows less-experienced professionals an opportunity to communicate with others who in turn can help them participate in projects that may be outside their day-to-day job responsibilities. If you can create roles that allow young professionals to see a future for themselves within your company, you have a better chance of retaining them.
When did you move into management?
My first management experience was not directly managing people, but managing projects. At Selective Insurance, I was given the opportunity to participate in and lead various projects. When I moved to Zurich, I took on my first official management role.
How do you describe your leadership style?
I place a heavy emphasis on supporting and coaching my group, and I provide them opportunities to excel in their roles. I believe it is very important not to micromanage. Rather, give your group the tools they need to carry out their jobs. I work hard to be consistent and fair to everyone. I am results-oriented, and I believe it’s important to articulate a clear message of the division and overall organization’s goals and provide guidance on how we can work together to achieve those goals.
What advice would you give new leaders?
Be open-minded, and do not go in with the “know-it-all” mindset. When you obtain a management position, remember to listen to your staff, superiors, and your colleagues to clearly understand the full picture and the true issues and goals of the organization. Do not make changes just to make changes. Make changes for the right reasons and be persistent, yet patient.
Did you have any mentors?
Yes, I had several mentors at Zurich, some through the mentorship program and others that I fostered on my own. I was fortunate that in various times throughout my career, I had individuals who believed in me and afforded me opportunities to prove my skills by working on large organizational projects. These individuals placed me in positions that allowed me to succeed and showcase my talents.
What’s your pet peeve related to the industry?
My biggest pet peeve is also what I see as the insurance industry’s biggest challenge: the classification of the claims group as second or third fiddle in the organization. To the contrary, in some ways, claims can be the most important part of an organization. In most situations, the claims department is the only contact the policyholder has with the company. We also are the group that has a tremendous impact on the bottom line. One of the reasons I decided to join ARI Insurance was the fact that our CEO values the role of claims and sees the impact it has on the organization. As a leader in claims, I think it is important to take every opportunity, whether that be in meetings, in one-on-one interactions, and/or at industry events to promote the successes, big or small, of your claims division.
What can the industry do to promote the claims department?
There are some instances in which commercials on television portray claims staff in a negative way. This certainly does not help the industry attract the next generation of professionals. What we need to do is portray the claims industry as I see it: a rewarding, richly diverse career that never ceases to provide intellectual challenges and problem-solving opportunities.
Tell my about your family.
My wife, Lisa, and I have been married for over 16 years. We met at Seton Hall University. We have two children; our son Chris is 11 and our daughter Katie is six. We keep busy with their school and outside activities. I like to stay involved as much as I can, whether it be as the coach of my son’s basketball team, leader in his Boy Scout troop, participating in the “Dad’s Cheer” for my daughter’s cheering event or just being a supportive spectator at her dance and gymnastics shows. One of the things I value most in my life is the time I am able to spend with my wife and kids.
What’s your most memorable vacation?
While I will always remember our family vacations at the Jersey Shore, one of the most recent and memorable was one of our many trips to Disney. On this particular trip, we decided to drive down to Florida instead of flying. After driving through a tornado in which we were just one mile out of the funnel, we discovered that the hotel we were to stay at was wiped out. What should have been a one-night drive resulted in a three-day long adventure. We eventually made it to the Magic Kingdom and the kids had a magical time.
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, www.clmadvisors.org.