How did you get your start in insurance?
When I graduated college, I wanted to go into officer training school with the Navy, but my fiancée (now wife) did not want me to join. Instead, I went to work for Farm Family Mutual. My father was and still is a defense attorney in Binghamton, N.Y., where I grew up, and Farm Family was one of his clients. When I graduated from college, they were looking for a trainee. I spent several days riding along with a claims professional to see if it was a profession that interested me.
What kind of training did you get at Farm Family?
At that time, there literally was no training. They gave me a company car and sent me out. My first day, lightning hit a barn and killed some cattle. The company sent me out there with a tape recorder and pad of paper to find out what happened. They told me not to answer any questions if I didn’t know the answer, and that no one would know I was new to the job.
What do you view as your role today?
My role as a claims leader is to empower claims professionals to deliver our brand of “fair,” which includes very high standards. They have to believe a solution is fair in order to deliver it effectively. The public expectation is very circumspect about the true intentions of insurance companies and claims professionals, although I do not think that negative image is true and valid for the majority of the industry. When we have personal interactions with claimants who have had some kind of inconvenience or even tragedy, we really can show people our humanity. I want my staff to understand the positive impact that they can have in these interactions and demonstrate the noble purpose of insurance
Each interaction with a claimant is a chance to show them that we are people, too—that we care and have emotions. More times than not, people appreciate—or at least respect—the outcome if it’s handled properly. I think if you can work with the public directly and face-to-face, they understand that we are going to give them a fair settlement. Unfortunately, there’s a message out there that our goal is to pay as little as possible. That’s not true.
Do you have trainees at Western National?
Yes, we bring them in straight from college with no experience in the claims industry. When looking at potential employees, we tend to evaluate more from a personality perspective than a technical perspective. We’re looking for people who are interested in a career of helping people. We want enthusiasm and good listeners. We bring candidates in for an open house and show them videos of a day in the life of a claims professional. We like to show them the emotion of what it means to be in claims and how rewarding it can be.
Often, new trainees are offline six-to-eight months before they handle a claim. They sit right outside my office, and they come and talk to me all the time. They work with all of the departments in the company as part of their training because we want them to understand the totality of our business. When an insured asks, “Will this raise my rates?” we want them to be able to answer.
Your company also contributes a lot to charity?
I am directly involved in supporting a local Twin Cities food shelter. Even though Minneapolis is a thriving, affluent city, there is a significant contingent of working poor here who need assistance from charitable organizations. Western National gives away one percent of our net income annually to charitable organizations recommended by our employees. Giving back is an exceptionally important part of our company culture, and I’m very proud of that.
Do you have any hobbies?
My one mid-life crisis was to learn to be a pilot, so I started the process in my 40s. Becoming an old pilot demands a vigilant focus on prudent decision-making and self-assessment. It teaches you a lot about situational awareness and how to anticipate what is ahead of you. Accidents more often than not are the result of three or more things going wrong. The challenge in piloting is to anticipate those and successfully eliminate or respond to them in order to break the chain of events.
Current position: Senior Vice President, Claims, Western National Insurance Group
Years in Current Role: Five
Size of current claims organization: 110+
Years in Insurance Industry: 31
Originally From: Binghamton, N.Y.
First Claims Job: Claims Trainee, Farm Family Mutual