Where did you grow up?
I grew up in River Grove, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Some people know that that is the home of the country’s best hot dog stand—Gene and Jude’s. I grew up eating those, and I still have cravings.
What did you study in college?
I was a music composition major at DePaul University, and I moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in music composition for television and movies. My wife, who was my high-school sweetheart, worked for Prudential and transferred out there. After we moved, I got a job at 20th Century Insurance for the income while I pursued my music career. I took loss notices over the phone and handled glass claims. Soon, I was promoted to the subrogation area.
We had a baby, moved back to the Midwest, and I took a job with American Family. I started there as a casualty field claims professional, then a supervisor, then moved up to branch claims manager.
What skills led you into a management track?
Part of it was that I did a good job and got good results. I delivered what I knew my bosses wanted. I was asked to supervise others and share my habits and work approach with them. Like many first-time supervisors, I assumed that everyone approached everything the same way I did. I see that so often with new managers.
It’s a huge challenge to work with others who have different styles, personalities, and approaches. Giving others the freedom to accomplish an objective in their own way is very important. To quote Nelson Tavares, senior claims vice president of W. R. Berkley, “Process is important; outcomes are imperative.” You can try to standardize processes, but the most important thing is the outcome. Don’t let process overshadow good results.
How would you entice new college graduates to enter the industry?
It helps if they have a curious personality, want to learn, enjoy working with people, and want to be a positive influence on customers and others on a team. I tell new employees that they have to be the best individual contributor they can be, but also they have to be the best team player, as well. So much about success is not about what you produce on your own, but rather what your team produces.
Claims is a really fascinating career because you can touch on so many areas. What you can learn is never-ending, and the subject matter can be vast—everything from law to medicine to technology. It’s an exciting and changing career with many options.
You are a Six Sigma black belt. Has that affected the way you approach claims?
I’ve always been interested in process improvement, and at one point in my career, I took it upon myself to become formally educated on the topic. The strategies I learned on how to improve processes have been exceptionally useful. For example, Berkley Southeast Insurance Group is a newer W.R. Berkley company. We started this claims department and its processes from scratch, everything from claims workflow, vendor management, guidelines, and hiring. All of that could not have been done as well without the concepts of LEAN and Six Sigma. It’s a great example of how investing time and effort into learning something new can pay off down the road.
Any career advice you’d like to share?
I would encourage everyone to develop their own personal mission and vision statements—not just for your career, but for your life, too. Find a guide, a course, or a mentor to help you evaluate your values, your competencies, and what makes you tick. Once you do that work, it makes a big difference in your life and for those around you.
Tell me more about your love of music.
While my dream of scoring films in Hollywood didn’t come to fruition, I have composed quite a few jazz, vocal, and instrumental pieces. About eight years ago, I composed a piece for the opening of the Center for the Performing Arts Palladium in Carmel, Indiana. My music ranges from contemporary big band jazz to more classical music—I’d call it mainstream music with a contemporary edge.
Current position: Vice President, Claims Berkley Southeast Insurance Group
Years in Current Role: Two
Years in Insurance Industry: 34
Originally From: River Grove, Illinois
First Claims Job: Claims Professional, 20th Century Insurance Companies