Where do you go to see a best-selling business author, a folksy economist, wisecracking political pundits, a college football star turned ex-Congressman and a bona fide American military hero? The National Association of Independent Insurers’ (NAII) annual meeting, of course. This year, the much-anticipated meeting of top insurance company executives is being held Nov. 9 – 12 in Atlanta.
It’s not just the glitz and glamour of the big-name speakers that brings the P/C industry’s heavyweights out year after year, but the promise of business wheeling and dealing in the hallways and private meeting rooms, as insurers seek to hammer out agreements with reinsuers to keep them rolling until next year.
More than 500 member company executives will be attending this year’s meeting, according to Joseph J. Annotti, NAII vice president of public affairs, while more than 700 reinsurance company executives and brokers are making the trip.
“Program-wise, the biggest draw, certainly the most popular speaker our members are looking forward to is Jim Collins,” Annotti said. “His books are incredibly popular with our members and he has been in exceptionally high demand from our members for years. He’ll be giving an extended, 90-minute presentation with interaction with the audience. We think it will be enormously popular.”
Collins co-wrote Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which became an instant business classic upon its publication in 1994. The book grew out of a six-year research project at the Stanford Graduate School of Business with co-author Jerry Porras, a State Farm board director, and examined 18 exceptional companies and compared how each fared against a top competitor.
The secret to visionary companies, according to the authors, is an atmosphere that nurtures the ideas of brilliant people to “try a lot of stuff and keep what works.”
Collins’ latest bestseller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, examines how companies not blessed with greatness from inception became great over time. Six years of research looked at 1,435 companies and settled on 11 that had made substantial improvement over time, including Fannie Mae, Gillette, Walgreens and Wells Fargo.
The book, currently ranked No. 24 on Amazon.com, says there’s no single reason why these companies made the leap, but notes that many popular business trends such as radical restructurings fail to get the job done.
Discipline, a culture of entrepreneurship and an appreciation of the role of technology are a few characteristics Collins’ research suggests sets great companies apart.
Another speaker at the meeting is J.C. Watts, former Oklahoma Sooners’ college football star and Oklahoma Republican Congress member. Before retiring from elected office in 2002, Watts was the GOP’s only African-American in Congress and the fourth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives. He was the keynote speaker at the 2000 Republican National Convention.
Watts spoke on short notice before the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) fall meeting in Chicago in October, delivering a rambling speech full of mildly amusing anecdotes about life in his hometown of Eufaula, Okla., and vague political platitudes, while very light on matters of substance facing the insurance industry.
“The J.C. Watts presentation should be interesting,” Annotti said. “Hopefully he will be a little more specific in his comments to our members about what he sees as the political obstacles specifically for the insurance industry and how we can best deal with them.”
Watts won’t be the only speaker discussing politics at the NAII meeting. Political pundits Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, co-hosts of CNN’s “Crossfire,” ‘will light up the room with a lively discussion of what’s right—and left—in American politics,’ according to the NAII’s brochure.
“I think there’ll be a pretty broad mix of issues discussed at the meeting,” Annotti said. “Political issues are obviously very important to our members and what they look for our organization to address. I think that’s reflected in the Wednesday panel where we are going to talk about class action reform, medical malpractice and asbestos litigation.
“And we’ll also address the overall topic of insurance regulation, how we can improve it,” Annotti added. “We’ll update the status of proposals on federal insurance standards, an optional federal charter, how we’re doing in the states, and what efforts we can make to improve state regulation. Jack Ramirez, our president, will address the key issues on state regulation.”
Business will also be on the agenda, however.
“The other issue that’s on everybody’s mind and it’s why so many reinsurers attend the meeting is market conditions,” Annotti said. “A lot of business gets conducted at our meeting. Many will be taking preliminary steps on the renegotiation of reinsurance contracts. Back in the founding days of the organization the goal of the annual meeting was to bring insurers and reinsurers together. That’s still an extremely important component.”
Other speakers include Gene Stanaland, “an economist with a sense of humor,” according to the brochure, “this Southern native will delight with his folksy style” while sharing his “insight on complex economic issues.” Also on the roster is Capt. Scott O’Grady, who survived for six days on bugs and rainwater after his F-16 was shot down in 1995 by a surface-to-air missile south of the Bosnian city of Banja Luka.
A members only luncheon is likely to focus on a proposed merger with the Alliance of American Insurers, Annotti said.
“Clearly that’s going to be on the minds of people there,” he said.
The luncheon also includes a “roll-up-your sleeves informal session where we break it down,” Annotti said. “We have topics at every table ranging from personal lines to commercial lines, small companies to large companies, and members can engage in conversation with eight or 10 of their peers. A member of the NAII board of governors sits at every table and answers questions about our positions or activities.
“It’s really more of a networking session,” he added. “We did it for the first time last year and it was very popular. We hope to repeat that success this year.”
For more information or to register for the conference, visit www.naii.org.
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