In his nearly two decades in government and business, Sean Kevelighan has had his public affairs and communications fitness tested in high-profile situations, most notably working for the Treasury Department and as press secretary for the White House Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.
He was also tested as group head of Global Consumer Banking Public Affairs for financial giant Citi during the financial crisis. Most recently he was global head of Public Affairs for Zurich Insurance Group, where he helped set the corporation’s global public policy and corporate responsibility agendas.
Now Kevelighan, who competes in Ironman contests and marathons, is facing his biggest fitness test yet. He has committed to being the heavyweight spokesperson for the world’s best known property/casualty insurance information organization, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). He is taking over as president and CEO from Dr. Robert Hartwig, an economist who served in the post for 18 years and raised the stature and profile of the organization considerably. Hartwig is heading off into academia.
Kevelighan, who is only 43 years old (he’s not the youngest to lead I.I.I.; Hartwig was 42 when he took the helm) in an industry not known for youth at the top, expects this new adventure to be a marathon after a career with 12 different jobs and promotions in 18 years.
“I think you could parcel out my career in two parts, almost. The first part was a lot of time spent in the Washington D.C. area, primarily. What happens often in Washington, D.C., is you spend your time figuring out all the various elements of what I call the public affairs machine,” he told Insurance Journal in an interview a few weeks before he started his new job in August.
“You’ve got your government side of it with policymakers and regulators. There’s a business element to it, whether the individual businesses or the trade associations. You’ve also got that ‘relevant expert’ group out there in academia, or think tanks. Then the media is also a big component of it. I spent a lot of time in the first part of my career really trying to understand and work in and work with all those various elements.”
There are not too many high-level insurance executives in their early 40’s. For Kevelighan, personally, the time is right to hunker down. “[A]t this stage of my career, I really do want to sink in and use all of that expertise and understanding that I learned in the first part of my career, and begin to apply it for more longer-term,” he said. “With my age now and how the I.I.I. operates, I think it’ll be a good match for that, in terms of being able to look at a longer-term view for the industry and this position, as well.”
He believes his ability to think strategically and execute tactically is one of his strengths.
“One of the things that I try and do is apply everything from a strategic viewpoint and understand what strategy needs to be applied to an organization or a certain campaign and how can you directly, tactically get there, being able to tactically execute whatever the strategy is for the organization, or communications program,” he said.
Kevelighan admits that he, like most people, used to view insurance as simply a “grudge purchase,” one that is hard to understand and appreciate.
But now he has a loftier view. “What’s there and what’s happening is allowing individuals, companies and organizations to actually live more freely in the world and in the economy,” he said.
Where did the Ironman gain this passion? After 9/11 he was in Washington working on the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act and saw New York’s construction industry shut down almost immediately because insurance was not available.
“In a place like New York, where construction is everywhere, the dramatic impact of not having insurance on one of the most major cities in the world was striking to me. I think I understood that it’s not necessarily just this grudge purchase. It’s actually making an economy work.”
Was this article valuable?
Here are more articles you may enjoy.