Surplus Lines Execs Address Leadership, Perpetuation

By | October 11, 2011

Four industry leaders attempted to tackle explaining the definition of “leadership” and what it takes to be a leader, while addressing perpetuation concerns during the “Next Generation Panel Discussion: Developing the Future Leaders of Our Industry” at the annual National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices (NAPSLO) conference in San Diego on Wednesday.

The panel consisted of Steven Gross, chairman and CEO of Springfield, N.J.-based Metro Insurance Services Inc., Letha Heaton, vice president of marketing for Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Admiral Insurance Co. and NAPSLO president, Patrick Ryan, chairman and CEO of Chicago, Ill.-based Ryan Specialty Group and Michael Miller, president and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Scottsdale Insurance Co.

“Leadership is establishing a vision and getting others to buy into that vision, and when they buy into that vision, it’s establishing trust,” said Ryan, who led the U.S. bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Miller said he believes leadership has added meaning nowadays. “Leadership equals influence,” he said.

Gross said leadership is about passing along to others one’s state of mind. “A leader has something in them that is very positive and allows them to pass that along to others,” he said.

The panelists, who took questions from the audience as well as moderator Kristen Skender, the national marketing director of Canonsburg, Pa.-based USG, fielded questions not only about what it means to be a leader, but how to become a good leader.

“You have to trust your instincts about people you surround yourself with,” Heaton said.

Heaton said being confident and communicating that confidence to others is important. “The most valuable thing you have is what is thought of you,” she said.

The way in which people in the industry communicate has changed dramatically over the years, Ryan noted. In years past, people could get away with not being a great communicator, returning calls, or e-mails, at a leisurely pace, he said.

“Today people expect an instant response,” Ryan said, adding that instantaneous response often requires much quicker decision-making abilities in today’s business world. “You have to become that much more decisive. People are waiting for your decision.”

While the panelists were mostly complimentary on leaders in the industry, they did point out some things that could be done better.

“Business is like golf,” Gross said. “You can never score your best score. You can always do better.”

A critical mistake of leadership today is lack of vision, Miller said. “A lot of times leaders just don’t have vision,” he said, adding that without vision, companies are merely capable of moving forward in fits and starts today, with little chance of success tomorrow. “Without (vision), what you become is an incremental organization.”

Ryan put in: “People get too much into process and the process becomes the goal. They get hung up on process too much, which keeps them from being innovative.”

Despite persistent concerns echoed in regard to perpetuation in the industry, the panelists held out positive views on the future of leaders in the insurance industry.

“I think that I’m very bullish about the future of leadership in our industry,” Ryan said.

Miller said the industry itself is starting to draw more attention from companies and individuals looking to it as a good place to establish a career, or a company. “I am really impressed with the quality of leadership coming up through some of these companies,” he said. “I think that our industry is becoming much better recognized as a great place for careers.”

And for those who have been around the business awhile, they must continue to adapt to the changing face of the industry, Heaton advised.

“We need to embrace this future,” she said. “We need to recognize that what is now, is not what’s going to be.”

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