Insurance Leaders Urged to Engage the Smarter People in the Room

By | February 5, 2019

“Everybody in my organization is a whole lot smarter than I am,” said Sandy Parrillo, president and CEO of Providence Mutual. “My style has always been to engage them and get them involved in the decision.”

Parrillo discussed her approach to promoting technological transformation and change in her organization during a CEO Panel discussion at the I.I.I. 2019 Joint Industry Forum in New York City on Jan. 17.

The key, she said, is to involve the experts in the room.

It is very expensive to make mistakes, particularly in the area of innovation and technology changes.

Parrillo recalled a time when Providence Mutual was preparing to introduce a new product in a difficult area, one that required organizational commitment and a willingness to adapt to new ideas. The thing is, there was a huge risk of losing money. Parrillo said she turned to her colleague who was handling this launch and expressed her commitment to the idea and the task ahead, despite her uncertainty.

“I said ‘I trust you. I don’t understand it but I trust you and will do what you want me to do,'” Parrillo recalled. She said a good leader in this situation must admit strengths and weaknesses and include other team members in planning discussions.

“It is so important to engage everyone, [with] an openness to actually not be the smartest person in the room,” Parrillo said. “Asking these people what they think about [an idea] and acting on it, it is really [about] believing in them and allowing them to do it” and embracing the change.

Parrillo said that the relatively small size of Providence Mutual compared to multinational carriers is both a benefit and challenge when it comes to affecting technological and cultural transformation.

“In a smaller company we have the advantage of being nimble,” Parrillo said. “We can be flexible [and don’t have] layers of management.” What that means, she said, is that from the leadership to rank-and-file employees, policyholders and agents, it is easy to communicate plans for a technological or cultural change.

“It is easier for me in the organization to prove to my staff and show my board,” Parrillo said. In doing so, she added, she ensures transparency and helps get all interested parties on the same page.

“That buy-in, that is what you need – trust and confidence to be able to affect those changes,” Parrillo said.

But innovation and change can be an expensive proposition for smaller carriers, Parrillo said, which necessitates a careful path.

“It is very expensive to make mistakes, particularly in the area of innovation and technology changes,” Parrillo explained. “We can’t really afford to be on the leading edge, but we have to be there.”

Panel speakers also included Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a retired U.S. Army four-star general and former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command and International Security Assistance Force. He explained that previous commanders were “extraordinarily” willing to put their trust in him as he took on new and bold tasks. He said that good leaders should do the same with their team, even if an innovation or change initiative fails.

One leader did so with him, even after a simulated battle scenario he came up with was ultimately unsuccessful.

The message, McChrystal said, was “you can fail” and not be a failure, and that “it is OK to try different things.”

This article was originally published by, the publication for the P/C insurance industry C-suite.

Topics Leadership

About Mark Hollmer

Hollmer is a veteran business journalist and editor of's daily e-newsletter for the property/casualty insurance industry C-suite. He may be reached at More from Mark Hollmer

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