The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies announced that Charles Chamness, the chief executive officer of the organization, is retiring from the post he held for nearly 17 years.
The official announcement came this week on the final day of NAMIC’s 124th annual convention in National Harbor, Md., but Chamness—known as “Chuck” to members, staff and throughout the industry—shared the news during a phone interview with Carrier Management late last week.
“I feel like it’s the right time for me and for NAMIC. I will be 58 when I wrap up here, and it will have been 25 years with the association, and 17 in the CEO role. We’ve had a great run, and NAMIC has never been stronger or in a better position with its members and in the industry than it is today,” he said.
According to information on NAMIC’s website, membership includes more than 1,400 companies, including regional and local mutual insurance companies on Main Streets across America and many of the country’s largest national insurers. NAMIC member companies write $268 billion in annual premiums, accounting for 59 percent of the homeowners insurance market, 46 percent of automobile and 29 percent of the business insurance market.
A visible advocate during his tenure for member company positions on issues ranging from flood insurance and TRIA reauthorization to regulatory changes in the wake of the global financial crisis, Chamness takes pride in the work that NAMIC has done since the turn of the century.
“When I started in this role, there were four trade associations and NAMIC was the smallest of the four by a fairly dramatic margin. We’ve grown revenue [to] $38 million today, 150 percent increase on a consolidated basis. We’re one of two trades. We are the mutual trade, and we’re very proud to be defined by that and to represent the great member companies that we have,” he said, expressing optimism for the future.
On a more personal level, Chamness revealed that while he seems to be retiring at a young age by most measures, the fact that his father died at the age of 63 factored into his decision. He is also looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Briget, a bank lawyer. “She made great professional sacrifices when we moved to Indiana and I started with NAMIC,” he said, noting that in spite of that, she has had a very successful career leading up to her becoming CEO of the Institute of International Bankers, a New York- based trade group, about 18 months ago. “She is not retiring, and she lives in New York during the week,” he said, noting that he now will be able to spend time with her there.
Chamness said that NAMIC plans to announce his successor at the next annual convention in Boston. “We’re a mutual insurance industry, so we’re very planful and deliberate,” he said, referring to the long time frame for the search.
After the 2020 convention, Chamness will work alongside his successor “to make sure that any questions are answered and for anything I can do to make him or her successful in the role,” concluding officially by the end of next year.
“It’ll be that long,” he said, noting that a search committee has been appointed by the NAMIC board and will begin work at the beginning of next year with search firm Spencer Stuart—looking at both internal and external candidates. “A best practice for an association search like this, and one we intend to follow, is that I will be alongside the search committee and board to advise them, but it’s our members who make the decision about who the next CEO is…It will be the decision of the search committee and board next year.”
Robert Zak, president and CEO of Merchants Mutual Insurance Co., who will chair the NAMIC search committee, said one quality the committee will look for in a successor is “the ability to relate to people in different settings.”
“I think that’s going to be paramount for any candidate to be considered seriously,” he said, after identifying this as one of the most memorable things about Chamness. “He is equally comfortable in the halls of Congress and the fire halls in rural and middle America. His ability to relate to people is extraordinary,” he said.
The other thing he’s done is reflected in the team he’s built during his tenure—a staff that has “embodied the principles of the member companies, as mutuals [working] by and for our policyholders,” Zak said. “The team at NAMIC has those same principles. Everything they do is on behalf of their members. There’s a real customer focus,” he said.
“By virtually any measure during Chuck’s tenure, NAMIC has thrived—whether it’s looking at revenues, membership, customer satisfaction, which we measure through a Net Promoter Score, he’s been extraordinary,” Zak said.
In fact, when coaxed to speak about the aspect of his NAMIC career that a retiree will look back on with pride, Chamness told Carrier Management that the NAMIC member retention rate has been 99 percent in every year but one during his tenure as CEO. “It was just below it that one year,” he said, also pointing to a Net Promoter Score of 73, measured last spring, as evidence of member satisfaction. “That was up from 69. It’s a very high Net Promotor Score. It shows when members are asked about what they think of the association and whether they would be willing to recommend it, the great majority of them are very enthusiastic about recommending NAMIC,” he said.
As Chamness and NAMIC staff prepared for an annual gathering of close to 2,000 people, he also took the time to share personal reflections, the mission of NAMIC, his leadership style, and lessons he learned from mentors like former CEO Larry Forrester and former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp (under the first Bush administration) for whom he served as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs before his years at NAMIC. (See related article, “It’s about the Mission, Chamness Says.”)
Zak said that in addition to looking for the ability to relate to people in different settings, the NAMIC successor search committee will seek someone with “the ability to think on multiple planes or solve simultaneous mental equations.”
“In other words, when confronted with an opportunity or a challenge, the ability to consider downstream and derivative ramifications or alternatives to that opportunity or challenge, to minimize the potential for unintended consequences” is important. “The property/casualty insurance industry [is] complicated. We operate at the local level, the state level, the national level and, at times, the international level from a regulatory standpoint. Somebody has to be able to understand the ramifications of a decision at one of those levels on the other levels,” he said.
How will the board know if a person has this skill?
Zak believes it will likely be evident in how candidates answer interview questions, maybe not during the first round of interview but for second and third interviews when questions focus more on the organization and its leadership. “And then, we’ll look for examples that they have found themselves in where they had to use those skills,” he said.
A third desired attribute of the next CEO will be the ability to leverage talent to bring out the best in people and develop them, Zak added.
As for Chamness, beyond spending more time with family, “I think I’ll end up somewhere around the industry doing something to stay busy and continue to contribute where I can.”
“It’s not time to focus on the next thing for me, but I’m sure there’ll be something,” he said, envisioning possible board service roles. For now, there’s still “more than a year of work to do in this role,” he added.
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