What is leadership? It’s difficult to define. What I’ve learned from working on the Game Changer project for The Council’s 100th anniversary is that leaders share some common qualities—passion, integrity and commitment to their business, clients and community.
I thought it would be interesting to share a few pearls of wisdom from The Council’s leaders over the last century. I’m struck by their eloquence, patriotism and passion for what they do. Just as impressive, they quote Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, the Declaration of Independence and scripture. They speak on The Council’s value, free enterprise, government intrusion and the agent’s duty to the public trust. Some issues never change.
In 1914, The Council was a new force in the industry, which was under attack from overzealous state regulators who wanted to control agents’ compensation and set up state-run workers’ compensation funds.
At the group’s first meeting, President Wade Fetzer gave a fervent speech about the need for agents and brokers to organize. “Every retail and wholesale business, the doctors and lawyers, each have organizations powerful and machinelike…while the laboring men, even down to those that shovel in the ditches, are so organized that their rights and their just demands for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are universally listened to with profound respect, even in the halls of fame…”
Fetzer continued with a call to action. “NACSA,” Fetzer said, referring to The Council’s original name, the National Association of Casualty and Surety Agents, “must go on and not only for our personal good, but for the good of the companies, the business and the public…. Let’s pull together, giving generously of our time, our energies and our means and make of our future a noble and honorable existence.”
For the following 100 years, The Council has done just that. In 1947, President Carl Daniels reminded agents and brokers of their civic obligations. “Our function is largely a fiduciary relationship to the public,” Daniels said. “We are custodians of the economy of America.” Our industry’s welfare, he said, “depends upon the manner in which our stewardship of that public responsibility is met. If the insurance buying public should decide that it does not like the American agency system, it will divert its patronage to other channels, be it direct-writing or otherwise.”
Council leaders were fiercely patriotic. With WWII raging in Europe, President W. D. O’Gorman invoked Somerset Maugham: “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom, and the irony of it is that, if it is comfort and money that it values more, it will lose that, too.”
As communism took hold around the globe following the war, President Wheaton Williams made a strong defense of the free enterprise system. “It took courage to build the United States,” Williams said. “It took brave men who were willing to enter into competition with their neighbors building better radios, better automobiles, better ice boxes and better insurance programs. The time is ripe to revitalize that courage. Let’s pump new blood into our efforts and use as our rally cry, ‘Conserve the competitive system.’ The prize awarded by competition is not so much the monetary return as the satisfaction gleaned from doing the job just a bit better than the man who lost to you.”
On the same subject, Williams said, “It might be well to remember that a wise man desires no more than he may get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully and leave contentedly.”
When The Council met in 1951, the Korean War was under way. Insurance executive Ralph Platts, president of the International Association of Casualty & Surety Underwriters, talked about the industry’s contribution to freedom. “…We just assume [a role] as a great and essential industry in the climactic struggle to preserve freedom abroad and at home…. Less than a decade ago we watched the flame of liberty fade and dwindle to a sputtering spark…. I shall never cease to be proud of our industry’s part in that triumph…. As citizens, we gave our sons to the tides of battle and in unrestrained quantity our wealth to the cause of human freedom…as a united industry…we sacrificed methods and profits for speed and provided the unlimited insurance protection that was essential to make the arsenal of democracy tick as it had never ticked before.”
Council leaders also had a good sense of humor. When W. G. Wilson testified before the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in 1930 on acquisition costs, he quipped, “Whether or not the selection of Friday the thirteenth as our day in court has any significance…The preceding session of your hearing has disclosed that ‘All is not well in Denmark.’”
Wilson went on to defend agents’ right to be paid fairly for the services they provide. “We submit that any conceivable diminution in the so-called acquisition cost would become so fractional and unimportant in its relation to the premium charged to the ultimate consumer as to pale into insignificance if it enables a sacrifice in service rendered by amateurs instead of highly trained professionals.” Take that, Eliot Spitzer!
Remarking on the value of attending The Council’s annual Insurance Leadership Forum, President Bill Huntley told his colleagues in 1991, “For over 20 years, I have journeyed to this great place to enjoy the camaraderie of old friends…to make new friends…and to discuss our business…and how we can make it better…. Agents and brokers stand for what’s good and great in this country. We serve the personal and business community in a position of considerable trust and extreme confidentiality. Frankly, ours is a very high calling.”
But former Council Chairman Fred Burns summed up the importance of the annual meeting of insurance executives. “We come because we have meaningful issues to discuss and relationships to build…. Better off for having come and gone.”
The Council is entering its next century. What does that bode? Member Bob Cawley, president of RCM&D, believes The Council has a much broader role to play in the industry. “The opportunity for a continually expanded role,” he says, “resides solely within the creativity of its board and CIAB leadership.”
The future is in our hands. Happy 100th.