Jason Smith, President TrueNorth Companies, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids suffered some serious flooding a year ago, with the Cedar River cresting at six feet above major flood stage. What was that like for you and your business?
On Sept. 22, 2016, we were implementing our emergency plans, sandbagging and evacuating our building. At the same time, we were working to service clients and helping other members of the community prepare for floodwaters. Just one week prior, we were celebrating the open house of a new 13-story building in Cedar Rapids and reflecting on the resurgence of our community following the floods of 2008.
What lessons did you learn from that experience?
It was a real test of your commitment, your values, your work ethic. We were just doing everything we could to keep business operating for all those clients who entrusted their personal lives and their businesses to us. At the same time, we were trying to protect our building and trying to help families that were part of our company.
You’ve described yourself as passionate about “things with wheels.” How did that happen?
I like to say you’re born with that. My grandparents still tease me. When I was three years old, I’d stand between the two front seats of their Chevy van, and I could identify the make and model of every car and truck on the road.
Tell me about your car collection.
I’m a European-sports-car guy. My car of choice is Porsche, so the preponderance of what I have are air-cooled Porsches.
I’ve always appreciated the engineering, the racing pedigree and their practicality. The great thing about a Porsche 356 or a Porsche 911 is you can put a family of four in that car and go for ice cream. Family is extremely important to me, so enjoying the cars with my family is very special.
Is there such a thing as your favorite car?
For my 40th birthday last year, I found and bought a 1976 Porsche 930 turbo. It’s a pretty special car to me. That car was my poster-on-the-wall car as a kid. It’s the same vintage as me, so we have both picked up a few bumps and bruises along the journey.
It sounds like your father, Duane Smith, shares your passion for all things wheels.
My dad and I always shared a love for cars. In Iowa, you can get your driver’s permit when you’re 14. On my 14th birthday, my dad and I went to the DOT office and waited for them to open up. I took the test and got my permit, and he threw me the keys.
Your dad is also one of the founders of TrueNorth, and he remains the CEO. What’s the best thing about working with your father?
His willingness to take the time to mentor, to play a part in solving problems, and then seeing the results of that over 20-plus years is just awesome. The respect we have for each other, and the energy we get from each other, is pretty awesome for us and our families and the more than 300 employees at TrueNorth.
Was it expected you would work with your father?
No. When I got my driver’s permit, I would drive my father to appointments during the summer. I got to spend a lot of time with him. I really got an understanding from the word “go” of what risk management means to a business.
What would you have done if you hadn’t gone into insurance?
The only thing I’d rather be doing—and I say this with a smile on my face—is be a racecar driver.
If you could change one thing about the insurance industry, what would it be?
That it’s respected as a critical component of security for people and for businesses. I want the industry to be respected, but I also know that respect is earned, so we’ve got to work at that every day.
What gives you your leader’s edge?
My willingness to identify problems of any shape and size and engage with teams in solving them. I’m very much a person who enjoys the thrill of accomplishing things as a team.
Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach and Deer Valley in Park City, Utah
U2 (“I just saw them at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. They did the Joshua Tree tour. It was incredible.”)
Last Book Read
The Leadership Journey by Gary Burnison
Porsche Cayenne SUV