Chief Operating Officer, SKCG Group, White Plains, N.Y.

How did you get into the business?
I’ve been in the business for about 35 years. My father had an independent agency, Andrew Stuart Associates, when I was growing up, so it was dinner-table talk. I was one of those few people going into college who knew that I wanted to be in the insurance business.

Did you go to work for your father right out of college?
When I graduated from college, my father wouldn’t let me work for him. He said, “Go make your mistakes somewhere else.”

And then you took over your father’s business when he died.
I was 24 at the time, in 1983. It was my job to make it or break it at that point. In 2002, we put together SKCG Group in one of the worst markets in 20 years. We consolidated three office locations—a slab-to-slab renovation, 20,000 square feet, all done in about 10 weeks. Talk about long hours! In 1983, we had five employees. We now have about 80. Our business mix is about 75% p-c and 25% benefits.

What would you be doing if you didn’t work in the industry?
I’d be running a scuba-diving operation on some Caribbean island. For me, boating and diving is huge. I just got back from a dive trip with my buddies to Turks and Caicos.

What kind of boat do you have?
A 51-foot Riviera Sportfish. It’s called Be Right Back.

Where do you take her?
Up and down the East Coast.

Where’d you take your last family vacation?
Last summer we took the boat out to Martha’s Vineyard and then Fire Island. Last December we went to Puerto Rico. This December we’re going to Mexico.

Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
No. As long as the water is warm and clear. In my 25 years of diving, we’ve hit just about every spot in the Caribbean basin. Due to the kids’ school vacation schedules, every President’s Day week we’ve been to Aruba. We did this for about 10 years.

What have you learned in business that you could pass on to others?
Learn as much as you can. There are so many components where there’s a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow and make a great career for yourself—underwriting, sales, claims, actuarial services, accounting, IT. There’s lots of room for good, smart people who are willing to work hard and keep an open mind.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Listen carefully, especially to what’s not said.

Do you remember who told you that?
Yeah, my father.

What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
During the summer after my freshman year in college, I had a window-washing business that became so successful the local mob asked me to stop. By August we had too much business to handle. We were turning away customers.

What has given you your leader’s edge in this industry?
One, the desire to learn every day, as there is so much to learn in our business. Two, a “can do” attitude. It takes almost the same energy to be positive rather than negative, so why not always be positive? Three, the ability to process criticism and feedback both positive and negative, a key component of effective management.

 

The Canter File

Age: 52

Hometown: Purchase, N.Y.

Family: Wife of 25 years, Meredith; two sons: Alex, a junior at the University of Maryland, and Kyle, a senior at Harrison High School

Last book read: The Big Short, by Michael Lewis (“It’s about a group of individuals who shorted the CDO market. What’s fascinating for me is that a few of my clients are in the book.”)

Favorite music: Southern rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz, funk

Wheels: A 2010 Cadillac Escalade (“I use it to haul my boat stuff and my fishing gear. Besides, it’s a nice ride.”)

Charities: Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners for the Purchase Fire Department and ex-chief and volunteer firefighter for 35 years. Past President and member of the board of directors of the Purchase Community House, a nonprofit community center that provides after-school activities for students in grades K-6 and a summer camp for about 550 kids. For 30 years, he’s been involved in raising funds for the Ranachqua Foundation, a nonprofit that sends underprivileged and handicapped Boy Scouts to Scout camp. (“We have sent thousands of kids to Scout camp who otherwise would never have had an opportunity to experience camp. Ranachqua was founded by my father and his scouting buddies from the Bronx.”)