We’re geared toward being a 150-year firm, and therefore we are willing to invest in initiatives that are longer term.
It’s not often I get to interview a fellow son of South Plainfield, New Jersey. What was it like growing up there?
It was easy, right? There were 26,000 people, and 24,000 Italian Catholics. So I wasn’t confused as to who I was.
And your dad worked at the high school.
When your dad’s in the high school and he’s the football coach and he grew up in town and your uncle’s a captain on the police force, then everyone knows your last name. The constant questions were: Are you the teacher’s son? Are you the cop’s son?
I didn’t know your dad grew up in South Plainfield.
My dad was one of eight—born and raised right there. He ended up being guidance director at the high school. And my grandfather owned a shoeshine store in the center of town—the definition of center of town was five buildings and a gas station. When my dad became guidance director, he stopped being the football coach, which was probably good because his son was such a lousy football player.
But you played on the team?
Yes—not well, but yes. I remember we played our arch-rival, North Plainfield, every year on Thanksgiving morning. It was the biggest game of the year. My senior year, going into the game, South Plainfield was 0-7-1 and North Plainfield was 0-8. You might guess that we referred to it as the Toilet Bowl. We won, and that’s all I remember.
This issue of Leader’s Edge is devoted to technology, and I understand AmWINS has done a lot with tech.
Our firm has always strived to do things a better way. Years ago, I was fortunate to assist in designing an MGA operating a software platform that at the time was considered one of the best people had seen. That really influenced my thinking about how technology can play an important part in any new business. At AmWINS, we also developed our own operating/analytics system. We have over 50 engineers designing technology solutions for our different businesses. It’s been an invaluable tool, providing us with analytics and data to see things that other folks can’t see.
Has that always been the case?
AmWINS is only 13 years old. As the business has developed, we have invested heavily in our technology platform as well as the data analytics needed to compete today. It’s not a cost-saving initiative as much as it is a clarity of what we have.
Where do you see AmWINS going with technology?
Our goal is to work with our retail clients to provide solutions for their insureds as quickly as possible and in turn be an efficient distribution partner for our carriers. We’re working to enhance the efforts of our carrier partners by adding a sales model supported by incredible technology. It’s hard for an individual retailer to invest the type of money we’re willing to invest. We’re geared toward being a 150-year firm, and therefore we are willing to invest in initiatives that are longer term. We won’t get to attend the 150-year anniversary party, but the beginning part of the journey is amazingly fun.
What is something your co-workers would be surprised to learn about you?
That I am forever looking for hole-in-the-wall breakfast places. Now I understand that not everyone enjoys a good Waffle House, but until you have been to Cindy’s Diner in Fort Wayne, Indiana, or The Gazebo in Maui you haven’t really enjoyed a great local breakfast.
Who was your most influential business mentor?
Steven D. Smith. He started the wholesale-only specialty carrier RSUI. He took me under his wing in 1984, when we first met at The London Agency. I was 26. He basically told me I was an idiot for the next 10 or 15 years. He taught me everything I know. Without Steve Smith, there is no Steve DeCarlo, and frankly there would be no AmWINS. His mentorship changed my life.
If there were one thing about the industry you could change, what would it be?
I would like to see us work harder at training our employees. We are an industry that attracts highly talented young people. We have to step forward and commit to training, mentoring and guiding them.
Last question: What gives you your leader’s edge in this industry?
Well, I am not sure I have a leader’s edge, but I do have the ability to work hard. I can be dogmatic. I can be driven. On the other side, I can be empathetic. Life is fast, and understanding that all of us have lives outside of work has never been lost on me. The power of an aligned collaborative culture is a tremendous competitive advantage.
The DeCarlo File
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
Family: wife, Lee Ann (married 29 years); daughter, Jenna, 27; son, Reid, 24; son, Nick, 23
Last Book Read: This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus Plenty of Valet Parking, in America’s Gilded Capital, by Mark Leibovich (“It’s always fascinating to me how politicians think, especially in Washington, D.C.”)
Wheels: Ford F150 (“It does what I need it to do.”)