It’s perseverance. It’s the idea that anything’s possible, so you should think big.
You played football and lacrosse at Middlebury, and now you compete in the Ironman endurance race. Why Ironman?
I’ve just always wanted to do an Ironman. [Editor’s note: For the couch potatoes among us, that’s a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, then a 26.2-mile run. Yes, a marathon.] I’ve done one full and one half Ironman. I did Florida as a half first, then Houston the full after that. I’ve probably run eight marathons.
I’m already out of breath.
I tell people to forget the Ironman for a second. Doing a marathon is a great learning experience for any businessperson. If you really want to run a marathon, it’s months of preparation, training and nutrition.
Why is the marathon such a great learning experience for businesspeople?
Because you have to start at an actual event and work backwards and do your training progressively. To me it’s a skill—it’s long-term planning and execution—and a lot of business people don’t have it.
What lessons have you taken from your Ironman experience that could be applied to your business experience?
It’s perseverance. It’s the idea that anything’s possible, so you should think big. One of the things I try to teach our people is just expanding their mindsets.
I ran the Boston Marathon two years ago. Some people tried to talk me into running the New York Marathon again. I’d like to do a Tough Mudder.
How do you manage your time?
I will tell you I am not perfect by any stretch. You’ve got to look ahead and say, “OK, I’m flying to Germany on this day, so I’m not going to be training, so I have to move it around.” You use your time as wisely as possible, but you have to dedicate time for training. Time management is another critical business skill.
How did you get into the insurance business?
It’s a long story. I was going to be a football coach coming out of college. After my sophomore year, I was on a family vacation on a dude ranch in Montana. I really didn’t want to be there. I was kind of a naïve younger college student. I was sitting at the back of the pack—we were herding cattle or something—talking to an older gentleman. At the end of trip, he said, “You should come work for my company next summer.” His name was Ted Blanch. I asked, “What do you do?” He said, “Reinsurance.” And I said, “Oh my god, that sounds horrible.” Lo and behold, over the next year or so, I learned more about the business. The next summer I needed to get a job, and I worked at the E.W. Blanch office in Minnesota for six or eight weeks. Then they offered me full-time job. Along the way, I managed to burn Ted’s house down that summer.
How did you manage that?
I was staying in a house on his property. There was a bird’s nest on top of a floodlight that caught on fire and burned the place to the ground.
I’m guessing he wasn’t happy.
No, but a number of years later I ended up as president of E.W. Blanch.
Where did you get your entrepreneurial streak?
When I was in high school, I had my own landscaping business on the side.
What was the appeal of being a business owner?
I had this insatiable appetite to win and be successful—and I’d say, around that, build great teams. And thankfully I’ve been surrounded with really great teams over time.
That insatiable appetite has worked out for you.
Early in my career at E.W. Blanch, they sent me to Philadelphia to work for this guy who was a big hotshot but who ended up leaving shortly after he was hired. I’m 26 or 27 years old, and I’m down in Philadelphia by myself. I wrote a business plan that said I was going to produce the Cigna reinsurance account. I faxed it in, and they thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. A year later, we had the Cigna account. I got a good laugh out of that when it was all said and done.
How would your co-workers describe your management style?
I’d say loose but amped. I can get very, very involved when I have to. I want them to show me the intensity with which they’re going to attack our goals. My challenge is to help them realize their full potential.
If you could change one thing about the insurance industry, what would it be?
Inertia. The fear of change. I think there’s always a lot of talk about it, but I’m not sure there’s enough action around it, including by ourselves. I’d like to see more action around change.
Last question: What gives you your leader’s edge?
Building and working with great teams of people.
The Fox File
Favorite vacation spot: Bahamas.
Favorite movie: Gladiator
Favorite actor: Russell Crowe
Favorite author: Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Chef, Tools of Titans, Tribe of Mentors)
Favorite musician: Bruce Springsteen
Favorite Springsteen song: “Born to Run”
Wheels: GMC Denali pickup