By Anthony O'Donnell
In the vein of author Steven Covey's work, there are no doubt common characteristics of highly successful insurance CEOs-and even Tech-Savvy CEOs, as we suggest elsewhere. However, there is no template for technology-astute insurance leadership. This year's crop of I&T Tech-Savvy CEOs come from widely varying backgrounds, geographies and even generations and have learned valuable lessons from widely diverging experiences. Perhaps something can be gained by a more personal look at this year's CEOs, if only amusement or some basic view into the compatibility of various personalities and success. Something, after all, is said by what a person dedicates himself to, endorses or honors, and as the great literary figure Samuel Johnson once observed, "no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures."Unum Group CEO Tom Watjen takes pleasure in films, such as "Invincible," the Mark Wahlberg "male weepie" about a bartender who eventually made it to the Philadelphia Eagles as a special teams player, which was the last movie Watjens watched on his iPod. "I'm always a sucker for those inspirational movies," he admits.
The entertainment device was an outgrowth of Watjen's affinity for mobile productivity devices, which help him stay connected to work concerns during his frequent travel. "I got the higher-capacity iPod over the holidays, and have downloaded four or five movies, and actually a book or two, as well," he reports.
Joe Beneducci, CEO of Fireman's Fund shares Watjen's affinity, although to such an extent that he characterizes himself as a gadget junkie. "Whatever the new technology, I have a tendency to be interested-which drives my wife nuts," he confides. "We have more useless electronic gadgets, whether music or video related, we have plenty of that junk lying around."
However, the main focus of Beneducci's downtime is his wife and their four children. "My free time is their free time," he says. "I try to stay disciplined about their activities and make sure I'm a good husband and a good dad."
If Life of the South CEO Ned Hamil had some more time, he would like to do some writing. He is interested in both more broadly creative themes as well as management topics and, in fact, is pondering completing the unfinished manuscript of work on management authored by a deceased friend.
Like many executives, Hamil likes to golf, but he takes special pleasure in traveling with his children and grandchildren. "I continue to tell people that probably the greatest reward in life is your relationship with your adult children," he shares. "You have to believe you at least did something right along the way."
These mellow pleasures contrast with the tense uncertainty of the time Hamil spent as an infantry officer as part of a NATO strike force in Europe during the Cold War. Alert to the scenario of a Soviet invasion, Hamil and his comrades were oriented eastward, "looking into the Fulda Gap to see all the tanks flowing down," he recalls.
Rod Fox, CEO, Praetorian Financial Group, didn't serve in the armed forces but seems to wish he had. A sports injury complicated his efforts to join the U.S. Navy SEALs, separating him for a time from friends who did join.
If he hadn't been an insurance executive-or a Navy SEAL-Fox says he might have liked to be a football coach. He currently coaches both football and lacrosse, partly as an expression of his devotion to his four children (two boys, two girls). He also continues to play lacrosse at a club level.
Upon taking the reins as Praetorian's CEO, Fox combined his interest in leadership, physical fitness and the SEALs in a corporate retreat for his colleagues run by SEALs in a rural area outside of Dallas. "You wake up in the morning and you work out," Fox explains. "Then we have a business meeting and then you work out again; there's something genuinely strenuous two or three times a day over three days."
Despite this grueling regime, combined with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees, Praetorian CIO Mike Anselmo swears the retreat was "a ball." His boss is proud to emphasize a level of activity that is not meant to be confused with namby-pamby, feel-good corporate retreat activities that have the appearance of outdoorsiness but not the true grit, but says that the effort is rewarding. "It really brings the group together, away from the day-to-day corporate nonsense," Fox asserts. "I believe it's my job to make people better and realize the potential." In dedicating to helping his colleagues bring out the best in themselves, Fox says he applies the SEALs' philosophy that "everybody is ten times better than they think they are."
Editor's Note: Kathy Burger contributed to this article.
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio