Kelly takes command
New CPCU Society president looks to the future
By Bruce D. Hicks, CLU, CPCU
On a stage in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Society, one man faced another. Both gentlemen smiled and, with a quick hug, Jim Britt handed over the mantle of leadership to the Society’s new president, Marvin Kelly.
Kelly is currently the executive director of the Texas Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association, overseeing the operation of the facility in charge of dealing with insolvent insurers. He is also a traveler on an inspiring journey through the international organization’s highest ranks.
As the crowd’s applause faded, Kelly shared his story, which included several personal and critical events that helped bring him to this point as the current head of a premier international association of insurance professionals. He spent much of his talk addressing two topics: his gratitude to the special people who provided him with the support and opportunities he needed to succeed, and his obsession with being prepared to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities offered to him.
As he ended his first address as the CPCU Society’s new president, it was evident that Kelly was ready to move the organization along toward dealing with its new opportunities. He expanded on that theme in an exclusive interview with Rough Notes.
RN: What is the significance of your being the first African-American to assume the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Society presidency?
MK: It shows progress for the Society and the insurance industry. You know you have to have a first before you can have a second and so on. Our numbers [minorities in the industry and Society] are still too low, but any change is good. We’ll get comfortable with this and, after we achieve other firsts [referencing other under-represented groups in the Society], we’ll have arrived. We are really showing our commitment.
RN: Do you believe your background in handling guaranty fund issues provides advantages in fulfilling your presidential duties?
MK: It does to a degree. I think my dealing with [insurance company] boards of directors, task forces and committees has helped prepare me for the position. My job duties while heading a nonprofit organization will definitely help me with my administrative duties for the Society. It will also help me in understanding our many practices and procedures. One correlation between my position as Society president and as a guaranty fund manager is that it gives me a greater understanding of service and an appreciation for the need to provide value and service to my constituents.
Another thing: I feel that the fact that I come from a much different background [running a guaranty fund] shows our organization reaching another level of diversity. It’s likely that I’m the first guaranty fund manager to head up the Society.
RN: What is the Shared Vision Strategy, and what do you hope it will accomplish?
MK: Shared Vision is a partnership with the American Institute for Property and Liability Underwriters. Its purpose is to move the organization in a brand-new direction. We have five different levels of persons we have the objective of reaching:
1. Convince consumers of the importance of CPCU. It is critical that we give the public a proper understanding of our role and to build such a level of confidence in what we represent that they look to do business with persons holding our designation.
2. Reaching educators is important. We need to put more emphasis on creating contacts with teachers and students in order to build a larger pipeline of students with diverse backgrounds, interested in insurance. In turn, this should help rejuvenate the Society.
3. Have a greater influence on legislators and regulators. We need to let them know that they can have confidence in our ethical commitment and to give licensing credit consideration to persons accredited with the CPCU designation.
4. Among agents and brokers, we must gain more members from their ranks, increase their knowledge and professionalism and, in turn, build more confidence among consumers.
5. It is imperative that we continue to get the staffs of the CPCU Society and the American Institute to work together as often as possible. Our ultimate success is mutually dependent on each other. I’m thrilled to say that the progress that these two groups have made is outstanding. They are forming various committees and are actively interacting on business and social levels.
Editor’s Note: The two organizations’ headquarters are located on the same beautiful campus grounds in Malvern, Pennsylvania.
Pete Miller (president of the American Institute for Property and Liability Underwriters) has been instrumental in driving this change of corporate cultures. He and Jim Marks (executive vice president of the CPCU Society) are working well together to make the shared culture a reality.
RN: Each Society president has the discretion to appoint an at-large governor to its governing board. Can you discuss your appointee?
MK: I appointed Gary Hernandez, who is a partner in the law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP in San Francisco.
He’s put together programs in California, partnering with companies to help at-risk youths. He is our organization’s first Hispanic at-large governor, and he was recently named as one of the country’s top 50 Hispanic insurance agents.
He represents areas of membership in which we would like to see substantial growth. He can act as a role model and as a source of ideas. He has a tremendous business and humanitarian reputation that he has earned by his high level of community service and insurance expertise.
Gary was recommended by Steve Durish, one of my [Texas Guaranty] Fund employees....[W]hen I discussed the goals of our Shared Vision, he showed immediate interest and was excited about joining our effort....He works on the regulatory side of the insurance industry, and that adds more to the perspective that he is able to bring to bear on different issues. He is so valuable because he is truly committed to helping promote diverse interests with intelligence and professionalism.
RN: How do you characterize the Society’s development as a global organization?
MK: It’s coming slowly. We’re only beginning to understand the need to grow in that area. We’ve just put resources toward scholarships to assist non-U.S. chapters to send members to our major meetings. We really have started thinking about how to best serve those geographical areas. Our executive officers need to start visiting those chapters and to hold functions in their territories.
It is important to realize that they assist our effort to become more diverse. Their cultures are so different. We will have to develop approaches that respect other business and social cultures as we attempt to serve those chapters as well as to open new chapters. We are not a national society anymore....we’re global!
RN: What challenges does the Society face in order to maintain and/or increase its relevance to the insurance industry?
MK: I believe that we must become more of a teaching and training entity. We can provide incentives for organizations to come to the Society to assist with training, increasing their awareness of professionalism and to help with their efforts to expand, even globally. Eventually we need to create a perception that we are a state-of-the-art organization that can provide insurance, advanced business and high-tech training.
We’re a very reputable and relevant organization. A person who commits to getting a CPCU designation still earns the respect of other insurance professionals. We need to continue to work to make sure that companies of all sizes are confident and committed in supporting their employees’ goal to become CPCUs and to be active Society members. We want agents, brokers, all insurance professionals to be convinced of our importance as a source of expertise.
RN: What goals do you have regarding the use of the Society’s Center for Leadership Program?
MK: The Center for Leadership is a great program that meets several needs. One goal is to assist in developing chapter leaders. We have created courses and networking opportunities for the persons charged with running chapters to share experiences, ideas and tips with their peers.
A key objective is to let chapter leaders assist with training others. Another goal is to provide a broad array of knowledge and skills that will increase participants’ chances of becoming more valuable to their employers. We have a full schedule of courses that teach skills needed by supervisors, managers and other key personnel.
The Center for Leadership is of tremendous value to both CPCUs and other insurance professionals. Progressive companies who want to be secure about having employees with high-level leadership skills need to take advantage of what is offered by the Center for Leadership program.
It really helps increase our visibility in the insurance industry. It is a tool to reach out and serve a broader audience and bolster our reputation. It has also been a profitable program. We also are able to improve the program because we act quickly on the feedback we receive from instructors and participants. We’re proud that we have a lot of access to persons who are highly qualified to lead the program’s courses.
RN: How do you plan to increase the Society’s emphasis on attracting younger members?
MK: A primary method is our greater involvement with Project InVEST. It will be supported throughout the U.S. by asking all of our chapters to get involved on the state level.
Our Society and industry have a problem getting younger members into insurance careers. Our increasing opportunities for mentoring, job shadowing and internships should help us demonstrate to high school students that it is a good choice for their careers. Often the general public’s only exposure to insurance is the negative aspect. We will only benefit by getting involved with this excellent program.
For several years the Society’s Houston chapter has partnered with Tillotson University and other historically black colleges and universities. We need to focus on developing relationships with schools that have a tradition of serving certain groups. At Houston-Tillotson, we help a campus of around 1,000 students offer scholarships to enter their insurance curriculum. We are now developing such programs in other schools. We have to do things differently if we want different results.
This is the first annual meeting where we’ve invited students to experience the event. Students from Howard and Temple Universities attended parts of our meeting. Howard University has a tremendous insurance program developed by Professor Harold Gray [director of professional development and Center for Insurance Education in the Howard School of Business] and his staff. We are hoping to further develop a working relationship with his school and their students. They are amazing, and we have to be sure that more of their students join our industry.
We have to compete with financial services firms to recruit promising young talent. We have to step up and create more jobs and internships to develop a pipeline to this talent. We hope to invite students to more meetings in the future.
I’ve had so many opportunities in my 27-year career. I want others to have the same opportunities. I want others to have the chance to visit other countries, learn more about other cultures and gain the chance to come back to serve other insurance professionals. It’s important that we put an emphasis on providing service to others. This is a fabulous industry, and the greatest thing about focusing on diversity is to give more people the chance to share their talents and skill to serve others.