The industry gadfly
For more than 50 years, Don Malecki has been keeping the industry honest
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
If you are inclined to spend time perusing the pages of your favorite dictionary, venture to the R's and look under "rara avis." There should be a picture of Don Malecki, CPCU, next to the entry. He readily admits that he is "somewhat eccentric—and even odd." Even after more than 50 years in the industry, "I still love reading policies and contracts," he says.
But what makes Don truly fit the appellation is the fact that he also is easy going and approachable and fun to be around, rare indeed for a policy wonk. When he appears as an expert witness (which he does with some frequency), his affable nature can often lead unwary lawyers to underestimate the depth of knowledge that lies beneath the pleasant exterior. A number of "courtroom battles" have left the aforementioned attorneys shaking their heads in dismay once they realize they have been the unwitting targets of Don's sharp wit and even sharper understanding of insurance contracts. Bandying insurance contract interpretations with Don will always result in a loss for the other guy.
But Don would quickly dispute any description of him as a unique individual by pointing out that this description belongs to his wife, Norma, who has tolerated his eccentricities for more than 50 years. "She allowed me to uproot our family when I took a position in California that lasted only a few months," Don points to as "only one of the many importunities she accepted with graciousness."
Another occurred when Don got out of the Air Force and decided to pursue a B.S. degree at Syracuse University. Don remembers, speaking with a fondness in his voice, "I was going to attend at night and came home and said to Norma: 'You know, this will take me about 20 years to get my degree this way.' All right, so I exaggerated a little. 'If you continue working and let me go during the day, I could be out in less that four years.' She gave me that look and then continued working for a number of years thereafter. She really is wonderful."
Insurance career begins
Don's career in the insurance industry began in February 1960 when he became a property underwriter trainee in the Syracuse office of Fireman's Insurance Co. of Newark while he was still finishing up at Syracuse University. After graduation, he went to Newark, New Jersey for training. Soon after that, the insurer was purchased by Continental and Don was accepted for a one-year future executive training program. What he found out was that following graduation from the training program, he got to start at the bottom. So...
In October 1966, Don went to work for The National Underwriter Co. in Cincinnati, as assistant editor of the FC&S Bulletins
He remained with The National Underwriter until February 1984, except for a brief stint with the aforementioned California company in 1977, at which time he went into his own business as a consultant. At that time, he received a call from Tom McCoy, editor-in-chief of Rough Notes magazine, asking him to write a risk management column. Don said yes and has been writing the column ever since.
While at The National Underwriter, Don's career as a book author began. In 1975 he was approached by the American Institutes to write a textbook. "I'd never written a book and really wanted to do it," he recalls. "I had a meeting in Malvern, Pennsylvania, and found out I would get to work with James Donaldson, a renowned claims person with an admiralty specialty, which made it even more attractive." Unfortunately, the National Underwriter chairman saw this as competitive with National Underwriter and also was concerned it would take up much of Don's time. He told Don he couldn't do it.
Norma to the rescue
The idea that it would take up too much of Don's time is laughable for anyone who knows him. When people today remind him that he said he was going to retire, he chuckles and points out: "I said I was going to slow down and I have. I'm only working 80 hours a week now." So Don knew he could write the textbook in his "spare time" without having it interfere with his job at the Underwriter.
When he was talking with a friend about how disappointed he was, the friend advised him to threaten to quit. But that could backfire, Don reasoned, because they might accept.
Instead, he and Norma cooked up a plan that was the equivalent of the indirect approach, the most effective military strategy. The Maleckis had a friend relationship with Don's boss and wife. Norma casually mentioned to the wife how disappointed he was and that she was afraid it might affect his work. Needless to say, this message got back to the chairman, who called Don into his office a few days later and said, somewhat begrudgingly, "All right, you can do it."
And what a great move it turned out to be. Don now has authored 11 books that are considered mainstays within the insurance and risk management communities. In addition to authoring books for the American Institute, he has written books for IRMI, the National Underwriter, and The Rough Notes Co. as well.
He currently is a very active principal of Malecki Deimling Nielander & Associates, LLC, Erlanger, Kentucky. Among the services offered are:
• Insurance archeology and policy reconstruction (which is mightily helped along by the fact that Don has a vast library of insurance policies and knows what is in each one).
• Drafting and review of insurance policies and endorsements.
• Policy formation/interpretation.
• Design of risk management programs.
• Evaluation and auditing of insurance programs.
• Expert witness litigation support.
• And many other services in the area of claims, underwriting and insurance management.
Don also is president of Malecki Communications Co., publisher of Malecki on Insurance, a monthly newsletter on commercial insurance subjects. He currently serves on the examination committee of the American Institute for CPCU and on the Consultants, Legal and Expert Witness Section Committee of the Society of CPCU. He also is an active member of the Society of Risk Management Consultants. He is past president of the Cincinnati Chapter of CPCU (1975) and past member of the Commercial Lines Industry Liaison Panel of the Insurance Services Office. He was given the Standard Setter Award of the Society of CPCU in 1998 and was named the Insurance Professional of the Year in 2004 by various insurance groups in the Cincinnati area.
Don always has time to take on more, even as he slows down to 80 hours a week. He is a perfect example of the old adage: "If you need something done, find a busy man and he'll find a way to accomplish it."