Culture and Leadership in Insurance

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Interview notes:

My colleague Omri Yacubovich introduced me to Mark Berthiaume for this interview series, I was excited as Mark has a unique breadth of experience in the US Insurance industry – spreading over four decades and across business and technology functions.

My excitement was well based as discussing insurance with Mark is a little bit like discussing basketball with Magic Johnson.  But beyond Mark’s impressive career, I found Mark to be a unique individual focused not only on business success, but on caring for and positively impacting the lives of the people he works with.

In the interview Mark discusses dialing up capabilities and transforming them into core competencies, alignment of personal and corporate values, inclusion and diversity and how all of this ties into these COVID-19 times.

I truly enjoyed my sessions with Mark and the interview is a perspective that can only be provided by someone with Mark’s vast experience and deep character.

David Schapiro (DS): Could you please tell us about yourself and your key points of interest?

Mark Berthiaume (MB): I have been in the IT field for 43 years, starting out as a programmer trainee at Travelers Insurance Company in 1978. I’ve been on an awesome journey that has landed me in several different insurance companies with a short stint in consulting.

I’ve always been keen to learn the business and stay in touch with what is going on outside of my companies, both business and IT. Along the way, I learned how it important it was for me to be a servant leader of people not just of IT or business.

DS: How did you get into the insurance industry, was it a proactive decision or an opportunity?

MB: I got into the insurance industry because Travelers recruited on the campus of Western New England University where I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Business. There was no magic to insurance, it just happed that I was interested in computer science and insurance companies were one of the first industries to embrace programming.

DS: Was it an easy transition from university into insurance – how were the first few years?

MB: I graduated college with a business degree and almost no IT background or training, so the early years were difficult. I had so little programming in university that I had to largely self-teach. The training curriculum at Travelers assumed you had some exposure to IT through other companies or a certificate school that was available at the time in Hartford, CT. As I had no such training or certificate, I had to do it on my own. This experience launched me on a continuous learning journey throughout my career.

DS: Did you continue to move between different positions requiring new proficiencies?

MB: I was recruited heavily during my early IT years and I moved around learning new insurance businesses and technologies. But I also learned so much more around finance/budgeting, project/program management, job competencies/career pathing and strategy and operating model development.

My biggest learnings and hardest progression came while migrating from being a manager to a leader of people in large, complex organizations. I was introduced to the servant leader model along the way and it helped me to orient toward coaching and mentoring staff as well as managing to outcomes.

I progressed through several IT-only positions and companies but eventually was asked to take over some business operational responsibilities – pre-underwriting processing as part of the Specialty Division of Chubb. I later moved to The Hanover as Chief Administration Officer where my focus shifted to a larger blend of non-IT as well as traditional technology responsibilities. I was able to make this transition due to the broad experience I had encountered along my career until that time, and by continuously enhancing my skills.

DS: What sort of core learnings did you obtain from this?

MB: The primary learning is the capability to use what I call “dials and switches” – dialing up and down or switching on and off capabilities and proficiencies. This of course requires learning and establishing new core capabilities along the way, and sometimes switching off some areas of focus that are no longer your responsibility, necessary, or that others can do more proficiently.

I found that the experience of dialing up and down enables you to continuously broaden your scope of capabilities and do much more than your basic academic or functional background. Early in my career, I had to “dialup” technology – i.e., to learn programming and other relevant technology skills.

In parallel as I had no insurance background, I had to also dialup insurance. And as my responsibilities grew, I had to dialup different areas like project management, HR, finance/budgeting/capital management and leadership capabilities, while I dialed down time devoted to technical duties and insurance learnings.

DS: Looking back at your personal journey, what are some key perspectives from a professional and cultural viewpoint?

MB: For me recognizing the importance of ensuring a company’s culture and values matched my own was by far at the top of the list of learnings. It is very difficult to work in a firm that rewards and enables norms and behaviors that conflict with your own. Once this alignment is in place everything else is much easier. And those values and culture must include an every-day focus on inclusion and diversity, there is so much more work to be done in this space. This all has to be a living part of the management and board’s activity.

DS: How do you see this impacting our lives and work in these COVID-19 times?

MB: COVID-19 has and is having an intense impact on culture, inclusion and diversity. Different types of people with different backgrounds are more negatively or positively impacted than others. These times require corporate culture and company leadership that sincerely cares about employees and addresses their needs.

There is now a COVID19 “fatigue” beginning to establish itself among us – people and employees are becoming worn out – it is important for the company to address this from a culture and business standpoint.

DS: Are there any final thoughts that you would like to share with other insurance executives in these interesting times?

MB: I think now more than ever it’s critically important for leaders to look out for the well-being of their employees. We are in unprecedented times where work and home life converge at the same time and as schools are requiring more at-home learning. Where there are multi-generational family members, diverse households and/or single working parents, the challenges and risks multiply.

Leaders need to consider these realities as decisions are made on jobs, locations, staffing and flexible work arrangements. There is no playbook for these times, it’s time for creative, courageous and caring leadership.

Mark L. Berthiaume – Bio:
Mark is a senior executive with over 40 years of experience internationally and domestically in the property and casualty insurance and technology industries, including having oversight of global IT, security, shared services and field operations.

An energetic and established business and information technology professional leader and innovator with proven success in IT organization transformation, delivery of large-scale change management programs, implementing and optimizing insurance operations, developing and implementing enterprise technology strategies, and overseeing international lines of business.

Mark joined The Hanover in 2014 as chief administration officer and was promoted to chief technology innovation officer in 2017, adding responsibility for the company’s digital capabilities and platforms that enable the company to provide technology-enabled services for its partners and customers. In addition, Mark is also responsible for The Hanover’s corporate real estate, workplace facilities, business continuity and safety.

Before joining The Hanover, Mark held senior leadership positions at Chubb, most recently as international chief information officer, overseeing global information technology security and compliance, and technology support for Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Canada. He also was chief information officer for Chubb’s United States commercial, specialty and surety insurance divisions.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in General Business from Western New England University.

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