Editor's note: Reprinted from "Claims Made and Reported: A Journey Through D&O, E&O and Other Professional Lines of Insurance," by Larry Goanos (Soho Publishing Inc., 2008)
Stella was one of my personal favorites. She was a rarity within the industry, someone who was uniformly held in the highest regard. I first met Stella when she was our fiduciary liability insurance expert at National Union's Financial Institutions Group in the mid-1990s. Stella knew fiduciary liability inside-out. At the time (and still to a large extent today), fiduciary liability was a yeoman's labor; it wasn't considered as "glamorous" as D&O and the rates charged, in comparison, were meager. Yet Stella, smart and determined, rolled up her sleeves and made herself an expert in this area that others wouldn't touch. In the process, she carved out a niche that made her as valuable to a carrier as two or three good D&O underwriters combined. Others with similarly-specialized expertise were sometimes difficult or arrogant, but not Stella; she was a kind and patient teacher to the many colleagues who sought her guidance. "She wasn't my first mentor but she was definitely the best one I ever had," says Laura (Fincke) Coppola, a former colleague of Stella's. "She took time to teach and guide others on her craft. There are not too many people who do that these days." Another former colleague of Stella's, Rhonda Prussack, recalls that shortly after she started at AIG, a coveted fiduciary liability product manager's position became vacant and Stella could have become Rhonda's rival in seeking the spot. "Instead," says Rhonda, "She took me under her wing and became my mentor, office mom and close friend."
Stella stood ready to dispense wise motherly advice on almost any topic when it was requested but she never forced her views on anyone. She dearly loved her family (especially son Sal and daughter Natalie) and her large network of friends. She also, to me, personified her beloved Staten Island: hard-working, honest and down-to-earth. There was no pretension about Stella (and I think if you approached her with any she'd knock it out of you pretty quickly!) She had a long and happy marriage to her husband Salvatore, who was on a heart transplant waiting list for many years. It was heartbreaking to watch Stella's agony as she endured her beloved husband's interminable wait. Tragically, he passed away in 1998 before he could receive a transplant.
Stella left AIG for Reliance in 1995 and stayed with that core group of employees when they moved to The Hartford upon Reliance's demise. She continued to be an industry leader in the fiduciary world at her new home. My sense is that she loved those colleagues and they loved her. Stella's wake in 2006 was an overflow event attended by throngs of insurance people from a wide array of companies, as well as her beloved family and many personal friends. A framed photo of Stella as a striking young woman rested near the casket. It reminded everyone of the vibrant and beautiful person that had been taken from us.
Stella's death struck hard at the hearts of many in the industry. I have it on good authority that Dave McElroy and The Hartford quietly went far beyond their minimal obligations in taking care of her in that final year, a sign, no doubt, of their deep affection. Commercial insurance is a business like any other, grinding forward in the pursuit of the almighty buck, but there is still room for compassion and generosity of spirit, virtues that were Stella's hallmark. Stella is no longer around to dispense sage advice, but the examples that she set in life will continue to guide us.
Johnson & Higgins
In my bedroom hangs a framed photograph of Babe Ruth, in a suit and tie, shaking hands with a grinning Yogi Berra. The two are standing in front of a packed grandstand and Yogi is in his Yankee uniform. Scribbled in blue marker across a small piece of the photo is Yogi's autograph, providing a ribbon of color on the black-and-white picture. I bought it at a charity sports auction a few years ago. Until that day, I never realized that the Babe and Yogi had crossed paths. Very early in my AIG career, in 1994, I briefly spoke with Frank Englert by phone, and later wrote him a letter setting forth AIG's intent with respect to a particular provision in a fiduciary liability insurance policy. For a reason that I can't explain, I still remember addressing the letter to a "Mr. Francis Englert." Regrettably, I never got to meet Frank in person before he died. Sometimes, when I look at that photo, I think of Frank; he a Ruthian figure in professional lines and me, as a neophyte, privileged to have had just the briefest of encounters. In many ways, I feel unworthy of writing this passage. To get a true sense of Frank you'd need to speak with one of his great friends like Al Salvatico, Greg Flood, Chris Cavallaro or Fred Ryder. You'll see them instantly light up when talking of Frank, the fond memories tumbling forth. Greg, for example, tells of how Frank liked to park his Lincoln Mark VII in an isolated (and potentially dangerous) lot in Jersey City, which was cheaper than driving all the way into Manhattan. A Vietnam veteran, Frank had no fear of the parking lot's neighborhood ("Despite his very big heart, he was the toughest guy I knew," says Al.) Equal to his courage was Frank's down-to-earth friendliness. At night he'd frequently stop on his way to his car to talk earnestly with the Indian immigrant who owned the neighborhood convenience store. Greg remembers hearing the owner asking Frank about the status of various large insurance deals that Frank was handling at the time. "That's just the way he was," says Greg, "He'd talk to anyone about anything."
Cameron Bruce, a former J&H colleague, says that Frank was one of the best brokers he'd ever met. "It took Frank about five years to put together a very complex E&O program for Morgan Stanley, but he didn't give up. It was quite an impressive accomplishment. He bound it shortly before his death and it was in place for a long, long time, possibly still today." Cameron also recalls that honesty was one of Frank's hallmarks: "In his eulogy of Frank, Jim Ansaldi talked quite a bit about how honest Frank was and he was right on the mark. Frank would never lie to an underwriter. If you didn't ask the right question you wouldn't get the information, but he would never mislead you."
There's no doubt that we lost Frank all too soon, and if he were still around our lives would be more fun and interesting. I know that I'm not capable of providing a suitable tribute to a man like Frank Englert. But, perhaps, it's not necessary; every time one of his old pals tells a Frank story you can feel his spirit fill up the room. Something tells me that Frank Englert would be just fine with a tribute like that.
American International Group
This one is particularly tough to write. Joe sat two offices away from me at National Union in the mid 1990s. He was smart, energetic and bubbling over with life. As his wife Kim (now with Beecher Carlson in New York) says with a bias that is nonetheless true: "Everyone loved him--he was one of those rare all-around truly great guys." Joe's first job out of St. Lawrence University was with E.F. Hutton in Albany. He then moved to New York and started his insurance career with Chubb, but after a year he switched over to AIG's National Union. The company transferred him to Denver, and then Los Angeles, before bringing him back to Home Office in New York. He continued climbing the National Union corporate ladder, left for a short run with Marsh, and then returned to the AIG mother ship. Joe had for years yearned to run his own division and on Friday, January 21, 2000 his dream was realized. He was promoted to President of the Mergers & Acquisitions Group. A memo was sent out congratulating Joe on his new position. At age 34, he had risen to the senior ranks of AIG in relatively short order. The following Monday morning, close on the heels of the original announcement, another memo was distributed. It announced Joe's tragic death in a car accident on that Friday evening near his new home in Westchester County. People who had been out of the office on Friday returned to find the second memo resting on top of the first. John Rudolf, a National Union colleague and close friend, called me at home with the grim news on Saturday morning. I was in shock, then tears.
"When it comes to Joe Fine I can't say enough," says Doug Worman, a senior executive at AIG. "I knew Joe way before coming to AIG; he's the one who introduced me to the company. Because of the long history that Joe and I had together, I find myself crossing paths all the time with people who just want to share a story about Joe. The common theme is how much of a stand-up individual he was. He was truly a person who believed in the principles of loyalty, hard work and respect. And, of course, he loved his family dearly and life itself." You didn't need to know Joe as well as Doug did to recognize the truth in those words.
I still find myself thinking of Joe more often than one might expect, usually during industry parties or other more lighthearted insurance functions. I'll look around and think "Joe would be having a good time if he were here." There are two particular memories of Joe that still make me smile. The first involves the National Union football pool. Participants would pay $5 and attempt to pick the week's winners. Half of the money went into a pot for the weekly winner and the other half funded prizes for the season's overall top three finishers. Joe won the $2,000 first-place prize as the season winner in 1995. Shortly thereafter, I heard someone say to him "Your wife must be really psyched that you won $2,000." Joe's deadpan reply: "My wife thinks I won $1,000." [I'm sorry to break the news to you this way Kim!]
The other memory is of a more general nature. Divisional managers at National Union would have weekly meetings with Kris Moor, then the company president, to discuss our monthly numbers and particular deals and issues. About 15 of us would sit around a large conference room table to receive our grilling. If you had bad numbers, or less than a complete mastery of them, you were toast. There was no kidding around at National Union when it came to numbers--this was serious stuff. Kris was a personable guy outside that conference room, but once inside it was all business. When it came to spinning the numbers, Joe was an absolute, unsurpassed, Genius with a capital "G." I still marvel at his talents in this area. Occasionally, Joe threw out so many metrics in rapid-fire order that you'd think he was a professional statistician running some enterprise wholly apart from insurance. He would say things like: "Our hit ratio is going to be 6.8 percent over the revised projection based on year-over-year production variances with a $1.4 million potential upside compared to last year's 4.5 percent budget shortfall when adjusted for net reinsurance cede fluctuations." Huh? It was impossible to keep up with him at times. And it certainly made me question my own abilities. I recall Joe once unleashing a particularly impressive and lengthy string of statistics which, I suspected, were intended to obfuscate the fact that his group was short for the month. Losing patience with all the numbers swirling through the air, Kris finally said: "Joe, are you going to make budget or not? That's all I want to know."
In addition to possessing an unparalleled mastery of numbers, Joe was an immensely talented insurance professional. His death deprived the industry of a rising star and, more importantly, a great person. Helping to preserve Joe's memory was, for me, a significant motivator in writing this book. But, of course, we don't need these brief passages to recall the vibrant life of a good man like Joe Fine. His legacy will live on in many ways, most significantly in the person of Declan, his and Kim's precious nine-year old son. A fifth grader at the Browning School in Manhattan, Declan has earned an orange belt in karate and excels at hockey, skiing and lacrosse. And, as Kim is quick to point out, "He's great with numbers!"
The loss of Joe still affects Doug deeply. "I have a picture of him in my desk that I look at everyday. It shows him with that unique smile and reminds me of what's important in life. I really do miss him."
Personally, I will continue to think of Joe whenever insurance people are gathered for a good time. He may not be here physically to brighten our lives, but thoughts of Joe Fine will stay forever with those of us lucky enough to have known him--even if we live to be 100 (or, as Joe might put it, 22 percent longer than the average American life expectancy with a 2.5% year-over-year variance and an 6 percent potential upside.)
In a world where people strive to stand apart from the crowd, Pat Jordan was more unique than most. An accountant by training (his friend and colleague Jamie Anthony remembers: "It was said that Pat would be picked as the accountant in any lineup 90 percent of the time,") he belied that profession's traditional stereotypes.On one hand, he was extremely intelligent and capable (even by real world standards, not just insurance's lowered bar!) and could engineer complex financial transactions and, just as impressively, explain them clearly to all interested parties. On the other hand, he had a wry sense of humor and a fun, mischievous side which made regular appearances. He always had a good joke or story to tell (a lost art among many in the brokerage community), and was great company, whether over a conference table or a dinner table. Close friend Bob Omahne remembers many an enjoyable meal with Pat. "He was always ready to celebrate the completion of a big deal with some good food and wine," says Bob.
Pat was a rabid Penn State football fan who would drive from his home in Connecticut to virtually every Nittany Lions home game for many years, frequently accompanied by his son. The strange thing was that Pat didn't attend Penn State--his wife had. Nonetheless, he adopted her alma mater's football team with a zeal rarely seen even among the most ardent alumni supporters. Driving over 300 miles round-trip to State College, PA on Saturdays was, to Pat, an inconsequential price to watch his favorite team in action.
Early in his insurance career Pat was an account executive at A&A, which is where Jamie met him. The two left with a group of others to start a Financial Services Group at Willis in 1991. It was there that Pat really developed his financial insurance skills. "He was instrumental in the structuring and placement of one of the first retail (not reinsurance driven) funded (finite) transactions. It was a complex multi-risk policy for a portfolio of high-end medical equipment being sold into foreign markets. Among the risks addressed were liability, residual value and foreign credit," says Jamie.
Pat left Willis in 1995 to join Minet where he continued to use his technical expertise. Jamie reminisces: "His results would be well thought out, creative and completely accurate. He was the consummate quality technician among his other good qualities.He was also ever the networker among the professional liability and financial insurance brokers and insurers. If you ever wanted to know the latest happenings or personnel movement within the community, you would call Pat and he would let you in on his up-to-date findings in his calm yet clandestine manner. He always tried to tie a little zinger into his updates. Regardless of the age of his information, Pat always made you feel you were getting information that was no more than 15 minutes old."
Bill Brennan, another friend of Pat's, recalls "He was innovative, a masterful salesman and the consummate professional when it came to business. Over the years I developed a friendship with Pat and always found his advice, both professionally and personally, to be helpful. Pat personified class."
Pat eventually left Minet in to join Marsh in New York where he worked until unexpectedly dying in his sleep in the fall of 2004 (despite the fact that he was appeared to be in great shape and worked out regularly.) Pat was one of those rare individuals who can't really be compared to anyone in the industry today. He was one-of-a-kind, like Joe Paterno, the coach of Pat's beloved Penn State football team, although, sadly, Pat did not share Coach Paterno's storied longevity. There will never be another Pat Jordan, and I feel fortunate to have known him, albeit for far too short a time.
Executive Risk Management Associates
Jim was a recent college graduate working as a professional lines claims analyst at AIG when I first met him in 1989. I was a young attorney at D'Amato & Lynch and had a number of cases with Jim. It sounds trite, I know, but Jim was one of those people who bubbled with energy and exuded a zest for life. He worked hard and played hard and always seemed to be enjoying himself. His nickname was "Magoo" (playing off of "Magura") and, much like the near-sighted cartoon character of that name, he was a bit goofy but loveable and always sporting a positive attitude. I remember spending many evenings with Jim and Stefano Minale (also a young AIG claims analyst at the time) at the South Street Seaport hoping to meet young ladies (who, from what I recall, were not especially hoping to meet us.)
Kim Mazzei (nee Green) was in high school with Jim but he was a few years older and she didn't know him well until she got to AIG. "On my very first day in July of 1990 he took me under his wing," she recalls. "He was always looking out for me. We commuted together almost every day. Once a guy on the PATH train was trying to make lewd advances on me and Jim literally chased him out of the station."
Jim loved biking and would frequently stop by Kim's parents' house in Wyckoff, NJ (where she lived at the time) while out for a ride. Kim remembers: "He'd help my dad with some yard work and I'd come home and he'd be sitting in the backyard in his tight Spandex pants having a beer with my dad. My parents loved him."
Another of Jim's trademarks was his great love for singing. "He loved to go to a karaoke place here in New York called Sing Alongs," says Stefano. "He was always willing to go on stage and make a spectacle of himself while the rest of us sat there in amazement. I will always remember and admire his ability to just go out there and be himself, whether it was going on stage to sing or wearing some goofy outfit. He was always himself and never ashamed for it."
It's unbelievable to me that so much time has passed since Jim's death in the early 1990s. He had a treatable disease that, through a series of tragic mishaps, went undetected. Jim's roommate came downstairs on a Sunday morning at the condo they shared in suburban Hartford (Jim had joined ERMA by then) to find him lying on the couch. The TV was on but Jim didn't respond to his roommate's attempts to wake him. He had passed peacefully in the night.
I remember driving from Boston on a miserably rainy day to attend Jim's wake in North Jersey. Though I thought I had steeled myself on the ride down for this solemn occasion, I was unprepared for the stifling sadness that filled the funeral home.
Kim, who still wells up at the thought of Jim's passing, remembers it clearly."When Jim died it was devastating to me. He was the first close friend of mine who had passed away. I was petrified to go to the wake. It was a really hard day."
Magoo was a great guy. In the image that I hold of Jim, he's smiling and laughing; full of life and enjoying himself. He's also making life fun for everyone around him. I will always remember Jim Magura that way. And I'd bet that everyone else who knew him will too.
June 1, 2009
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