By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & InsuranceŽ
Ever since leaving behind the tough streets of Pittsburgh's North Side as a teenager, Marvin Kelly has made his life a series of firsts.
The retired Army major was the first African-American risk manager for the Texas cities of Beaumont and Austin. He was the first African-American executive director of that state's property/casualty guaranty fund, and he is the first African-American president of the Malvern, Pa.-based Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters Society, which has more than 28,000 members.
As the society prepares to roll into Denver for its annual meeting, from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, Kelly has a few more firsts in mind before he hands over the reins at the end of his year-long term.
At Kelly's insistence, this year's meeting will be the first in its 65-year history to be open to nonmembers.
It will also be the first time CPCU Society meeting hosts a diversity day, presents a children's program and encourages casual dress. And it will also mark the first appearance of a CPCU band--that's right, a band made up entirely of CPCU Society members that will play at various locations and times throughout the four-day meeting.
So, just what is Kelly trying to accomplish?
WANTED: YOUTH AND DIVERSITY
For one, like many, he sees the insurance industry as too staid and is trying to shake it up so that it attracts the young blood that he and many others think it's going to need to survive and stay relevant.
"I mean, 80 percent of the people in insurance are like 45 to 50 years old," Kelly said during a recent interview with Risk & InsuranceŽ at the society's headquarters. "If you don't have people coming in to replace them and you don't have new ideas coming in, how do you come up with new products and ideas?"
For another, Kelly thinks that an industry and a CPCU Society that is more representative of this country's racial mix will help it stay more viable in the long run.
He's impatient with the meager percentages of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians who hold the CPCU. Each ethnicity represents less than 2 percent of CPCUs nationally.
With other leaders in the field, like Robert Cartwright, a director on the board of the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc., Kelly is directing his attention to higher education, pushing for insurance and risk management classes at African-American institutions in Texas.
Kelly was instrumental in creating an insurance program at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin five years ago, a program that's since doubled in attendance. He's also helped to create an insurance program at Houston-based Texas Southern University, which will feature an insurance minor based on the CPCU curriculum.
"If we're going to do a good job and be viable in the future, we have to have minorities participating in the industry," Kelly said.
Kelly cuts a trim figure in pressed blue jeans and dress shirt, close cropped graying hair and hands that sport chunky, silver jewelry. He may be from Pittsburgh but he looks, from the Southwestern style he displays, like he's settled into Texas just fine. Kelly wants to have fun and he wants his industry to have fun: Thus the CPCU band and his inclusive, casual approach to quarterbacking this year's meeting and seminars in Denver.
Kelly, who calls the presidency of Barack Obama something he never thought he would see in his lifetime, is also keeping African-Americans front and center in Denver. Like Kelly and Obama, the conference's keynote speaker, Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, is an African-American. He's also the man who commanded the Task Force Katrina recovery efforts.
"The general was the bright spot in that entire piece. He got in there and he just kicked butt," Kelly said.
As for himself, Kelly plans to stay professional, keep pushing for more diversity and stay a leader but continue to have some fun doing it.
"I tell people all the time, 'Remember, I was president before Obama.'"
August 6, 2009
Copyright 2009© LRP Publications