By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & InsuranceŽ
It's interesting, what makes a career. So many of us live with "resume head," where we look at everything we do in terms of how it will look on our curriculum vitae. But what about following your heart? Where might that lead you?
What about developing a feel for exactly the type of people that you'd like to work with? Who knows what kinds of doors might open if you approach your life and your career that way?
The world of insurance is vast, and the talent it absorbs is varied and has so many more colors than the blues and grays and browns that serve as our work clothes and which amount in some ways to nothing more than another costume. As varied as that talent is, so are the backgrounds from which it comes.
Would you like to know more about Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.'s Tony Abella Sr. Did you know, in addition to being a Risk & InsuranceŽ Power BrokerŽ finalist in the nonprofit sector in 2009, he spent part of his youth in one of Fidel Castro's prisons on the island of Cuba?
What about Edgewood Partners Insurance Center's Tim Rabbitt? He worked as a stunt man in Hollywood and learned some of his interpersonal skills from mollifying farmers and other landowners who were upset when production explosions singed a few acres.
And then there's Dominic Davison-Jenkins, a 2009 Power BrokerŽ in telecommunications for Aon, whose knowledge and passion for ancient cultures, gleaned as an archeologist decades ago, might inspire you to go shuck it all and sift through some river mud.
Reflecting on the circuitous paths of a handful of brokers is timely because in this annual Power BrokerŽissue we recognize the industry's best and brightest brokers. For 2011, we selected 144 Power BrokerŽ winners across 24 industries. (Visit the 2011 Power BrokerŽ Landing Page for access to all of the winners'
categories and profiles.)
Doug Koeltzow, a vice president for IMA of Colorado, was, back in 1985, a recently minted Colorado State graduate in construction management. When he got out of college, the industry was in a downturn. There was nothing happening in Denver, so Koeltzow did what many young men do in Colorado, he hit the Rockies.
He got a job doing heavy highway estimating in Breckenridge, Colo., for a few months and after that he took a job driving a snow CAT on the slopes of the Keystone Ski Resort. Anyone who has ever been a ski bum knows the gig, you groom the slopes at night, grab a few hours sleep and then ski those very slopes the next day. At least you'll know where the bumps are.
But the ski bum's life can be a trap and Koeltzow knew it. So, he hightailed it to Texas, and got a job as a schedule analyst on the Comanche Peak Steam Electric Station south of Dallas. That experience quickly morphed into the pursuit of an M.B.A. at Southern Methodist University, paid for by his employer.
All was well and good, but Koeltzow missed the Rockies. He was soon back in Colorado, where he became a partner in a small firm that specialized in construction schedule analysis. Shortly after his return, he ended up working on another high-profile project, the construction of a baggage handling system at Denver International Airport.
The system was notorious for spitting out luggage traveling down the middle of conveyor, damaging suitcases, and making headlines around the country. "It was a pressure cooker for sure and I learned first hand not to believe everything you read in the papers," Koeltzow said.
Koeltzow had known the people at IMA for years and given the fact that the brokerage makes a habit of recruiting people from industry, it wasn't long before IMA came calling for him. "I remember thinking, 'Insurance, there is no way,'" Koeltzow said. "I didn't know anything about it, really."
But that didn't really matter so much. What mattered was that he felt a kinship with the people at IMA. For one, he said, they didn't take themselves too seriously, yet he felt that they were in the game to win.
"This was a group of people that was about my age. Whether it was the insurance business or whatever it was, they were going to be successful," Koeltzow said of the people that were about to become his new colleagues.
Success in insurance brokering did not come easy to Koeltzow. Getting a feel for the people he was going to work with was one thing. Hitting the ground running as an insurance broker is quite another. "I started out here and came over in the production role and initially realized that it was going to be much, much harder than I thought," he said.
But he has learned the ropes and he hasn't looked back. "I didn't target the industry but there was some synergy there," Koeltzow said.
TAKE THAT, CASTRO
Gallagher's Tony Abella has also found some synergy, but it is of the spiritual kind.
Abella graduated from a Jesuit High School in Cuba, and it was his subsequent association with a Catholic student group at the University of Havana that was agitating for democracy that got him kicked out of the university.
That didn't stop Abella's activism. Using some of his photography skills, Abella started doing surveillance work to help set up the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. But something went awry, authorities found out, and Abella was arrested and tossed into a dungeon.
Thankfully, the computer age hadn't yet dawned, and somebody lost his paperwork, which allowed him to go free after a few weeks in custody. Abella decided his home country was too hot for him and he caught the first boat he could.
Abella is brave, but he has also has a philosophy. "Whatever experience you have in a prior life you can always adapt to your future life," Abella said. And that is exactly what he did.
He worked as a photographer to earn his keep at the University of Miami. Abella also taught at Jesuit schools but when he realized that, as a layperson, he would be limited in that career, he looked for another path. At the time, his wife was working at Liberty Mutual as a sales assistant and so off he went.
These days, as a result of his previous experience, Abella has a wealth of tools to draw on. His familiarity with a camera and the art of surveillance has served him well as an insurance broker.
"Whenever I go to see a risk I have the visual of how it looks and I can explain it in pictures," Abella said.
He also studied chemistry and biology at the University of Miami and got a graduate degree in genetics at North Carolina State. That gives him the science background to study such things as mold issues or the composition of fire-extinguishing materials and their effectiveness.
"Knowledge is something you can always appreciate wherever it comes from," Abella said. "That is why it is so important for our industry to capture people who have a broad base of education rather than find a person who cannot find a job and ask them, 'Can you sell insurance?' "
That's why Abella, an area senior vice president in Miami for Gallagher, is such an active mentor for young insurance professionals. His son, Tony Abella Jr., is also with Gallagher and was named a Risk & InsuranceŽ Power BrokerŽ finalist for the public sector in 2009.
If, back in 1977, you had told Tim Rabbitt as he was graduating from the California Institute of the Arts with a degree in photography that he was going to wind up in insurance, he would not have believed you.
Rabbitt, an Irvine, Calif.-based principal with Edgewood Partners Insurance Center, had his eye on a film career and that was what he jumped into. "I wanted to be a producer really but you have to work your way up the ladder and so that's what happened," Rabbitt said.
Rabbitt found work as a production manager, helping to cue stunt men as they jumped out of planes or off grain silos or whatever else the script called for. "I was always right in the middle of the action, which was fun," Rabbitt said.
He also got to travel as location manager for the show "Real People," the late 1970's precursor to "America's Funniest Home Videos."
"Everyplace you went in those days, that show was very popular, and it was almost celebrity status to be filming it," Rabbitt recalls. And he did have fun in the business, but Hollywood will also rip your heart out and stomp on it. "The last deal I worked on I didn't feel like I had enough control over my destiny," he said.
Rabbit wanted more control, so he got in touch with an executive recruiter who put him onto a job in the service contract business in the auto industry. "I knew how to do sales, because a lot of the film work you're doing you're convincing people to let you blow cars up next to their property; I was selling that," Rabbitt said.
Like Koeltzow, Rabbitt soon realized the business he had entered was tough. "You don't get in this business and go from zero to sixty in five seconds," Rabbitt said of insurance brokering. But Rabbitt, who works in construction and surety, has learned the ropes and is happy he did.
"You learn how to identify the clients you want to do business with," Rabbitt said.
ARCANE AND ECLECTIC
Aon's Dominic Davison-Jenkins has a background that is so eclectic that it would make any latent free spirit jealous. Davison-Jenkins, a native of the United Kingdom, had parents who were, shall we say, of the Bohemian set. His father attended the Summerhill School in Suffolk, which is famous for being a school with few rules, a school where students are allowed to pretty much do as they like and study as they please.
Davison-Jenkins was exposed to archeology by his mother, who in addition to her work in advertising was something of an Egyptologist. Davison-Jenkins didn't share a particular love for either, but he did find that he was attracted to the study of Asia.
Thus began a lifelong passion for the archeological study of India, a former British colony. "It has a very long and very interesting history and an extraordinary culture," Davison-Jenkins said.
He began his formal study at the University of London's School of Oriental and African studies and followed that by winning a scholarship to Cambridge University, where he concentrated on Oriental Studies. That led to dissertation work in India, where Davison-Jenkins spent four years, and where he marveled at the complexity and achievement of the ancient culture he studied at Vijayanagara, which is Sanskrit for "City of Victory." The site is in Karnataka State in Southern India.
But then there was the issue of actually getting a job. The times being what they were, Davison-Jenkins found himself stacked against dozens and dozens of fellow Ph.D.'s in looking for work in his chosen field.
"At that time in the economy in the United Kingdom there were very few places where you could secure viable employment at all. It appeared that there wasn't much hope," Davison-Jenkins said.
So he decided he needed to shift gears.
He was offered a job in investment banking "doing something weird" as he put it and then turned to work in insurance in the professional liability area. He entered a management training program and "the rest is history" as everyone, including archeologists, seems to like to say.
In insurance, Davison-Jenkins, managing director at Aon's global professions practice, found a place to put to use his Ph.D. candidate's skill set. "I am drawn to complex stuff and the analysis of complex stuff and my job is to make it simple."
Now, does that sound familiar?
February 17, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications