By MATTHEW BRODSKY, senior editor/Web editor of Risk & Insurance®
Carsten W. Scheffel, CEO and president of Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty Americas, used to work in a meat-packing plant. He once was in construction. And he was a Zamboni driver at his local community's hockey arena.
"It was a lot more than that," he told Risk & Insurance®.
He was also managing the rink and its compressors, making sure they stayed up to proper temperature and oil levels. It was the "gravy" shift--midnight to 8 a.m. A lot of responsibility for a young kid in the middle of the night. These days, Scheffel added, ice rinks have engineers doing the same job.
Scheffel never progressed that far in the ice rink business.
"I learned a lot, but I decided that's not what I wanted," he said.
So after graduating from Humber College in Toronto with a business degree, he did what many young adults do when searching for their first "real" job: he leaned on his mom's contacts.
She just happened to work in insurance. Ah, yes, the typical "fall into it" insurance career story. His mother set him up with an interview in November at what would become Fireman's Fund. Twenty minutes into the meeting, however, the interviewer stopped and told Scheffel, "You're not for us."
As "heartbreaking" as it was, Scheffel said, it wasn't that his mom's friend didn't think he was right for Fireman's Fund. It was that Scheffel didn't appear right to be a property underwriter, the open position at hand. Why? Scheffel's personality, the interviewer told him. But relax, the man continued. A casualty guy down the hall was looking for people too. The man disappeared for another 25 minutes. Scheffel just sat there.
Eventually, he was called into another office, for another interview. This time, the interviewer asked about his hobbies, his interests. When the more touchy, feely casualty questions ended, the interview left off with a "we'll be in touch"--before the end of the year.
Scheffel couldn't wait until the end of the year to hear back, though. A week went by and his dad asked if he'd heard anything. Scheffel hadn't, and he wasn't sure what to do about it.
"If you want something in life, sometimes you have to show initiative," his dad told him. (His father also instructed him not to tell his mom about the property interview so as not to upset her.)
Scheffel listened to his father's advice. He spent two days building up his courage, and then he phoned the interviewer.
Who promptly told him, "You got the job." The interviewer was basing the decision on the first person who showed the pluck to call him. The day was Dec. 4, 1978.
From there, Scheffel completed his underwriting training and began to climb the underwriting ladder at Fireman's Fund of Canada. By 1984, he was a senior underwriter for excess and special risk. Take a look at his c.v., and you can follow his steady climb from there.
From 1985 to 1993, he served as an excess and specialty risk manager. With Allianz's purchase of Fireman's Fund, he became a casualty manager and held that position through 1998. It was then that he joined the executive ranks, first as an assistant vice president, casualty, for Allianz's Canadian operations, then as an assistant vice president of underwriting in 2002. By 2004, he had his sights on what he thought was his ultimate career goal, when he became vice president of underwriting and deputy to the chief agent of the Canadian branch of Allianz Global Risks U.S. In April of the following year, he achieved that goal, what could have been his pinnacle ... the chief agent position.
But "alas," by the end of 2005, Axel Theis was already asking him to become none other than chief underwriting officer of all of AGR U.S. The CEO position was not far away.
Scheffel's father, who after retiring early from his job as a supervisor for one of Maple Leaf Foods' meat-packing plants (that meat-packing plant) and has since passed away, once told Scheffel and his brother "to always dress, work and go for the next position."
"So you shouldn't be surprised in my career that I started as an underwriter trainee, and if you follow my path ... I just worked my way through the organization," Scheffel said.
One wonders if Scheffel has imparted the same advice to his older daughter, who is currently a lower-level liability underwriter. (His younger daughter is devoting herself to marine biology, while his son, the youngest of the three, is exploring filmmaking.)
Scheffel's mother, a long-time property expert, spent the last three years of her career in charge of casualty at St. Paul Fire and Marine in Canada, during which time she'd phone her son for expertise. It makes sense then, that her son, who supposedly wasn't cut out for property, would now at the age of 53 be in charge of a property company that is diversifying around the world and into other lines of business.
"My mom still laughs about it," he said.
April 1, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications