Zurich CEO Schiro Awarded Top Honors by St. John's University
James J. Schiro, CEO of Zurich Financial Services, was honored Wednesday as Insurance Leader of the Year by St. John's University School of Risk Management and Actuarial Science for breathing new life into a storied but lagging property/casualty carrier.
Schiro was cited for his ability to balance the interests of a profit-making institution beholden to investors with the interests of the broader public, all the while remaining attentive to customer service.
Schiro, said Dr. Josef Ackermann, chairman of the management board and the group executive committee of Deutsche Bank, has turned the company from a "tanker into a sleek super yacht" by centralizing a very diffuse organization into a single, recognizable brand.
Since the summer of 2002, Ackermann also noted, Zurich's share price has tripled and the company has grown for 19 consecutive quarters thanks to a combination of acquisitions and internal growth. Schiro is an executive who wants "to bring about constant change," Ackermann also said.
Schiro lived up to the billing during his acceptance speech.
"The insurance industry's business model has remained stagnant for a very, very long time, while the world around us was changing immensely," the winner said. "It is vitally important to the future of our industry that we re-examine our customers, products and distribution models to ensure we remain relevant to the communities we serve. We can't be trying to sell the same products and services to people that we sold to their parents and grandparents."
Schiro, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and whose parents never went to college, showed early on in his career that he possessed leadership qualities. At St. John's, for example, he was president of his fraternity and president of the senior class.
After taking charge of the mining division in the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, he was made partner only to become a leading proponent of the merger with rival Coopers & Lybrand, a merger that in the eyes of some ranks among the toughest in corporate history.
In a short biographical video of Schiro broadcast over television monitors before more than 1,000 guests assembled at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, Ramani Ayer, chairman and CEO of The Hartford, called Schiro "a global player and great competitor."
Schiro's wife, son and daughter, also interviewed in the documentary, praised Schiro as a father and as a leader determined to set a good example.
The biographical documentary also revealed Schiro's ability to give back to an insurance community that has given so much to him, whether it be through the executive's participation in local affordable housing programs, finding ways to help New Yorkers in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, or spearheading new initiatives to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
"The Zurich model is an interesting model," said Kenneth R. Feinberg, principal of The Feinberg Group, and overseer of a billion-dollar compensation fund destined to help victims of the World Trade Center attacks. "It starts with creativity and new ways to resolve disputes."
Schiro, he also said, found alternatives to disputes, whether they be connected with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or the hurricanes that hit Florida in the summer of 2004, or the devastating hurricane damage to the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf coasts in the summer of 2005.
"The nation is in Jim's debt for finding alternative ways to resolved disputes," said Feinberg. "We thank Jim and Zurich for all they've done for insurance and joining in this valuable cause."
From now on Schiro will be forever connected with Zurich, said Ackermann.
"When the history of Zurich Financial Services is written, Jim Schiro will be responsible for it," he said.
January 21, 2008
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