In the C-Suite: Cindy Khin
Medmarc Insurance Group’s Chief Claims Officer discusses talent development, working hard on soft skills, and the importance of pursuing passions at work and in life.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Manassas, Va., home of the first battle of the Civil War. I have three beautiful, brilliant sisters. We all have stayed in the Northern Virginia area and spend a lot of time together. I come from a very close family.
What did your parents do?
My father was a Marine; he served in the Korean War and then finished out his service at the Washington Navy Yard. My mom stayed home with her four girls until my older sister and I were in high school. She then went back to school, became an accountant, and only retired from her accounting job about 10 years ago.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always been an avid reader, and even when I was young I primarily read thrillers and mysteries. So I always fancied myself some kind of detective or investigator. I guess in a way I always knew I wanted to be in claims.
Do you have children?
I have a very busy 33-year-old daughter, and she has blessed me with five energetic and gorgeous grandchildren. They are a lot of fun. They live not far from me.
What was your first claims job?
I started at a small insurance agency filling out ACORD forms. Being inquisitive, I always found that I wanted more information, that I needed more of the story. I was always calling to get more details. I was eager to help solve problems and contacted the claims staff frequently. I stayed there for a couple of years before seeking out jobs with an insurance company. I landed a job with GEICO in Washington, D.C. When I was there, I worked with Fausto Martin, who is now the chief claims officer at Auto Club, and who was October’s interviewee for this series. Small world!
What did you do at GEICO?
Working in the carrier environment, you’re doing very hands-on work. At the agency I worked at, I was more like a traffic cop making sure that things got to the right person at the right company. In-house, you’re running the investigation and looking out for the interests of the insureds, making sure their property and interests are protected.
Did you have management responsibility at GEICO?
Yes. After I’d been there for a while, I went through their management training program. It exposed me to different areas of the company, and I was required to complete certain training modules. When opportunities arose, they gave us case studies to work on. Participants were evaluated on the strength of their problem-solving skills. That was a primary consideration in who advanced and who didn’t. It was hard work that was rewarded pretty directly in that culture. It definitely wasn’t a “who’s next in line?” system.
Have you used that assessment of problem-solving skills as a management tool yourself when deciding whom to promote?
I have. I look for creativity, problem-solving skills, and possession of the soft skills (how they deal with people and handle coaching). Some people thrive in a coaching environment and others get defensive. I’ve found that those who get defensive don’t last long in claims.
Did you go to Medmarc after GEICO?
I did. I was initially an assistant claims manager to Kevin Quinley, who is now with CLM Advisors. I wanted to get into the commercial side of the business. I was fascinated by commercial claims. I was looking for something different than what I’d done before. I was putting on my detective hat again and thought I wanted to investigate catastrophes like airplane crashes and warehouse fires. Those opportunities are few and so I chose to seek a commercial position that would give me an interesting platform to utilize my skills. I was selected for a position at Medmarc and have been fascinated by my work ever since.
What kind of work does Medmarc do?
We’re a niche insurer providing product liability insurance. Since 2013, we are a part of ProAssurance. We primarily provide product liability protection for medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies, and we have a small book of legal professional liability business. In our history, Medmarc also did some professional lines, such as realtor’s E&O and some workers’ comp, but we exited those lines many years ago.
Based on your own experience, what would you advise young claims professionals to do to advance their careers?
I’d advise them to work on their softer skills—their people and listening skills. This is a people-driven business. We are here to solve problems. Our customers bring their problems to us and are looking for solutions. Newer professionals tend to believe that technology is the answer to everything. You can learn more from an insured/claimant through a phone call than you can through an email. Exploiting those softer skills is important. Learning to listen is absolutely critical.
Do you believe you can teach listening skills?
Absolutely. It is very much a learned skill. I try to encourage people to focus on the expectations of others. It’s like the saying, “First understand before you try to be understood.” If you understand where others are coming from, then you can see where you fit into the problem-solving puzzle. You have to assess and balance the issues and then be able to present your opinions and ideas in a way that can be understood and accepted.
How would you describe your management style?
It’s inclusive. I like to make sure that people feel a part of the decision-making process. I like to lead by example. I never ask people to give more than I’m willing to give. I don’t over-delegate to just get things off my desk. I’m a good listener and facilitator. I’ve always said that my job is solving problems. I want my team to be problem solvers, not problem identifiers. If they have a problem, I encourage them to think about it and come to me with a recommendation so we can talk it out and fix it.
What challenges do you face now as a seasoned manager versus the challenges you faced as a new manager?
A lot has changed over the past 30 years in the way that we approach management. There was a level of managers back when I first started in the business who ruled with an iron fist, who felt people needed to be managed. I don’t feel people need to be managed. I think if you treat people like professionals, they will act like professionals. If you give them an opportunity to shine, they will. No one comes to the office in the morning and checks their brain at the door before walking in. People want to be challenged and stretched. When you are hovering, it becomes stifling.
You’ve invested a lot of time personally to continuing your professional education. Is that an important factor in career growth?
It’s very important to me. Unlike a lot of professions, when I started out, there was no degree in insurance. You had all of these opportunities through the industry to expand your knowledge. I ate up those opportunities like sugar. It gave me a perspective I might not have otherwise been able to have. Being able to study the industry was very important to me and it gave me the best opportunities.
What do you think about the CLM Claims College?
I think it’s innovative and a great opportunity. We recently sent some of our adjusters and they got a lot out of it. It’s a great opportunity to network and share with other professionals. Sometimes it’s nice to be with people who talk your talk and share your pain.
What excites you most about your role today?
I find the high-stakes litigation to be exhilarating. It can be an adrenaline rush. Rather than jumping out of a plane, I prefer the mediations of high-stakes litigation. I enjoy being able to solve those kinds of problems. You can have the best attorneys from the biggest law firms working for you, but if they are not looking at it through your eyes and making decisions based on your goals and perspectives, they are merely working on their own goals.
Do you find it difficult to find the talent and expertise you need for your staff?
It can be difficult, but we have found that we can retain and develop people internally. We’ve had people who are now handling claims who developed internally and have come up through the ranks. We also have had success with talent that we’ve brought in from other sources; however, I personally am a fan of developing talent from internal sources.
Is your staff centralized?
No. We work in a very virtual environment, so we can work from anywhere. Most of our staff is in the Chantilly office, but also we have staff in Florida and people are working from their homes and from the road. There’s a risk that those people feel disconnected, but we work hard to overcome that. We have an instant messaging system and have video capabilities where you can video chat easily.
Do you have any hobbies?
Well, I love to read, travel and one particular passion is working out. I ride my bike, attend exercise classes, and work out in a gym almost every day. It is healthy stress relief! One of my goals for 2014 is to complete the Sea Gull Century cycling ride on the Eastern Shore.
Where is one place you’ve traveled that you’ve enjoyed most?
Last year, I went on a snowmobile adventure in Yellowstone. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I was driving the snowmobile outdoors for three straight days. We saw wolves, bison, bald eagles, coyotes, and elk. I saw an eagle eating a duck 20 feet away from me. I’ve always been an outdoors person, and this trip was absolutely fantastic. I’d recommend it to anyone!