In the C-Suite With Michael Zimmerman
Goodville Mutual Casualty Company’s Claims VP practices what he preaches when it comes to his advice for new claims managers.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the heart of Amish country. My three sisters and I grew up in the farmland of a beautiful part of the world, and I still live there. We lived on a small farm with cattle and chickens—just enough to supplement our family’s needs. I had farm chores like feeding the calves, chickens, and our two ponies. Growing up on a farm taught me the value of hard work, which is so valuable in life.
Did you have any exposure to insurance as a child?
No. I grew up in a conservative Mennonite community, and insurance was looked at as something only needed if it was required, like for an automobile. To buy insurance was considered to not be trusting in God. When I went into insurance, my parents weren’t overly thrilled because of that belief system.
How did you end up in insurance?
I had older friends from college who started careers in insurance—one in underwriting and one in claims. They both really seemed to enjoy their careers, so it interested me. When I graduated, I started interviewing for underwriting jobs, but ended up taking a claims job with Allstate. Originally, I thought I’d do it for a year or two before I figured out what I really wanted to do.
When did you decide to make it your career?
After a year or two in claims, I realized I was cut out for it. I wanted to have a job that helped people. I enjoyed being there for people when they needed it. The stressful part was working with people who thought they deserved compensation from the insurance company, but did not. I had that ability that all good claims people do—to not take my work home with me. It’s important to not let that affect you. After five years, I was promoted to unit manager and realized that I really liked that aspect of my career. I saw people senior to me who really enjoyed their jobs and were well compensated, and that appealed to me.
What advice do you give to new managers?
I suggest intentionally connecting with someone who can provide you with mentorship and guidance. It doesn’t have to be a direct supervisor, either. The success I had in leadership was due to mentors who really took me under their wings. Really simple things were helpful to me, like how to present myself in meetings, how to hold a department meeting, and whom to impress. Listen and learn from those who have been there before. Have the humility to listen, because we can always be learning from others, no matter how much experience you have. You can learn from their positive and negative examples.
Also, always remember that, as a leader, you are there to help the people who work for you, not tell them what to do. The times I’ve gotten into trouble is when I thought I knew it all.
What do you look for when hiring a claims professional?
Character is most important to me. They have to have strong customer service skills and be able to communicate with people. I look for people whose jobs required them to talk to people. I also look for compassion and caring in people. Claims requires working with people who have had bad things happen. You can train people how to interpret the policy and do the technical parts of the job, but it’s harder to teach the customer service skills if that’s not part of who the person is. Good claims people want to do what’s fair, and they want to help their insureds.
Do you have any hobbies?
My wife and I enjoy traveling and look forward to doing more of that. Also, I’m an associate pastor at our church. I was a youth pastor for about 10 years, and for the past 15 years I’ve been an associate pastor at our small Mennonite church. I have found my pastoral side helpful in talking to people going through tough times, and that includes both claimants and staff.