In the C-Suite with Paul Stachura
State Auto’s Chief CARE Officer explains his unique title and why listening makes a great leader.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Detroit. I’m one of seven children and the youngest of five boys. My father was a police officer, so we lived within the city limits. My mom, soon to be 89, worked as a medical transcriptionist, something she did, in fact, right up until about a year ago.
What was your first exposure to the world of insurance?
When I was in college and for a short time afterward, I was an administrative aid to the dean of the Detroit City Council. In that role, I sat through city council meetings and they would review litigation against the city—things like trips and falls on sidewalks, accidents with city vehicles, or city official misconduct. I always thought those were pretty interesting cases and, of course, working in the city council environment was pretty fascinating, too.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Michigan State University and planned to be a lawyer. I was in pre-law and after graduation briefly attended the Detroit College of Law. The balance of full-time, community-based work and being in law school was a challenge, so I withdrew with the intent of going back, but I did not. Shortly thereafter, a group of friends encouraged me to work for an independent insurance adjusting firm doing liquor liability investigations, which sounded interesting to me. I took a job there and really enjoyed it. When I left them, I moved to Dallas to work for a company called Preferred Risk Mutual. I got my first license in Texas, and my claims career took off from there.
What would you tell a person new to the industry about why a career in claims resolution is satisfying?
I’m the first to acknowledge that, on the face of it, insurance doesn’t seem exciting to a lot of people. But I’ve found that the more people know about what we do, the more interesting it becomes to them. Without insurance, the world economy as we know it doesn’t exist. We are an integral part of society. Frankly, nothing could work very well without insurance.
I actually believe that the role of claims in insurance is pretty sexy! This is true on a few different levels. On one level, claims allows us to give back and to make a difference. That’s not true in most jobs. For example, my title is chief CARE officer, which stands for chief claims and risk engineering officer. We adopted that moniker to remind those in the profession what our key role is: to care for people when something goes wrong. It’s our job to alleviate and minimize the discomfort, inconvenience, and, sometimes, tragedy of the occurrence. Claims management is one of the greatest service careers out there. After the role of the first responders, the role of claims comes next. It’s the key to the recovery.
On another level, claims is sexy because it is wonderful for anyone who wants to use their analytical and communication skills. This career offers the opportunity to be curious and to learn about a wide range of different disciplines and topics. There is absolutely nothing boring about each day. Every claim is different in some small or large way.
What advice would you give someone new to management?
Remember where you started. Everyone loves to read leadership books, but I’m the opposite of that. You aren’t going to learn leadership from a book. Leadership comes from your heart and your head. The core assets of my leadership are about listening, listening, and listening some more. It’s about using common sense and demonstrating respect for other people. Those are things that I learned from my mother and father. To me, the leader who can connect with the people they are responsible for is the most effective leader. You must also have humility. The person at the top is no more important than the person on the front lines. Leadership is not about power.
Are you married?
I met my wife while working at Fireman’s Fund. Our CEO was always talking about employee engagement. After my wife and I got engaged, I joked to him that we took employee engagement pretty seriously.