In the C-Suite with Vince Kellaher
Carolina Casualty Insurance Company’s Vice President and Chief Claims Officer explains his approach to influence and management.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I’m a product of New York City—specifically the Bronx, then later in my teenage and college years, Brooklyn. My dad worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in the railroad yards. At the end of his career, he was the assistant station manager at Grand Central Terminal. My mother was a secretary for a lawyer who also ran an insurance agency. Ultimately, that’s how I was first exposed to the business.
What was your first claims job?
I was walking down a street soon after college in New York City, and stopped in the personnel department at Aetna Casualty to inquire about a job. As it turned out, they had openings in underwriting and claims. When I asked what the difference was, the woman told me underwriters sat inside and evaluated risks, while claims personnel got a car and were out on the road investigating claims. I thought the idea of being out of the office sounded great. Plus, I wanted the car!
What was it like when you transitioned into management?
I looked for mentors who could give me good advice, not to mention honest, constructive feedback. But when I look back at things I did when I was first a manager, I would do many things differently.
In the beginning, I expected everyone to do things the way I did. I quickly realized that much of the world is on a different clock than I am. Once you realize that people can accomplish things differently, you can coach and mentor them to be their best in their way, helping them to excel. I also learned how to communicate in various ways rather than expecting everyone to respond to my communication style. I think those are important lessons for all new managers.
Would you counsel young claims professionals to specialize or to be more general in their focus?
Frankly, the industry doesn’t really allow for generalists any more, but I do think young claims professionals need to learn as much as they can about the business they are in and the career they are pursuing. They should be open to taking calculated risks with the opportunities they are afforded. In any role, you have to be willing to learn and challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to be outside of your comfort zone.
You’ve run large claims organizations with hundreds of staff. What’s the key to leading large groups?
You have to communicate very effectively, be honest with people, and realize that you aren’t going to get everything done your way every time. You need to be flexible in your positions. The hardest roles I’ve ever had were those in which the people didn’t report to me directly, but whom I had to influence informally. That’s a lot harder than asking your own employees to do something—but it can be just as rewarding, too. That’s when influence management comes into play. In those situations, I try to be fair, direct, and respectful, always leading by example. I try to think of how I would feel if I were in the other person’s position, then act accordingly.
I also live by the rule of bad news on Mondays, good news on Fridays. I’d rather the person hear bad news early in the week when they have five workdays to get clarification and think about the situation instead of giving it to them on a Friday, where they then go home and spend the weekend stewing about it.
What are your thoughts about attracting new talent?
We need to do a better job attracting young people to the industry, then putting them on a track to learn and grow. We have an opportunity as an industry to use technology and innovation to attract new talent. Future business leaders expect quick and efficient access to technology, and as an industry, we’re not quite there yet.
Once we have attracted the right individuals, we need to nurture their talents and career paths and help them to continue developing their skills and abilities. We need to expose them to the entire claims process from investigations to resolution so that they understand the business process and functions. In addition, we need to help them learn the insurance business as a whole.
Current position: Vice President and Chief Claims Officer, Carolina Casualty Insurance Company
Years in Current Role: Four
Years in insurance industry: 30+
Originally From: New York City
First Claims Job: Claims Trainee at Aetna Casualty