In the C-Suite with Ajay Sinha
Gallagher Bassett’s Executive Vice President, Operations, sheds light on some of the industry’s top challenges.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
My parents emigrated from India to Long Island, New York, just before I was born. So I was the first in my family to be born in the U.S. My father worked in shipping. In some ways, his work was related to claims; he conducted safety inspections of international commercial liners. We moved around a lot, so I have lived in New York, London, and Houston. I spent my first two years of high school traveling around India and Europe, so I did those years of school on my own. Eventually, we moved back to the Northeast. I’ve always considered New York home.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and planned to get into emerging markets. I’ve always been attracted to dynamic industries. After college, I went to India to do medical relief work. To some degree, that is a big part of my life and a big part of my summers growing up—being involved in social purpose work. What gets me going here at Gallagher Bassett is that we emphasize the social purpose of what we do for the people we help. That’s what makes this job fun and exciting.
How did you get interested in charitable work?
It has really always been a part of my life. When I was growing up, my family was involved with an organization that helped people in India. After college, I took a year to dedicate myself to work with them full time. We were working with people in abject poverty, and the work was very meaningful to me.
You worked at Bridge Strategy Group for several years. What was your focus there?
Predominantly financial services. I spent a fair amount of time in the health care space as well, but I did most of my work in the P&C insurance space. During my time there, I served all aspects of the industry—brokers, managing general agents, insurers, and claims departments. The work afforded me a fairly well-rounded perspective on the industry.
Two things drive me: I have to be passionately engaged, and I need variety. In insurance, there isn’t a lack of either. I feel fortunate to work in an industry that has social impact at its core and, specifically, at Gallagher Bassett where we work very hard emphasize that aspect of the work.
How did you come to Gallagher Bassett?
I was first hired in 2010 as a consultant, helping to integrate GAB Robins after our acquisition of that company. The fascinating thing about doing merger integration work is that you have to learn and get exposed to every aspect of the business. That was a great introduction to Gallagher Bassett. Through that process, it quickly became obvious that the biggest part of the job was integrating the claims roles. When that consulting engagement ended, I was asked if I’d stay on and help run the claims organization. I’m very happy that happened.
You come to the claims world with a unique background in consulting. What about claims is different from other business segments you’ve worked with?
One of the things you appreciate when doing consulting work is that there are fundamental business principles at work everywhere, but what always made a difference to me was the objective of the business. One thing that is unique and appealing about claims is the direct connection to the human experience.
Claims management connects so directly to the social fabric of life. When I try to describe to my children what I do, I can show them a truck on the highway and say, “If that truck gets in an accident, we help the people who are hurt, we help get the truck repaired, and we get the people back on their feet.” Claims is where the promise of insurance is fulfilled, and we get to do that every day. I think this is wonderfully different from many businesses.
What challenges do you see the industry facing in the future?
There are a lot of challenges, and there always will be. That’s part of what makes management in this industry so exciting. Self-driving cars, the obesity epidemic, opioid dependency, and so many other issues are affecting our industry. We all desperately want to be able to predict the future, but we know that is not possible. I believe there is a sweet spot between predicting and working to address challenges of the future and executing flawlessly against the expectations of today. That is where we strive to be. Staying nimble is absolutely critical in today’s claims environment.
Regardless of what broader shifts we see in the industry, the question of talent in the industry is massive. One of the great tragedies of our industry is that it is incredibly dynamic, but it’s a secret that only those of us in the industry know. Outside of the industry, we have a reputation of being staid and boring. Promoting that message about the impact we have is helping us attract more talent to the industry.
At Gallagher Bassett, we’ve taken very specific steps to deal with talent challenges and transitional issues in a way that directly benefits our customers. For example, we created a transition services team, which is a pool of experienced resolution managers who are in reserve. They are full-time employees with deep expertise who help when we have sudden staffing needs for situations like addressing growth that comes with earning new business, or helping out when people retire. This team helps us ensure continuity during transition times.
As people are approaching or beginning retirement, we find many want to stay connected to the business. The transition services team is the perfect place for them. It gives them a way to contribute that doesn’t require a full-time commitment, and it helps us slow that slope to the retirement cliff. Using this talent pool means that we know we can have someone who is very experienced in place doing the work until we have a permanent solution to a specific transition issue.
Another strategy we have adopted is investing heavily in our trainee program. In the past few years, we’ve hired more than 200 people with no claims experience. We are training them to be the next generation. We also have created a new role named lead resolution managers, who spend time mentoring and transferring expertise down to the less-experienced staff. All of these actions are important to us in addressing industry aging workforce issues.
Tell me about your family.
My wife and I met in high school. We’ve been married for 14 years. We have a seven-year-old son, a 10-year-old son, and a 12-year-old daughter. It’s important for us that our children be exposed to a good amount of diversity, so we live in the city of Chicago. We work hard to make sure our children understand that their view of life is not the only view. Living in the city offers them, and us, many learning opportunities, and we like that.
What do you do for fun?
Spending time with my family is what I love most. I travel a fair amount, so when I’m home I love to spend time with my children as they enjoy their various pursuits. One activity where my passion and their pursuits overlaps is tennis. I play tennis to stay active, and playing with them is even better.