In the C-Suite with Barry Vogt
EMPLOYERS’ Senior Vice President and Chief Claims Officer explains why he moved from sales to claims, what technologies fascinate him today, and the value of perseverance.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Grand Island, Neb. I have three brothers: two older and one younger. My dad worked for a pharmaceutical company, selling livestock pharmaceuticals. He sold at both the retail level and directly to ranchers and farmers.
When you were growing up, what did you want to be?
I had always thought about doing something entrepreneurial and owning a business at some point. I got a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Nebraska thinking I’d head in that direction. One of the companies that I interviewed with at the end of college was an insurance company; I liked the opportunity so I joined them.
Unlike a lot of my colleagues, however, I didn’t start in claims. I started in sales as an insurance agent in Lincoln, Neb., selling property and casualty insurance for American Family. It was from that perspective that I was first exposed to claims. It wasn’t too long before I realized that claims looked more interesting to me as a profession than being an agent, so I made the switch.
What kind of training did you go through to be an agent?
Initially, it centered on the coverages as well as the company’s best practices for sales and sales leadership. There was a formal mentorship program. There also was some instruction in claims, including classroom training. That was followed by riding around with an adjuster for about a week. That was very interesting to me.
How did the company respond when you wanted to move to claims?
I was a bit of a maverick in wanting to transition from sales to claims. Typically, they saw people wanting to transition the other way. They discouraged it, but ultimately saw it was what I wanted to do. At that time, American Family didn’t hire and train new claims personnel, so I had to leave American Family to pursue a claims career.
Where did you go from there?
I had some advice from my boss at the time about considering employment with a TPA. I didn’t even know what that was at the time, but he explained it to me. That expanded my search beyond a carrier, and I took a job with Crawford & Co. in Sacramento. I started out as a multiline adjuster handling all lines. I did my own local field work.
Did you go through a training program?
I went to Atlanta for four weeks of auto and general liability training and two weeks of workers’ compensation claims training. At the end of those six weeks, I was back in Sacramento handling claims.
Sounds like a comprehensive training program. Are those harder to find these days?
They are. It used to be the norm, but companies are all approaching training differently these days. Most companies are putting together their training processes through a combination of classroom training and mentorship. I have to say that the training I received at Crawford was very good.
How long did you stay with Crawford?
I did something that I think is rare today. I announced to Crawford that I’d make myself available for transfer at any time, and they took advantage of that. I thought it was a good career advancement tool. My boss and mentor at the time told me it would help me move up quicker and expose me to more aspects of the business, and he was absolutely correct.
I moved around a lot. I was a senior- level adjuster in Salem, Ore., for a while. Then I moved to Las Vegas as a supervisor. Then I became a manager in San Francisco, where I worked for a number of years. Then I was back in Sacramento as a manager. Ultimately, I was moved to Crawford’s headquarters in Atlanta, where I was assistant vice president of process improvement. Then I was a regional vice president in Denver. All of those were great opportunities over the 18 years I was with Crawford.
Where did you go next?
I went to Sedgwick, where I worked for 10 years. I ran a large telecom nationwide claims program, then moved into handling an industry vertical for the oversight of clients who were carriers that were outsourcing their claims to Sedgwick. My big client at the time was QBE. Several months ago, I got the call for this opportunity at EMPLOYERS and moved to Reno, Nev. It was my eighth corporate relocation.
What advice would you give to young professionals about a career in management?
When I got my first management role, I was very concerned about being a leader of an office and having everyone in the office reporting to me. Many of them were older than me, some even twice my age. I was worried about getting them to take my direction. It worked out well, but I learned to be prepared—whether it’s a minor interaction or a formal meeting. That helps you come across as more confident. If people sense your confidence, that helps your leadership. And, frankly, being prepared is a pretty good business practice in its own right.
How do you describe your leadership style today?
Collaborative. I’ve found that being a good communicator and working with those around me (both in my department or other departments) helps to build alignment around issues. Everyone has their own style of course, but for me collaboration drives the greatest successes.
What kind of special attributes does claims handling in a TPA environment require, compared to working for a carrier?
In the TPA world, every client has a different set of best practices, different protocols, and different levels of authority. It’s hard to keep track of all of that. In the TPA world, you’re dealing with a more diverse set of clients and claims. That challenge doesn’t exist as much in the carrier world. There, you’re dealing with one set of handling guidelines.
You started as a multiline adjuster. Was that a good route to take or is it better to be specialized?
There’s more specialization today, without a doubt. There are fewer and fewer multiline adjusters today. Even within lines, there’s more specialization. I think it’s unfortunate in one sense because there is a benefit to having broader exposure. I’d advise adjusters to broaden their horizons by pursuing professional designations. You get a wider education on claims and the industry. Many companies help fund those educational pursuits, and I think those benefits are underutilized.
When did you decide to pursue the CPCU designation?
When I first took a management role at Crawford, I started pursuing the designation. Then I started traveling a lot, so completing the courses became more difficult. After I moved to Sedgwick, I decided I wanted to complete the designation even though I continued to travel. I just tackled it a course at a time until I finally knocked it out. It took me 15 years from start to finish. That’s perseverance.
What role does claims play in the broader sense of an organization?
All the roles come together; nothing works in a vacuum. All the disciplines know what the other ones are doing. I can’t go off and do something in claims without making sure other company leaders are informed and in alignment. I enjoy that collaboration.
Do you find it challenging to find talented professionals today?
Finding experienced technical staff hasn’t changed much, but because of the lack of training resources, we’ll have industry challenges as that population ages and retires. I’m not that concerned about it, though. Every time the industry has been faced with something like this, we’ve been able to find solutions. We’ll find a way to make it work. The one thing we haven’t figured out yet is field experience. There’s not much done in the field any more. I think there is much to be learned by field experience. As an industry, we don’t send adjusters out to take statements face to face very often. We do more things by phone and email. I think it’s valuable, though, and I encourage adjusters to attend hearings and settlement conferences when logistics allow for that.
Would you encourage a college senior to pursue a career in claims?
I would encourage young people to examine the insurance industry as a whole. There are so many opportunities. If there is one thing we haven’t done well as an industry, I think it’s getting that message out there. It’s not just sales, underwriting, and claims—there’s technology, project management, process improvement, and many others. There are so many opportunities to have a varied career that suits so many interests—and it all exists within the insurance field.
What fascinates you about the industry and the future?
One of the things that is exciting to me is seeing how we’ve evolved over the past 30 years and to think about how things will change in the next 10 years. iPads and iPhones are relatively new technologies, but already they are integral to many work processes. Think about how little time that has taken. Also, I’m fascinated by the use of drones to help adjust claims. Everything we’re doing is about speeding up the customer experience, and since you can send a drone out faster than you can a send out a team of adjusters to view a disaster site, it will be interesting to see the role that drones play in the future.
Are you married?
I’ve been married for 30 years. I met my wife in high school and we have essentially grown up together. We have two sons, both adults. The oldest is 27 and living in Steamboat Springs, Colo., working for the ski company there. The youngest is 24 and lives in Idaho and recently completed college.
Any hobbies or interests?
My wife and I like the mountains and spend a lot of time hiking and fly fishing. Fly fishing is like golf—it takes practice and lots of it. It’s also helpful to take lessons. We love to explore and fish; it’s my way of unwinding. We fish in the mountains here around Reno, but also we’ll go to Colorado and Montana. I need more practice in tying flies. Maybe I’ll take that up some day when I’m retired. I like to think that I currently outsource the fly-tying business!