10/15/2014

In the C-Suite with Tim Wiedmeyer

The Republic Group’s Vice President and Chief Claims Officer explains how to “sell” the claims industry to college students, what he looks for in a management candidate, and where good ideas come from.

By Taylor Smith

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in southeast Wisconsin in a great little town called Slinger. One great thing about Wisconsin that I miss is that it has four seasons. Down here in Dallas where I live now, there’s summer and everything else—no real distinction between fall, winter, and spring. I really do miss the changing colors of fall.

Tell us about your family.

I’m the oldest of four children. My youngest brother passed away when he was 22. I have another brother and a sister who are close in age to me. My dad was part of a big family, so we have an extended family both in southeast Wisconsin and across the country.

What did your parents do?

My mom was a fulltime mom and did a lot of volunteering. My dad spent almost his entire career in an auto repair business that he eventually bought. I worked there in high school. When I reflect back on my career, I owe a tremendous amount to my dad and his work ethic. He taught me how to deal with people, particularly in stressful situations like when their cars had been damaged. I also learned a lot about cars, which is really useful in a claims career. In addition to that, I also helped my dad remodel two houses that we lived in, which helped me in my career, as well.

Did you play sports in high school?

I don’t have a lot of natural athletic ability, but I managed a lot of sports teams growing up. I liked that aspect of it. Then when I was a senior in high school, I decided I was tired of sitting on the sidelines, so I joined the football team. That sure was character building, but it taught me that you’re never too old to try something new. I played defensive tackle and offensive end. We were a good team, and it was a lot of fun.

What did you study in college?

I can’t really say that I had a formal plan when I started, but I certainly tried to make the best of the opportunity. I went to school on an Army ROTC scholarship. I looked at colleges that had the ROTC program and picked the most expensive one because I wanted to get my money’s worth. That took me to Ripon College, which is further north in Wisconsin. It’s known for three things: being the birthplace of the Republican Party; being very small; and being a very good college. I really enjoyed it.

I started as an engineering major, but quickly realized that it required far more math than I liked, so I switched to business. I ended up with a dual major in business and economics.

How did you secure a career in claims?

I hadn’t given insurance a lot of thought in college, but there were a lot of jobs out there. Most of those insurance positions were sales-based and involved a lot of cold calling. Acuity, meanwhile, had a very active college trainee program and was very highly regarded with the college recruiting staff. Acuity brought in about 50 trainees each year, which is amazing when you think about it. We had 12 weeks of classroom training. I was impressed with the early presentation and the visit to their headquarters.

What position did you take?

I was pretty open-minded about either claims or underwriting. Their vice president of operations said that I was qualified for both, but that he thought claims was a better fit. He thought I had the good interpersonal skills that a claims person needs to have to be successful. I’ve enjoyed every day in the business.

What would you say to encourage young college students today to consider a career in claims?

First, I’d start by saying that the primary job of a claims person is to help people. The vast majority of people with whom we deal have suffered a loss, and our job is to get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible. That is incredibly rewarding.

Second, I’d emphasize that every day in claims is different. We deal with different people every day, and on a broad range of diverse issues.

Lastly, a claims professional is exposed to and has to have knowledge in so many different areas. Depending on the day, we may be working with legal issues, auto repair issues, financial issues, construction challenges, investigations, and so much more. This is not a job that gets boring. In fact, I think it would be hard to find another career that is so diverse and offers the chance to help people.

What advice would you offer to new claims professionals?

Ultimately I think claims professionals should specialize in a specific type of claim, but they should wait as long as possible to do so. I started working in multiple lines, and it exposed me to so many different claims. That experience has been very useful in my career, especially as I moved up in management. I also think that field experience is very helpful. Eventually, specialization is good because you can’t be an expert in everything, but you can be knowledgeable about many things. Find your passion and focus there. Having said that, I really appreciate the flexibility a strong multiline claims professional brings to the job.

What do you look for when moving someone into a management position?

One of the worst things you can do is take a good technical adjuster and put them into management if they don’t have the skills or aren’t given the training to succeed as a manager. Managers have to be patient. They have to thrive on helping others succeed. You want someone energized to make their adjusters better each day. They can’t just be task managers telling adjusters what to do. The focus of good managers is to help those with whom they work be more self-sufficient and successful.

Where does the claims industry need to focus today?

First and foremost, we have to focus on what our customers want and how they want to conduct business with us. That’s going to be different depending on the line of business and the demographic of our customers. For example, we generally realize that people want to pay their premium by electronic funds transfer or credit cards, so perhaps they may want to be paid that way, as well.

In today’s world, staying in touch with customers is critical. Whether it’s a communication about payment, claims status, or something else, staying in touch in a timely way is everything. I like to tell adjusters that our customers aren’t getting more demanding, but rather that I think they are getting more vocal when they are not happy. Good communication addresses 90 percent of that.

Are there challenges in managing staff of different generations?

In my current operation here, I have a very tenured staff. High tenure and longevity can present its own challenges when you present new ideas and newer adjusters into the organization, but that represents an opportunity, as well. Mixing different work styles and generations, especially when there is one dominant group, is something to be managed, alongside everything else. The opportunity of course is to create as much diversity in terms of expertise and backgrounds as possible. That diversity can be extremely valuable to the organization.

Where do good ideas come from?

They come from all over, and often from where you least expect them. That’s why it’s so important to listen to everyone openly. The experienced folks know the challenges and pitfalls that exist and also have tremendous knowledge and expertise. I often tell people that their experience has to be a sail, not an anchor. Less experienced folks can be more likely to generate new ideas or approaches to a problem that are very innovative, but in ways that may or may not be successful. Again, balance is crucial.

How do you attract new talent to claims?

We participated in the CLM intern program this year, which was very successful for us. We also have a college trainee program. We currently have five recent college graduates in the program, which is about 10 percent of our claims staff. We’re fortunate to have a well-developed insurance program nearby at the University of North Texas in Denton. They provide us with good trainee candidates with insurance education. They’ve been great additions to the team, and their enthusiasm is fantastic. I’m a big believer in the use of interns. I have had many interns over the years, and I’m thrilled that many of those have gone on to careers in claims.

Do you enjoy Dallas?

Yes. There’s so much to do here, so I’m not bored at all, although I guess I’d be guilty of working a bit too much. I left behind a large home with a lot of yard maintenance and a lot of civic volunteer work. It’s been an interesting process to start over here in Dallas. I can explore what I like to do versus what I just did because I’ve always done it. I’m enjoying the freedom to focus on this new role and getting to know the area.

What do you do for fun?

I remain very active with my hometown high school basketball program. When my youngest brother Brad passed away at an early age, our family created the Brad Wiedmeyer Memorial Hoops Award, which is given to deserving high school senior players. The award is funded partially by the proceeds of an annual basketball tournament in scholarship form.  The program rewards players who work hard, know their role, and put their teams first. That program is very important to me, and I think those are values to live and work by. I continue to maintain all of the stats for the school’s basketball web site and do whatever I can for the program. I was the game announcer for 15 years, and I miss that part of living in Wisconsin.  



Taylor Smith is a contributing editor to CLM Magazine and president of CLM Advisors, which provides consulting and talent acquisition services to the claims and litigation management industry. He may be reached at taylor.smith@clmadvisors.org, (224) 212-0134, www.clmadvisors.org.

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