In the C-Suite: Robert Ruryk
We chat with North American Risk Services’ CEO and Chief Claims Officer.
By Taylor Smith
North American Risk Services’ CEO and Chief Claims Officer explains his advice to aspiring claims professionals, what he looks for in a hire, and the challenges of working for a rapidly expanding company.
Where did you grow up?
My dad was in the Navy, so we did a lot of traveling. I spent a lot of time in Florida at places like Pensacola, West Palm Beach, and Sanford. We spent three years in Spain and some time in Maryland and California. In short, I’ve lived in many places. However, I consider Pensacola to be where I grew up as it relates to Florida.
Do you have siblings?
I have no siblings, which made moving around more difficult. It also meant that I had no one to beat me up or whom I could beat up. In the bigger picture, though, it meant that I learned how to meet new people easily, which has served me well in the claims field.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided very specifically that I wanted to work in a “real” job and make “real” money. I had no idea what that meant, but I knew I wanted to work in an office. That was about the extent of my career vision.
Where did you go to college?
I got my bachelor’s degree in management from the University of Central Florida. After a number of years working in the insurance industry, I decided to get my master’s degree in risk management and insurance from Florida State University, followed by an MBA from Rollins College. I have always been intellectually curious about this industry, and that’s what led me to go back and get more education.
How did you find your first job in claims?
I met my wife when I was just finishing high school. We stayed together through college and decided that when I graduated and got a “real” job, we’d get married and start a family. So one day, I was looking through the paper and there was a tiny classified ad that read, “Claims adjuster trainee wanted.” I didn’t even know what a claims adjuster was, but I saw the word “trainee” and figured I was trainable, so I applied. Three interviews later, I got a job as an adjuster at Safeco. Somewhat surprisingly, this turned out to be one of only two jobs that I ever interviewed for in my career.
What kind of training program did Safeco have?
The Safeco training program was very good. It started with book-intensive learning and then progressed to a live claims course curriculum based in Seattle. All of the trainees were put through different claims scenarios all week long, and then every Friday, they would test us to see if we could stay or not. After the three weeks, we went back to our desks. At that point, we were then tutored for a week by someone who watched everything we did all day.
How does that training compare to what you see today?
Obviously, there is far less training available for new claims professionals today. From my perspective, that’s resulted in many mono-line claims adjusters. At Safeco, I learned how to do auto, property, and casualty. I got a good cross-section of claims, and I rotated through those different lines. I went from casualty to auto to fieldwork and back to casualty all within three years. I learned a tremendous amount in a short period of time. That broad background gave me a great perspective on how to handle just about any claim.
What kind of career track should young professionals take?
Personally, I would advise new professionals to seek a broad perspective. I’d look for any opportunity to join a company that handles a variety of claims and then move into different areas of the company to get experience in a range of claims work. Over the course of four or five years, find the area you like the most. Then hone your skills in that area to the highest degree possible.
What attributes are important for a management role?
When I hire, I look for a proven track record of success and very compatible core values. When you meet someone, you know pretty quickly if you share similar values. In our business, it’s extremely important to recognize what’s important to our customers and our clients. I specifically look for the ability to achieve the right balance between workload and the ability to deal with some of the challenging situations we deal with in claims.
How do you describe your own management style?
I tend to expect a lot from my people but probably more out of myself. I like to meet with people personally and talk to them about issues and situations rather than communicate via email. I like picking up the phone and talking with my team. I like to work with people one-on-one because I think you have a better “meeting of the minds” that way, unless there’s an issue that needs a broader perspective. It is imperative that lead executives create the right team of direct reports who can work together and support each other. I’m fortunate to have a great group of people whom I can rely on and who can rely on each other.
Did you have mentors?
I’ve been very fortunate that everyone who has either supervised me or sat at a desk next to me has helped me. When I first started at Safeco, I sat next to someone who would always answer my questions. She’d sometimes read my memos and help me craft them. My manager was tough, but I learned quickly because I didn’t want to get on his bad side. I’ve found that if you ask for it, for the most part, people are willing to help. It’s a collaborative industry where people want to help each other.
What lines of business does NARS handle?
We do property, general, and professional liability; transportation; workers’ compensation. and we are starting to work more in the self-insured market.
Tell me about your move to NARS.
I originally joined NARS so I could move back to Florida, and I started as a team leader. I really enjoyed the company and the people with whom I was working. We then brought in a large book of personal lines business, which I was selected to manage along with 70 other newly hired people. When that wound down, I became CFO of NARS. In that role, I implemented a new claims management system and worked on a number of operational initiatives.
What kinds of challenges have you faced with the rapid growth you’ve experienced?
In the past five years, we’ve doubled in size. We transitioned from a company that managed claims for one company, Clarendon, to a company that manages claims for many different companies. That means we have had a lot to tackle, including a big technology focus, since we decided at the outset that we wanted the best technologies the industry had to offer. Our biggest effort, though, was defining what we wanted to be and how to implement our clients’ varying claims philosophies. Then we had to find the right leadership and adjusters to manage the business. Working at a third-party administrator, you have to be able to adapt to the different philosophies and approaches of each client. It’s more challenging than working for just one company, but it is rewarding and diverse. The reality is that we all share the bottom line: to be successful and handle each claim fairly.
Do you have any employees who work remotely?
We do. I used to be against having people work remotely because I always learned so much from the informal interactions I had with coworkers. I thought that without being in close physical proximity to each other, they would lose that opportunity. Plus, I know I personally would have a hard time working from home because I’d be distracted by house projects and other things. I’ve come to realize that working remotely really does work well for some people. We have people who do it very successfully. They work hard to connect with people in the office and do a phenomenal job. I have to say that this is an issue I’ve come full circle on and it’s been a benefit to both our company and to our customers.
Tell me about your family.
I have a wife and two kids—one in college and one about to start college. We have a chocolate lab named Bruno. He likes to run up to people, bark, and then run away. Non-Florida people may have no idea that we have a lot of bears in Florida. We live near a state park, so we have an exceptional number of bears in our neighborhood. Bruno saw one in our trash once, barked at it, and the bear ran off. We can only hope Bruno doesn’t take on more than he can handle.
How did you meet your wife?
We were both working at a restaurant. This was when I was in high school. I was talking about baseball, and, to my surprise, she knew a lot more about baseball than I did. So that pretty much won me over. We’ve been married for 28 years. I think she’d probably not want me to share this, but one unique aspect of our marriage is that we were married on Halloween in front of the Clerk of the Court. Everyone was dressed in costumes except for us—or maybe everyone assumed we were in costume too. Anyway, we have a lot to celebrate at an odd time each year!
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy playing tennis, and I like to work out. I go to the gym every day.
Windows or Mac?
Both. I was on a plane next to a guy who was retired and working at an Apple store. He spent an hour on the flight teaching me how to use the Mac, and I started to realize that I like it more than the PC. So now I use both platforms. I enjoy technology a great deal.