In the C-Suite with Nina Lynn Caroselli
The RiverStone Group’s Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Claims, Reinsurance, and Operations offers insights on setting expectations, what she looks for in a new hire, and the power of downward-facing dog.
By Taylor Smith
Where did you grow up?
I was born in New Jersey, but my family moved to Kings Park on Long Island when I was four years old. I lived there until I graduated from high school, and my dad was an English teacher. During high school, I spent a year in Brazil as an exchange student. I went to Baylor University for two years, then I transferred to SUNY Stony Brook to finish college.
Did your dad keep a close eye on your writing skills?
He did. He always was checking my papers for proper grammar and spelling. I was fortunate because I paid attention in school and to my father. My younger sister was not as fortunate. When she started writing letters from college, my father would send them back to her with edits. So she stopped writing and started calling instead.
What did you study in college?
Psychology, with a minor in business administration. When I started at Baylor, I was originally a pre-med student. As part of that, there was a behavioral psychology course that I took, which I really enjoyed.
What did you do after college?
Like most I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I thought I’d continue on for a graduate degree. I took the GMATs, which included a sample LSAT test. The LSAT sample contained a lot of puzzle-like questions. I really enjoyed the analytical part of those questions, and since I had taken a business law course as part of my minor, I decided to go to law school and matriculated to St. John’s.
What areas of the law interested you the most?
I definitely enjoyed areas relating to litigation, and also contracts. After graduation, I looked for a job that could give me a broad base of experience, so I chose a law firm in New Jersey that had a large insurance defense and coverage practice. I started working in the insurance coverage practice. During my interview I said, “I know nothing about insurance other than I have a car, I have insurance, I pay a premium, and I know how to file a claim. That’s it.” The partner pointed out that an insurance policy is just a contract and assured me that I would learn the ropes quickly, which I did. I stayed with that firm for 10 years, focusing on insurance coverage disputes as well as product liability matters. It was a great learning experience.
How did you transition from private practice?
I started with Envision Claims Management, which was part of the Talegen group of companies at the time. I left private practice because there were not as many trials as I would have liked. I started with Envision as a senior attorney working with the general counsel. I provided advice to the claims staff, primarily about coverage issues, but also about trial strategies.
What was your first management role?
I moved into my first management role when I was promoted to vice president of asbestos, pollution, and health hazard claims at RiverStone. It was a team of about 70 people. That was a huge shift for me. I went from being an individual contributor to overseeing a very large department. This probably was not a traditional move into management, and it was quite a learning experience.
Looking back, what advice would you give new managers?
I would say that having some management training is very helpful. In my view, maybe the most important thing to understand is that not everyone is just like you. At first, I assumed everyone knew what to do and would do it the same way as me. I quickly realized that wasn’t realistic, or even helpful for the team or me.
Good managers have to set out expectations for their team. Good managers also should get to know the people on their teams so they can understand their thought processes and cultivate trust. I was lucky to have some great coaches over time who helped me to develop strategies for working with people and bringing them together.
When I first moved into management, it seemed overwhelming. At times I wanted to be in control of everything. Before I was managing staff, I was in control of every aspect of my job and I knew what was happening and when. Jumping into management, I quickly realized that this type of control is just not possible, realistic, or necessary. I started letting go and trusting the people who were working with me. I checked in, but didn’t have to control or know every single thing that came in the door. That was an important lesson for me, and advice I would share with others.
When you think about the people you rely on, are there attributes you find they have in common?
There are many, really, and it is the combination of different attributes that really define success, rather than the existence of just one or two characteristics. However, ownership and accountability are very important to me. I want people to own their jobs and their responsibilities. I also look for creative thinking. Strong analytical and communication skills are important. And I also want them to be proactive rather than reactive.
What do you look for when hiring new staff?
I think that, over time, what we look for in terms of talent has changed a bit. In our business, we want to be scalable in terms of being able to take on acquisitions, so we look for people who have a broader spectrum of experience or at least the ability to translate their experience to other areas or other lines of business.
I think on the whole, it seems a bit more challenging to find new talent now, which is partly due to our geographic location in New Hampshire. What has actually helped is that we are open to new hires with broader experience rather than deeper technical experience in one area. We also have been hiring attorneys, which has proven to be a good source of talent for us. They know the business of litigation and the nuances of it, which is very helpful in the claims world.
Do you see any differences in communication styles among different generations of professionals?
Maybe only in the sense that younger staff can rely so much on technology and using e-mail and their personal devices for texting instead of talking. In my view, face-to-face communication is still the best and often the most effective communication form. Actually talking to a claimant or the insured is truly valuable. So we try to encourage that with all of our staff. Picking up the phone is often the best and most efficient way to communicate.
Are there other pressures on the industry that you see now?
Certainly there is a huge pressure, maybe a desire, for data analytics and predictive analytics. People think that we can predict the future if we just collect enough data. I think as leaders and executives in the industry, we have to be careful about how much data we are collecting. There has to be a clear purpose for capturing certain data elements, and we have to make sure that the value of the data is greater than the effort to obtain it. The pursuit of data can be all-consuming. Being able to put data correlations into the context of the claims world is very important. I think this balancing act is an important part of leading a claims organization today.
Do you think it’s harder to be a claims professional today than it was years ago?
I think it’s mixed. Technology has made it possible for us to be available 24/7, and that’s just not healthy. In the same respect, technology has made some parts of claims handling easier—we can send and receive information electronically and attach it to the claims file. Everything is readily available on our desktops. Technology has allowed us to do more with less, but it has to be managed closely.
How can the industry attract new talent?
We are definitely finding that there is an opportunity to expose college students to the insurance industry. We offer a couple of intern programs. There is a growing interest in insurance, and they are realizing it’s more exciting than they may have imagined. Also, we have developed some claims handlers through our own internal professional development program. We are looking at bringing in some recent college grads and training them in our approach to claims. We are happy to be able to bring new professionals into the industry, even at the risk of investing heavily in those professionals and having them leave at some point.
Are you married? Any hobbies?
I’ve been married for 14 years and have two stepsons. My husband and I enjoy fishing a great deal. We actually used to own a fly fishing shop. We like to boat and spend time on the water in New Jersey and the west coast of Florida. My husband ties the flies, but I bait my own hook. I also love to cook; it’s very relaxing for me. I also enjoy working with children. I’m currently training to become a reading tutor for children in grades one to five. Since my dad was a teacher, I always have had an appreciation for the importance of a good education.
Is there anything about you that many people might not know?
Probably few people know that I’ve been practicing yoga for about two years and I love it. I love the mindfulness, self-awareness, lack of judgment, being in the moment, and breathing. We actually offer yoga here in the office twice a week now. I’ve found that it helps me in my work a great deal, not only in terms of being less stressed, but also in terms of being more present when I’m working with others, and in being a better listener. I would highly recommend it to others.