April 2017 – CEO Spotlight
Title: Chief Executive Officer
Company: AmWINS Group, Inc.
Years at Company: 16
Years in Industry: 36
How did you get into the insurance industry? Why did you stay?
I answered an ad in a newspaper for an Internal Auditor, was lucky enough to be accepted for an interview, and off I went. I had never worked in insurance. I didn’t go to college for insurance. I didn’t know anyone in insurance. I needed a job! As far as why I stayed: I was fortunate to have a fabulous job to start my career, and it moved me forward.
The insurance industry is facing a talent gap in the near future as much of the workforce reaches retirement age. What would you say to a college student who is on the fence about entering insurance?
The way I’ve recruited people to the industry is pretty simple. People don’t know how big insurance is. Sales, retail, wholesale, underwriters, actuaries, claims professionals, engineers, analytics, technology, HR, legal – there’s virtually no discipline that isn’t part of the insurance industry. And not only are there big companies, but there are other smaller, entrepreneurial companies, too. There really is something for everyone.
What qualities do you consider essential to success in the industry?
To me, the successful folks are the ones who are inquisitive – those who ask, “Why?” “Why do we do it this way?” “Why can’t we do it that way?” “Have you thought about it that way?” I’m looking for inquisitive people who respect the status quo but also realize that every industry is moving forward and work to find a better way. There’s an old adage that “school teaches you how to act as an individual,” but in business – and insurance in particular – it’s very much a team game. It’s about people and relationships. You are a partner, a teammate: either with customers, insureds or coworkers. It’s a team sport, and everything you do is for the team win.
What are the biggest challenges you face as CEO?
A good CEO means being a good coach. You’re the person who’s able to push the business forward more rapidly than anyone else. The CEO is the one guiding the ship. One of the biggest challenges is having people recognize that it’s just a title, and they don’t need to be intimidated by it. Before I became CEO, I was CFO. All I did was put a line at bottom of the “F” to make it an “E,” and I became the CEO. Suddenly, my jokes were incredibly funny and people started calling me “mister.” And I said “Wait a minute, I’m just me!” People get too intimidated by that line under the letter “F.”
What do you think will be the biggest change in the industry over the next 20 years?
It’s easy to say technology, but technology will always be involved. Frankly, the biggest change will be how people look at information and analytics – recognizing that data sources will change how people view and value risk. It’s a difficult thing to quantify, and the more information you are able to gather, the more comfort you have in the level of risk you are taking. What I don’t think will change is the nature of people in the business. I am a firm believer in the skill of people to negotiate risk transfer better than machines can negotiate risk transfer.
Can you share one quote or saying that motivates you?
“Get home – dinner’s ready!” I’m pretty motivated by that.
Who has been the most influential person in your career?
A gentleman by the name of Steven D. Smith took me under his wing when I was 26 or 27 and basically taught me everything. From a work perspective, he made me the person I am today. He taught me how to work and ask questions.
Did you ever think you would be CEO?
It wasn’t something I really thought about. I was lucky enough to get into a start-up business when I was 29, so I was focused on my enjoyment of building something from the ground up. I didn’t know I would get a second opportunity to do that later in life when I became CEO. I was just happy having a job and making money. Every day, you work on figuring out what to do better, and sometimes, it leads to things that you may not anticipate.
What sources (periodicals/newsletters/blogs, etc.) do you rely on for information?
I tend to read two distinct perspectives: The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. I figure that most people live between those two worlds, so I like to see two opposite points of view on the same subject.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Inquisitive, talkative and lucky.
What is your favorite movie?
“The Right Stuff.” It’s about the beginnings of NASA’s manned space program and finding the individuals who would become the first astronauts.
More about Steve DeCarlo:
Steven DeCarlo is chief executive officer of AmWINS Group, Inc., a global specialty insurance distributor with more than 3,600 employees globally. AmWINS handles over $11.1 billion in premium and is ranked the largest wholesale insurance broker in the U.S. by Business Insurance magazine.
Steve began his career in 1980 with Crum & Forster and later joined The London Agency as its chief financial officer. In 1988, he was a founding partner of Royal Specialty Underwriting (RSUI), serving as executive vice president and chief financial officer. Ten years later, he became senior vice president of what was then RSUI’s parent company, Royal & SunAlliance USA. Steve joined AmWINS in December 2000, leading the business through the merger of several leading specialty wholesalers. In 2009, he received Ernst & Young LLC’s prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year® award in the Carolinas for the financial services category.
Steve is a 1980 East Tennessee State University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He is a member of the ETSU Foundation, and is also affiliated with the Distinguished President’s Trust.
Among his many community activities, Steve is past chairman of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Georgia, an inductee into the Multiple Sclerosis Hall of Fame, and past vice chairman of the PGA of America Tournament. In 2014, as the National Insurance Industry Council’s Spirit of Life® honoree, he spearheaded fundraising of more than $2.7 million for the City of Hope to support research for life-threatening diseases.
He and his wife, Lee Ann, reside in Charlotte, N.C., and are the parents of three children, Jenna, Nick and Reid.