Perspective | Here’s One Insurance CEO’s Secret Formula to Success

By: | August 6, 2020

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected].

For most office people, the working day is largely unstructured. You spend your time reacting to whatever is on fire at any given moment and fill in the gaps with projects that require attention.

You try not to show your annoyance when the phone rings or colleagues burst in just as you’ve reached E=mc something.

The self-effacing CEO of a global insurance and reinsurance company, who would be embarrassed if I told you his name — we’ll call him Edward — taught me a better way.

Edward was acclaimed for his efficiency, clearing twice as many plates in the average day as the rest of us, yet finding time for creative thinking.

Given his weighty responsibilities, he was just about the most relaxed cat, in an ever-vigilant way, that I ever met.

Edward wasn’t much for reacting. He took control of his day from the moment he arrived and did not let up until the moment he mounted his moped (this was in Bermuda) for the ride home, during which he did his creative thinking.

Edward broke his day into sections; each was spent on one sole aspect of his job.

He did not take incoming phone calls, except for an hour after lunch. All other calls went straight to his secretary, who made a list of callers.

At 1 p.m. every day, Edward took his messages and went out to buy a sandwich. At 2 p.m., having marshalled his thoughts on each message over lunch, he would methodically call all those who had called him earlier. He kept his calls short.

From 3 p.m., he dealt with email for an hour. He kept his emails short, too.

The only exceptions to this routine were emergency calls. He took those, trusting his secretary to send him only the very gravest of immediate problems. She sent through no more than a handful of such calls in many years.

“It’s business,” he would say with a shrug, “not life and death.”

It takes great confidence to make the world conform to you, rather than vice versa.

The people Edward dealt with, a high-powered bunch, came to understand his methods and acted accordingly.

So much of what passes for important at work is not. Recognizing that, and learning how to tell the relevant from the less so, helped make Edward a giant among his fellow men and women.

The wisdom applies to all of us, even if we have a boss who initially won’t stand for you not answering your phone.

Edward started not taking calls on the first day he was a manager. His bosses learned that such were his ways, and his continuing success left them no grounds on which to complain.

Latterly, it must have helped that he was the CEO and therefore, nominally, didn’t have a hands-on boss.

But even Edward’s chairman and fellow board members acquiesced to his strictures. It made him a better manager, he explained, and earned him respect.

A circular process, then: he took charge of his working life and was seen to be better for it by all concerned.

Try it. I did. It worked. &

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