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Craig Welsh Chief Distribution Officer Craig Welsh

Executive Viewpoint - 9 of 13

This article is part of a series written by leaders in property/casualty insurance and reinsurance sector describing how the pandemic has changed them personally as leaders and how it is changing their companies.

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I could never have anticipated fully what the next months would bring after Westfield initiated its business continuity plan on March 12, 2020. My company’s response was energetic and focused, so I’ll cheerlead for my home team: I couldn’t be prouder of how Westfield’s people adjusted. We transitioned to nearly 100 percent work from home almost immediately.

Meanwhile, neither storms nor other claims took time off for coronavirus. Claims professionals continued seeing customers and overseeing their claims.

For me, the first few days of the shutdown were a novelty. But what hit me was how mentally exhausting it was to be on WebEx conferences all day long. And personally, the cancellation of the NCAA college basketball tournament was an eye-opener.

I soon realized I needed to sharpen my focus. My team and I didn’t want to hold things up, to be the bottleneck. Whatever the task, we worked to make each interaction meaningful and to solve problems as fast as possible.

Welsh was one of a dozen leaders who responded to a Carrier Management request for views on how the pandemic has changed their worlds—personally and professionally. Responses from other carrier, reinsurance and InsurTech executives will be published in the July/August magazine.
Carrier Management has asked what leaders have learned about themselves and the industry during the crisis. Personally, I learned a lot about the strength of our organization and our agency partners.

What I appreciate is how people banded together in crisis. It sounds cliché, but it’s been rewarding. I’ve learned greater leadership by observing other people and what has and hasn’t worked.

In leading our company’s distribution team, I knew that what our more than 1,000 agency partners needed most was actionable information and insights to help customers through this unprecedented time. That was a major focus for our team: Helping agents help customers.

The coronavirus crisis was a chance to recommit every day to:

  • Ask and understand agencies’ needs.
  • Be attentive to those needs.
  • Check in (using whatever form of communication is available).
  • Make our people a resource for partners.

And I had to change. Call me an extrovert, but I like to travel our 21-state commercial lines blueprint for days at a time. And when I’m not traveling, I’m definitely an “office guy.”

Within days of working at home, I was missing key interactions: Those “casual collisions” at the office, at agent meetings and at industry conventions. For two weeks, then a month, I hadn’t talked to various co-workers and all the agents that I’d usually visit, and I wondered how they were doing.

I had to create new and proactive ways to check in on people—and encourage our team to do the same. That’s always been our job, but now we needed to do it more than ever—virtually.

After taking those steps, I felt our team spirit return.

Over the past months, as my daily routine was completely upended, I’ve watched the view outside a window in my home office. Quietly, it has prompted self-reflection. It has helped me slow down and think about my decisions and priorities. That has made a difference for me, the extrovert who can’t wait to see somebody in person.