A few days ago, I shared a YouTube video of “JB” from The Insurance Nerdery, along with a brief message to “tell your story,” which also happened to be JB’s main message in his video. February being #InsuranceCareersMonth, those of us who have built successful careers in this industry need to share our stories more often and more vividly with young people who are trying to find their career path. So here’s my story.
Like most young people, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I began my college journey as a communications major, having great fun with my own show on the college radio station. I envisioned a lifetime of playing rock-and-roll tunes on radio stations around the country. By my senior year at Michigan State University, I had recognized the inherent career insecurity of being a “disc jockey” and had changed my major to “socioeconomics” – a blend of business, economics, and political science. I began haphazardly interviewing for various business jobs at the MSU career placement office with no idea where I would end up.
One of those interviews was for a commercial underwriting trainee position with CIGNA, who was at that time a property and casualty insurance company. Before the interview, I had to investigate what an “underwriter” actually did, and when I arrived for the interview I still wasn’t completely sure what the position was all about. In spite of my insurance ignorance, my potential must have resonated with the interviewer as I won a second interview at the firm’s Grand Rapids office, and later an employment offer. I accepted the offer, and another unintentional insurance career was launched.
The analytical aspect of the underwriting job was very attractive to me, and I dove into my training enthusiastically. I developed a few of my own analytical tools as I learned to underwrite commercial property, liability, and workers compensation insurance. The 1980’s also happened to be the dawn of the personal computer era, and I had developed some basic programming skills which I put to use in my early underwriting career. That caught the attention of CIGNA managers who had me apply those personal computer skills to a few projects for the regional Director of Marketing and Underwriting Programs. Before I knew it, I had earned a promotion less than two years into my career and earned a very nice bonus payout from the home office in Philadelphia. I realized that this insurance career was not only interesting, challenging, and fun – but also lucrative.
In early 1990, I noticed that Meijer had posted a professional risk management job opening in their corporate office. Curious about the risk management function in a major corporation, I applied and accepted the position. I was fascinated by the broad scope of risk management which encompassed a multitude of risk control activities throughout the company and also the intricate risk financing and self-administration of liability and work comp claims at Meijer. I worked on several exciting projects, including several that further honed my technology skills, as I met some wonderful professionals in my time at Meijer.
By the mid 1990’s I was ready for a new adventure, and my inner entrepreneur was beginning to emerge. I decided it was time to try self-employment by selling my technology skills and risk management and insurance (RMI) expertise as a free agent. Management Technology Services, Inc. was launched and I found no shortage of work opportunities managing risk management information and claim system implementation projects at several Fortune 500 clients. I was able to travel all over the U.S. and engage in a variety of projects and interesting work at insurance companies and Fortune 500 risk management shops.
I also picked up a few custom software development contracts along the way. I developed an audit management system for a large manufacturer, and a vendor compliance management system for a retailer. The latter project evolved into a business process outsourcing platform that I used as the backbone of my next firm, Periculum Services Group. With Periculum, I was able to establish client relationships with many prominent risk management professionals in some of the largest companies and government entities around the USA, as well as a strategic partnership with a risk management firm based in Sydney, Australia, who proceeded to use Periculum technology in the Aussie marketplace.
I eventually sold Periculum and accepted an executive position with the acquirer, while I simultaneously turned my attention to a bucket list goal: earning my Doctorate in Business Administration. Shortly after completing my doctoral studies, Ferris State University revived its Risk Management and Insurance academic program and needed faculty to coordinate and teach the program. Great timing. Here I am, nearly six years later, thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to encourage young, talented students to create their own RMI career path.
As I look back over my 32 year career, I can see just how fortunate I was to stumble across fantastic opportunities and meet some amazing people and valuable mentors along the way. Like many, I truly did “fall into insurance accidentally” simply because CIGNA saw raw potential in an awkward but highly analytical 22-year old kid.
I’ve been able to do interesting, challenging, and meaningful work, that has directly and indirectly improved people’s lives. At the very heart of risk management is the notion of protecting people and property from adverse outcomes. That’s very noble work in which I take great pride. I’ve been able to travel to 46 states, and enjoyed overseas travel to some exotic locales such as Udaipur, India and Sydney, Australia. Although I spent several years of my career self-employed, I never had a shortage of billable client work. I can testify truthfully that I have never had a day in 32 years when I was “unemployed.” And at the risk of sounding immodest, this career path has blessed me with ample compensation over the years. I continue to work today because I want to, not because I have to.
Such is the nature of the RMI career opportunity: Neverending and varied opportunities, wonderful people, rewarding compensation, and noble work. Imagine if I had pursued this career path with greater intention and preparation. What more might I have achieved? I am excited for the young students that actively seek this career path today. The possibilities ahead of them are vast.
That’s my story.
-Dr. David Allen Brown