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CEO Insights Featuring David Kaufman
President & CEO, Motorists Insurance Group

Great leaders are always learning and want to pay those lessons forward. The latest Columbus Chamber CEO Insights event had a lot of thoughtful lessons to share, with David Kaufman, president and CEO of Motorists Insurance Group.

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Columbus Chamber CEO Insights featuring David Kaufman of Motorists Insurance Group photo by Commons Studio © 2017

My first impression of David is that he is a humble, approachable leader, someone you could easily grab a cup of coffee with.  A native of Bellefontaine, David said he didn’t envision himself as even going to college, let alone leading a major corporation.  However, he sees Motorists as this great combination of being large enough to provide opportunities and growth along an entire career path, and small enough that it still feels like a family.

During the hour-long discussion, David explained that Motorists is on a transformational journey as an organization. The team is reimagining the company as an “85-year old startup,” as they bring a 10-year vision to life.

Here are some of the lessons David has learned from his leadership journey.

Be open to opportunities. You never know where your connections and decisions may lead; where you think you’re headed, could easily pivot.  David’s insurance career actually started with a practice interview.  Originally an aspiring math teacher and coach, that practice interview became the first stepping stone to a 30-year career, ultimately creating his path to leadership at Motorists.

Commit to something bigger than yourself. Being a college athlete helped shape David’s career. Balancing the workload demands of being in school and sports, and also the commitment to playing for something bigger than himself, were early lessons that have made a difference in his leadership approach.

Vision matters.  When David came into the CEO role, his first goal was to create a vision. After many 3 a.m. writing sessions and imagining the next decade, it became a 30-page document, where he plotted the future of Motorists.

Cultivate culture. The most significant element of that plan?  Culture.  All of that strategic work could only be realized with the right culture.

Integrated teams are critical to vision. David talked about the integrated teaming approach at Motorists, which brings together a few subject matter experts along with other viewpoints from the organization. This style of teamwork has created more learning across the organization, better relationships at all levels, and more innovation.

Flipthings aroundfor morecollaborationand better results. In the past, the business and technology were not always as tightly integrated, and the business often drove what happened with technology. Today, technology leads are integrated with the business leads, and this creates opportunities for technology leaders to come to the business with fresh ideas, versus the business always creating the requirements.

“Know your why behind what you do.”  David knows the why behind what he does: to help people at their greatest time of need. “When bad things, happen we’re there to help,” he said. David sees his role as ultimately focusing on purpose and people, and allowing his leadership team to do what they do best in their roles. What’s your why?

Winning teams have three main ingredients. They keep their words positive, they learn one new thing every day, and they give 100 percent all the time. When people are authorized, capable, and motivated, they will step up. That’s the power of culture.

Sometimes you have to get outside your four walls.  As Motorists has undergone its transformation, David and his team looked to an entirely different place for inspiration. A trip to Google headquarters opened senior leaders up to new possibilities, especially as the insurance space continues to undergo big change. The most eye-opening lesson?  David shared, “You have to embrace ambiguity, that’s where innovation will come from.”

Cultivate your company’s Googliness. It’s a real thing with a real definition, I googled it. Googliness is defined as a “mashup of passion and drive that’s hard to define, but easy to spot.” On that same trip, the Motorists leaders experienced first-hand the culture that makes Google one that attracts and engages so many talented, passionate, and driven people. Every organization needs to build their own unique version of Googliness, that helps their vision come to life.

Payit forwardand create opportunities for others. David attended Ohio Wesleyan University and played basketball, but his college experience would never have happened without some unlikely intervention. Someone David didn’t even know suggested that he might want to look into attending college and suggested a visit to Ohio Wesleyan.  Not only did he suggest the visit, he took him there for the day. Sadly, this mentor passed away before David had the opportunity to truly thank him for changing his life. After thoughtful reflection and advice from friends, he  decided he could thank this mentor by creating opportunities for other young people, and the non-profit Future Possibilities was born. Future Possibilities is led by a number of employees at Motorists, and its mission is to help kids in need reach their ultimate potential by providing goal setting opportunities and mentoring from successful business and community leaders.  What a beautiful ripple effect one simple action has created.

What are some leadership lessons you’d like to share?

For more insights, you can also read my recap of the winter edition of CEO Insights, which featured Columbia Gas of Ohio President Dan Creekmur.

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