When Brad Tennant went for an interview with Allstate back in 1974, he had “no idea what an underwriter was”. He wanted an out from his high-rise concrete construction job in St. Petersburg, Florida, so he took the plunge and met with an old family friend who worked in insurance. The rest is history. Fast-forward 45 years and Tennant is now a celebrated insurance leader and inductee of Insurance Business America’s Hall of Fame 2019, an honor he described as “incredibly humbling and overwhelming.”
Fortune smiled on Tennant’s early years in the industry. His first supervisor at Allstate also happened to be one of Tennant’s favorite radio disk jockeys in the Tampa Bay area, and as self-professed “vinyl junkies,” the two clicked immediately. Tennant reflected: “He was also a total geek when it came to insurance, and that was hugely beneficial for me. I ran into people very early in my career who had a real passion for insurance.”
After five years at Allstate, Tennant ventured over to the retail side of the business, taking a position at Marsh. It was there that he started doing business with American International Group (AIG), where he would later spend 15 years of his career in various leadership positions.
Looking back on his switches from Allstate to Marsh to AIG, Tennant said: “When you’re young and you don’t have too many commitments, it’s a great idea to try different things and move around the industry. Don’t just pigeonhole yourself in one place. I wanted to see what working at a retailer was like, and so I joined Marsh. Interestingly, gaining that experience and understanding the perspective of the retailers was what later got me the job at AIG. I learned, by chance, that moving through different aspects of the industry builds a skillset that’s unique. Most people don’t think about that. I certainly didn’t. My thought process was that I loved what I was doing, and the more I could explore the industry, the better.”
Read next: A hundred years young
It was at AIG where Tennant’s career really took off. He held leadership positions within various divisions of AIG, including National Union, Lexington, and Landmark Companies. During this time, he worked under the leadership of industry icons Brian Duperreault, current president, CEO and director of AIG, and Evan Greenberg, past president and COO of AIG, and present chairman and CEO of Chubb.
In January 1998, Tennant parted ways with AIG with the aim of developing his own premier MGU facility for small to middle market contractors. This led to the birth of Tennant Special Risk in 1999.
“My original goal for Tennant Special Risk was to create the premier underwriting facility in the industry for small and middle market contractors because they’re often treated like dirt by other markets, and that’s because those markets don’t know how to underwrite the risks like we do,” Tennant told Insurance Business. “We’ve been doing this day-in and day-out for over 20 years, and we’ve got accounts that have been on our books for over 15 years. That’s all down to the consistency and stability that we’re able to provide.
“It hasn’t always been easy. We’ve had some scary and challenging times, but as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I absolutely love coming into work every day. I have a staff of 17 people, the youngest being 26 and the oldest 72. I see myself as an enabler for our staff and a leader by example. I believe in empowering our staff members and holding them accountable because that’s the best way for us all to learn. And my team takes on challenges like you wouldn’t believe – they’re phenomenal. Every day I come to work with them is a blessing.”
Tennant’s emphasis on staff training and development is somewhat of a dying trade in the wider insurance industry. He described today’s lack of training as one of the most significant changes to impact the industry during his 45-year tenure. He also said it’s something that industry veterans can, and should, play a part in fixing.
“When I joined the industry back in 1974, all the big carriers sent staff to the home office for training. But at some point, that just stopped and, as a result, I believe there’s been an overall decrease in terms of superior underwriting knowledge,” said Tennant. “Today, we compete against what I would describe as a lot of naïve capacity. Look at the hard market that’s upon us. The last time I saw anything like that was in 1986. How many people in insurance home offices or regional management positions worked through that market? Not many. And because of that, they don’t know how to manage in the current market conditions. At Tennant Special Risk, a number of staff members experienced the hard market in 1986, so we can bring that knowledge and that value to our wholesale brokers, our clients, and, most importantly, to our underwriters. We lead by example and we incorporate our own experiences into our training and education.”
Taking advantage of training opportunities and learning from older, more experienced industry peers are two of Tennant’s core pieces of advice for budding insurance professionals. And he has called on long-tenured professionals to step up and be those role models and mentors. He said: “This is a noble profession. It will never be a process thing, despite all the machines trying to push underwriting towards science. Underwriting is not a science; it’s an art, and it’s down to us to pass that knowledge down on to the younger generation.”