Setting the industry ablaze

Setting the industry ablaze | Insurance Business America

Setting the industry ablaze

Part of a CEO’s job is to put out fires. Luckily for Sedgwick, David North has some experience in that department. Growing up in a suburb of Detroit, North was surrounded by a family of firefighters, including his dad, uncle and grandfather. His mom was also in the business, working as a dispatcher even before 911 became the official national emergency phone number. Naturally, North thought this would be his path, too, so he pursued a career in firefighting.

“When I graduated high school, the best place to get training as a firefighter at the time was in the United States Air Force,” he says, “so I enlisted in the Air Force, went to fire protection training school and spent four awesome years as a firefighter.”

Somewhere along the way, North decided that there might be a better way to help extinguish flames than running into buildings when they were on fire. He got a degree in fire protection engineering, which ultimately led him to the insurance industry, where companies were looking for fire protection expertise.

After working for an insurance company in Chicago as a fire protection specialist, North was offered a role with Gallagher Bassett, launching his career in the claims business. It’s become clear to him over time that claims professionals bring a ton of value to the table.

“[Without] insurance, almost nothing happens – you don’t get to buy a car; you don’t get to drive that car; businesses don’t open their doors; products don’t get manufactured,” North says. “The entire insurance industry is based on a series of promises to be there when something goes wrong, and what’s amazing to me … is that the claims industry is where those promises are kept.” 

Inspired by icons

As only the second CEO in Sedgwick’s 50-year history, North took up the reins from Sedgwick’s founder in 1995. While he never aspired to the top job, now that he’s at the helm of the company, North says he’s found it to be a “truly amazing job” that keeps him busy with something new every day.

“The thing I will spend the most time on today will probably be something that yesterday I didn’t even know was coming,” he says. “It’s not on my calendar; it wasn’t a planned event – it’s something that’s occurred with a customer, a colleague or in the business, and the last person that’ll get that issue is me. I’ll have some number of minutes to evaluate it and understand it the best I can, and then I will have to make a decision. I just love that aspect of the CEO job, especially when you get a chance to represent such amazing people as there are at Sedgwick.”

To ensure that team members have ample opportunity to succeed at the organization, Sedgwick is committed to diversity and inclusion initiatives. Women comprise almost 70% of the company’s staff, and there is diversity across the board, whether it’s in gender, race or generational differences. 

North personally became even more attuned to the importance of D&I when he saw Gloria Steinem speak in 2011. “Her message was about how you see the world through your own lived experiences,” he recalls. “That moment changed my point of view about diversity and, more importantly, inclusion. At Sedgwick, we’re proud of not only how we are advancing those issues within the company, but also how we are helping lead the conversation in our industry about how incredibly important inclusion is. We make it a priority to hire colleagues of all genders, races and ages.”

No matter if someone is classified as a millennial or a baby boomer, Sedgwick’s role as a company is to see each of its employees as unique individuals, North adds. 

“If we find a way as a corporation to tap into each individual’s strength, the company gets incredibly strong,” he says. “You get a significant competitive advantage when you recruit, embrace, and then work with and hear from individuals from all walks of life. I have never had the opportunity to meet Gloria Steinem, but I would credit her with changing my perspective on that and helping it become one of the great strategic advantages of Sedgwick.”

Keeping customers close
From its origins as a California-based workers’ compensation third-party administrator for self-insured employers to now, as a global company spread across 65 countries, Sedgwick has proven its value to customers, some of whom have been loyal to the company for decades. Sedgwick developed an integrated disability management program for a Fortune 10 customer 26 years ago, and that client is still working with the company. Twenty-three years ago, a major employer outsourced its claims handling processes to Sedgwick – and it’s still a Sedgwick customer today.

“Those are the kinds of moments that, when you get that opportunity with customers who have a chance to choose amongst many competitors, and they put their faith in the value proposition that your company articulates, that’s a proud moment,” North says. “It’s not just a sale – it’s an opportunity and a trust that employer has given you about something very significant to them, and we get a chance to deliver that.”