President and CEO, AXIS
Each of us are the product of our upbringing and the experiences that we pick up throughout our journey.
My father set a powerful example for me. In public and in private, and in all of his dealings, he exemplified civility and taught me and my siblings the importance of doing your level best to support your community and remember how to draw on our collective traits.
He was also an icon in the insurance profession, an industry that I would eventually join myself. As President of AIG during the Company’s golden years, he understood the nature of risk on an international scale and how social tensions, conflict, and war threaten the infrastructure that holds society together.
His words and actions informed my own world view and today as CEO of a global multi-billion dollar insurance company, and a parent to seven children, I’m deeply troubled by the polarization and divisiveness that is rampant throughout the world.
I’m troubled by the uncertainty polarization is causing in the business environment… I’m troubled that polarization is causing our children to inherit an increasingly dangerous world… And I’m troubled by the day-to-day impact of polarization in pushing friends, family members, and work colleagues apart from one another.
The great Mick Jagger commented, “Polarization affects families and groups of friends. It is a paralyzing situation. A civil war of opinion.”
Companies are often compared to families – and there’s no shortage of statistics pointing to the fact that many spend more hours of the day with their work colleagues than they do their actual relatives. And as business leaders, I believe that it is our obligation to create a workplace environment that promotes civil discourse and where all colleagues are comfortable sharing their opinions and bringing their whole selves to work.
It is the right thing to do and it is a business imperative. By example, at AXIS, our business centers around delivering tailored specialty insurance products and solutions to our customers. Many of the risks that we insure know no boundaries – a hurricane, hailstorm, or tsunami does not care about race, sexual preference, or political affiliation.
We operate our business with a philosophy that diversity enriches our thinking and enables us to better support our customers and one another by having a range of views and perspectives among our colleagues, which then enables us to be that much more adept at developing specialty insurance products and services directly tailored to meet the needs of our customers.
To enable a culture grounded in diverse thinking and view points, we need to foster an environment that celebrates diversity, equity, and inclusion and that provides forums for people to have what we call “courageous conversations” where colleagues are free to express their opinion and challenge one another’s thinking – with the understanding that we must always treat one another with respect and civility.
As CEO, I try to model this behavior through my day-to-day actions as well as visibly in public forums. This includes weekly “ask me anything” roundtables with groups of colleagues as well as unfiltered Q&As during monthly company-wide town halls where we will openly and respectfully discuss prevalent issues, ranging from the Israel-Gaza and Russia-Ukraine Wars to racism and sexual preference, as examples.
Through our global Corporate Citizenship initiative, which we launched in 2018, we continue to invest in building the programming and infrastructure to institutionalize these values. This includes a global DEI program addressing five key areas spanning internal education and awareness, recruitment and mobility, career development, voice and advocacy and measurement. Moreover, we’ve also empowered our colleagues to help us drive progress through our employee-led DEI Council and five employee resource groups: AXIS Edge (ethnically diverse group of employees), AXIS Pride (LGBTQ+), AXIS Veterans, AXIS Women’s, and AXIS PACE (Parents and Caregivers).
But it is not enough to focus just on internal audiences. As business leaders, we need to use our voice to publicly advocate for a more connected and less divisive society. This is something that we do at AXIS through various causes that we support both globally and in the local communities where we operate – and why we are proud to lend our voice to support The Dialogue Project at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
I was fortunate to grow up in a home where the values of civility and respect for mankind were engrained indelibly into my thinking. I am also fortunate to have the platform that comes with being a global CEO – and I can think of no better way to pay tribute to my father’s legacy than by using my voice to call for a less divided and more united global society, business community and world.