100th Episode with Special Guest Alan Schnitzer
October 25, 2023
1:00-2:00 p.m. ET
A Conversation with Alan Schnitzer, Travelers Chairman and CEO
What makes a successful leader during times of uncertainty and rapid change? To celebrate the Travelers Institute's 100th webinar, Travelers Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Schnitzer joined the Wednesdays with Woodward webinar series for a conversation on leadership. Since 2015, Schnitzer has successfully led Travelers through extraordinary times, including a pandemic, economic volatility, rapid technological change and more. Schnitzer has been recognized as an industry leader and an advocate for bringing people together to address critical challenges and opportunities impacting the communities where we live and work.
What did we learn? Here are the top takeaways from our 100th episode with special guest Alan Schnitzer.
Business challenges call for forward-thinking leaders. Schnitzer notes several relevant issues facing business leaders today, including the macroeconomic environment, inflation and regulatory challenges. While some challenges are dependent on industry, he says, “the one challenge we all face is the pace of change. We must focus on what we need to do to prepare businesses for the future.” He adds that while there are many things a business can do to improve, he recommends “identifying what will move the needle and investing in the things that will make an impact.”
New technologies create opportunity. Innovative technologies, including artificial intelligence, remain a hot topic for business leaders. While Schnitzer thinks that emerging technology will influence industries in different ways, he projects that the larger economic impact will be extensive. “People need to figure out what bets are the right bets for their business because I do think it’s going to be profound,” he says. “At Travelers, we’ve been focused on innovation for a while. If I had to describe it with a broad stroke, I would say it’s about digitizing the value chain.”
Cybersecurity continues to be a top priority. Schnitzer notes that the insurance industry can play a part in helping strengthen America’s cybersecurity. “Whether we’re talking about customers or public policy, insurance is a signal. The cost and availability of insurance sends that signal,” Schnitzer shares. He illustrates this by adding that Travelers recently decided to stop writing cyber policies for companies that didn’t utilize multifactor authentication as a cybersecurity measure. This decision, as well as similar decisions from other companies, sends the message that attaining cyber insurance is dependent on an organization’s commitment to cybersecurity. For more information on strengthening cybersecurity, check out the Travelers Institute cyber readiness hub.
Company culture is a key component. Schnitzer notes that Travelers’ strong culture is part of our competitive advantage, allowing the company to attract, engage and retain exceptional talent. “When you have great people, you want to empower those people. Culture gives them a road map. You can give people more autonomy if there’s a culture to guide them,” Schnitzer says. At the heart of this culture is communication from leadership. “Maybe the most important function of a leader is to inspire people to get behind a vision. There’s no substitute for effectively communicating that vision in a way that inspires people to get on board,” he adds.
Driving positive change through civic engagement. Schnitzer shares that polarization in today’s society is a concern for him. This sparked his vision to create Citizen Travelers, a nonpartisan civic engagement initiative to help give our 30,000 employees the resources and support to learn more, engage in our democracy as informed citizens and help shape the civic life of their communities. “We’ve long been a good corporate citizen, and Citizen Travelers is about being a corporation of good citizens,” Schnitzer says.
Advice for the next generation. In response to a webinar viewer question, Schnitzer gives three helpful insights for young professionals developing their careers. “The first piece of advice I would give is to read the newspaper every day, even if it’s just one article on the front page.” Second, he stresses the importance of building public speaking skills by getting as much experience and training as possible. Finally, he shares a piece of advice for young professionals from Mellody Hobson: “Make yourself indispensable.”
Watch Webinar Replay
Numbers tick up to 100. Text: 100th Episode. Wednesdays with Woodward.
Joan Woodward stands next to a man pumping his fist at the New York Stock Exchange. Others stand behind them, clapping. Joan speaks on a stage.
JOAN WOODWARD: I just want to thank you all for joining us, for being part of our celebration. And we’re just getting started, folks.
Text: Kenneth R. Feinberg, Special Master of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Kenneth speaks on a video call with Joan, as do the other speakers.
KENNETH R. FEINBERG: This is a very civilized thing you’re doing, setting up these public policy forums.
Text: Mike Allen, Co-Founder, Axios Media, Inc., Co-Founder, Politico, Co-Author, “Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less.”
MIKE ALLEN: Congratulations on this great platform you’ve built. In hard times for the country and the world, you’ve built something really cool.
Text: Kate Armfield, Baldwin Risk Partners.
KATE ARMFIELD: Some of my favorite things have been current events. Geopolitical issues. Topics that have helped us run our businesses more effectively.
Text: Joe Wolk, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Johnson & Johnson.
JOE WOLK: It’s particularly important, when there’s so much ambiguity in the world, to hear different opinions, diverse thoughts and perspectives.
Text: Lewis Bernstein, Acrisure.
LEWIS BERNSTEIN: Just a tremendous amount of information that Joan has presented, which I think is truly dynamic to the Travelers philosophy and leadership.
Text: Dr. Victoria Medvec, Founder and CEO, Medvec and Associates, Author, “Negotiate Without Fear: Strategies and Tools to Maximize Your Outcomes.”
VICTORIA MEDVEC: Thank you so much for having me, Joan. I am delighted to be on this program with you.
Text: Candid conversations with today’s leading experts. Different guests speak on video calls with Joan.
Text: Alan Schnitzer, Chairman and CEO, Travelers. Through the windows behind Alan, a large red umbrella stands outside.
ALAN SCHNITZER: One hundred successful webinars in just three years. What an accomplishment. Congratulations, Joan. I can’t wait to join you for the milestone.
Text: Wednesdays with Woodward, Featuring Special Guest Alan Schnitzer
Text, Wednesdays with Woodward (registered trademark) Webinar Series.
JOAN WOODWARD: Good afternoon and thank you so much for joining us. I'm Joan Woodward, President of the Travelers Institute. As you just saw, today promises to be a very special episode of our webinar series. A little more than three years ago, the Travelers Institute began this series from our kitchen tables and makeshift home offices. We were determined to keep connected with you and bring you in-depth conversations addressing most pressing challenges during the extraordinary time of the pandemic.
Since then, we've hosted more than 170 guests from top government officials to C-suite business leaders. Our programs have been viewed almost 400,000 times in three years, so thank you. We've explored topics from cybersecurity, geopolitical risk, artificial intelligence, distracted driving and more. We're thrilled to celebrate our 100th episode with a very special guest today, our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Schnitzer.
Alan has led Travelers and our 30,000 employees since becoming CEO in 2015 and Chairman in 2016. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania as well as the Board of Trustees of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the Board of Directors of the New York City Ballet. He graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his JD from Columbia Law School.
Today, we're going to talk to Alan about leadership and leading through challenging times. I've had the great honor of working with him now for 15 years, and I believe that one of the things that makes him an exceptional leader is his vision. It was Alan's vision that created the Travelers Institute, a way for the company to participate in the public policy dialogue. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. His vision and leadership have touched all parts of Travelers.
Alan has been the driving force behind the innovative mindset that propels Travelers forward. He's fostered a culture of invention and experimentation that really sets us apart. Two years ago, in the midst of mounting political polarization, Alan created and has since championed our civic engagement initiative, Citizen Travelers, which encourages our employees to deepen their understanding and commitment to public service.
And speaking of public service, when the president of the United States convened the nation's top business leaders at a White House cybersecurity summit, Joe Biden turned to Alan to represent the insurance industry. So from running the business to taking care of each other, he's personally dedicated to the well-being of our employees. In particular, he has been an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness. And during the challenges of the pandemic, Alan really led from the heart. His tremendous compassion and authenticity created a connection with our employees that has endured even as we've settled into the new normal.
So, Alan, thank you so much for being here as our special guest on our 100th episode. We're really grateful for your time.
Joan and Alan sit next to each other in armchairs. Joan holds a stack of papers in her lap. A sign on the wall behind them reads, Travelers.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Thank you, Joan. It's great to be here with you. Congratulations on the 100th episode and all you've done to contribute to really important conversations about public policy.
JOAN WOODWARD: All right. Let's get right into it. So you took the helm at Travelers in December of ‘15, almost eight years in. How does it feel?
ALAN SCHNITZER: I'd say, in a word, I feel fortunate, which is probably the same word I would have used on day one. There are good days, and there are tough days, but every day I love this job.
JOAN WOODWARD: I imagine. So before we get into the business issues, let's spend a moment in the past. I just went over your bio for everyone, but what in your mind were some of the most formative experiences? What prepared you for the role that you're in today?
ALAN SCHNITZER: So many over a career, it's hard to identify a few, but maybe a couple obvious ones, my parents of course, and they should probably be the subject of your 200th episode because they certainly deserve that. But they encouraged me. They set high standards. They taught me values. I'm very grateful to my parents for that.
Before I was at Travelers, I spent 16 years at a wonderful law firm. I had a corporate law practice. I loved my job. I had great clients, great place, great partners, and that was a really, I would say, key experience for me, learning what a real standard of excellence is, learning how to solve problems. I thought I would finish my career there, and I think I would have done that happily.
JOAN WOODWARD: We're lucky you didn't.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Thank you. And I guess, finally, working for Jay Fishman, and my guess is many of the people who are tuned in here knew Jay and understand why I would say that. But he was an extraordinary model of great leadership and just an extraordinary person on so many dimensions. And I'm very fortunate. Speaking of fortunate, fortunate I had the opportunity to learn this from him.
JOAN WOODWARD: I agree. Wonderful man. OK. So let's go back. The pandemic hits, you sent folks home. We'll talk about employees in a minute. I want to talk about how this series began for a moment. So in June of 2020, our biggest agent conference, it's called TLC, went virtual. After that, you had asked me to keep this conversation going with our agent and broker partners in the broader community. So why do you believe it is important for companies to be thought leaders on societal challenges? Why is that important?
ALAN SCHNITZER: Yeah. I'm not sure that I do think that's important, at least not writ large on societal issues generally. I think you and I agree on the mission of the Travelers Institute, which you've executed so spectacularly. But that is about weighing in on issues that address our stakeholders, our industry, our customers, the communities that we serve. And I think, given our industry leadership, given our expertise, I think we've got the opportunity and a responsibility to weigh in on those things.
But where it comes to societal issues that aren't directly related to our business, aren't directly related to our stakeholders, I don't feel an obligation, and I think probably more often than not, it's a mistake to weigh in there.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. Thank you for that. So our webinar series, obviously, was set up to talk about challenges and opportunities for business leaders. And there's a lot of them out there today in the world. Is that our backdrop? What are the biggest challenges facing business leaders today?
ALAN SCHNITZER: Also a big topic and maybe appropriate for an episode on its own because there are so many challenges to running a business these days. I was saying to somebody not that long ago that I can remember a time not all that long ago where it felt like you could go days or weeks or months, and you could just focus on what you needed to do. Today, it often feels like, in one dimension or another, we're fighting our supply lines. And my guess is it's different for every company.
But the macroeconomic environment these days is a challenge. Inflation is a problem for many businesses, not so much for insurance, but it's a problem for many businesses. I've been very outspoken as you know about polarization. I think polarization, just among citizens and among our politicians, I think is a huge problem that impedes a lot of progress we need to make. Regulatory challenges, particularly in this industry, we see the problem with the availability of insurance in some states like California and Florida. And I think there were real regulatory challenges to that.
But, I don't know, maybe the one challenge that all of us face is the pace of change and the need to focus on what we need to do to prepare businesses for the future. And we often think of it in terms of technology, things like artificial intelligence, and I think that's appropriate. But businesses really need to think down the road. We need to think about what bets we need to place today that are going to pay off down the road because some of these things take years.
I think it was Steve Jobs who had a quote that I'm very fond of. He said innovation is saying no to a thousand good ideas. And so it's about avoiding the thousand good ideas that don't really matter and focusing on the few that do matter. And, at Travelers, we talk about that in terms of velocity, which you go back to high school physics, that’s speed and direction, so identifying the couple of things that are going to move the needle and investing and going fast and hard on those things.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah. Well, we certainly feel it as employees, you've created that innovative mindset for us, so thank you. I think it's served us very well.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Well, thank you.
JOAN WOODWARD: All right. Let's pivot and talk about the pandemic. The pandemic pivot, right? So March 2020, Travelers sent all of our employees home as did most companies around the world. What went through your mind on that day when you sent 30,000 people home?
ALAN SCHNITZER: I remember the day very clearly, it's very vivid in my mind. And I remember, as we made the decision, I deliberately found a few minutes to just sit down and reflect on that. And I remember thinking about the magnitude of that moment. I mean that was a big deal, that we were going to send 30,000 people home, honestly, not sure what was going to happen the next day or the day after that or a week or a month after that. And I remember thinking about just the magnitude of that moment in the context of history, but very quickly you just have to get practical. And you just have to think about what the priorities are.
And so, you get a senior team together, and you say, OK, this is what we need to do, and you go about doing it. You got to keep people safe, and so you got to make a decision to send people home. But there were certain people that we needed in roles. We needed people to staff certain functions, and so you got to make sure you keep those people safe.
And then you think about implementing business continuity plans. And, of course, we had continuity plans. We took them off the shelf and looked at them. And, to their credit, they contemplated having to go remote but never for the whole company, right? You think about an office having to go remote, or you think about a region. And probably what you're thinking about is some natural disaster, maybe a cyberattack, where you have to take something offline and compensate for that. And so you have to scale that up.
Do you have the hardware? Do you have the technology? Do you have the bandwidth? So those are sort of the early moment things you do. And you got to train managers to manage in a remote environment. You got to take processes that rely on being together and convert them to being remote. And so I would say, after that early moment or two of reflection, it was just practically what do we need to get done.
JOAN WOODWARD: So there's no CEO playbook for a pandemic, right? Just checking. There's nothing you pull off the shelf.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Well, there is now.
JOAN WOODWARD: There is now, OK. There is now. So let's talk about leadership and communication because, during the early days of the pandemic, everything was so uncertain. We literally had no idea what was going to happen globally. But we heard from you; you regularly wrote employees. How did you come to that decision early on of what to say, of when to write, how to say it? For me, kind of it felt like you were holding my hand, getting me through the pandemic. It did.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Thank you. You know, I think of Travelers, big company, 30,000 people, but I think about it as a tight-knit community, a family feel to it. We talk about the Travelers family a lot. And, all of a sudden, we were scattered to the winds. And one of the things I've always loved about this job is walking around, whether it's the office in New York or a field office somewhere and talking to people and having conversations. And I missed that. That was unsettling, to say the least, to be scattered to the winds.
And so, I think it was literally that first week, I sat down at a computer and just sent an email. And those emails I would send every Friday, and I think I did that for five or six months. And, you'll remember, they were pretty substantive.
JOAN WOODWARD: They were.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Pretty substantive emails, and a lot of it's stream of consciousness that, you know what, the things that were on my mind. And my goal, obviously, was to keep everybody feeling connected and supported. And I actually remember the last line of the first email I sent. I think that last line was, we're going to get through this the way we get through everything-- together. And I think that as much as anything illustrates what I intended to do with those emails.
JOAN WOODWARD: No, they were really, really welcome for our employees. I really felt-- like every Friday, I was waiting for that to come out before I shut it all down. And it was real. It was real, and it touched people.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Yeah. I will say that every week I had hundreds of replies, and I replied to every one of those. And through that, probably thousands of email conversations with people that I never would have met otherwise, and I've kept up relationships with many of those people. So it was as an energizing and comforting to me as it was to anybody else.
JOAN WOODWARD: Great. Well, thank you again for those. Let's talk about leadership kind of more broadly and communication. How do you think about leadership and communication broadly because it's the job of a CEO? How do you think about that?
ALAN SCHNITZER: I don't think you can overstate the importance of that. I mean one of the key functions, maybe the most important function of a leader is to inspire people to get behind a vision, and there's no substitute for effectively communicating that vision in a way that inspires people to get on board. So I just think you can't imagine much that's more important than effective communication from leadership.
JOAN WOODWARD: Great. Well, you do it very well.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Thank you.
JOAN WOODWARD: I want to pivot a bit and talk about talent and culture because more than 50 million Americans quit their jobs in 2022, just last year, 50 million Americans. What do you make of the great resignation? Or I think you call it the great reshuffle maybe?
ALAN SCHNITZER: I've always called it the great reshuffle from the very beginning. The world changed overnight, and that gave people, I think, an impetus and an opportunity to rethink priorities. And, frankly, being remote made it easy to change jobs. You didn't have to sneak away to go interview. You didn't have to change your commute. You didn't have to go face-to-face and tell your boss you were leaving. You could do all that by email.
And so it's just not surprising to me that people left. Sometimes people left for more money. Sometimes people left because they were hoping to be more remote, or some people wanted to be less remote. I call it the great reshuffle because the great resignation implies that everybody just left, and that's not true. Everybody just moved. And, in fact, during that period of time, we hired more people than we lost.
And so, we were a net attractor of talent. That doesn't feel like a resignation moment to me. That feels like a reshuffle moment. And we had literally hundreds of people who left come back.
JOAN WOODWARD: Come back. What do we call those people?
ALAN SCHNITZER: Boomerangs.
JOAN WOODWARD: Boomerangs. So the grass is not always greener.
ALAN SCHNITZER: The grass is not always greener.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK.
ALAN SCHNITZER: And so, to me, it just felt like a great reshuffling, and we are back at pre-pandemic attrition levels. So it feels like we've reached a new equilibrium. Some people wanted a different work model, maybe a different industry, but it feels like we're in a new equilibrium.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. Great. It's good to know. OK. So, as a business leader, what are the implications of the high turnover in talent? Because, as you said, we had people leave. We had a lot of people come back, which we love. But what has the experience been like for Travelers here because of this churn?
ALAN SCHNITZER: It's worth paying attention to because there's a high cost to it. It's expensive, and it's time consuming to recruit employees. There's a productivity loss when new employees come in and learn a new company, new systems, new functions even maybe. It can be dilutive to a culture. So it's important to pay attention to it.
In terms of our own experience, we did pretty well. Our attrition level definitely was elevated during the great reshuffle but only moderately elevated, and we were starting from a pretty good level, so it was never particularly problematic here.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. Good to know. OK. You mentioned culture. So any Travelers employee walking down any of these hallways here will tell you about the importance of culture inside the place. We call it the place, which is great, right? Why is culture important?
ALAN SCHNITZER: That's another one that different companies, different leaders may have a different answer, but I'll give you an answer for us. I think it's important for a couple of reasons. It's one of the things that makes this a great place to work. And it's one of the things that gives us a competitive advantage, I think, in attracting and engaging and retaining great people. And, as you know, among our top 600 or so employees, the average tenure at Travelers is more than 20 years, not in the industry but at Travelers, which is really significant I think for passing along culture and knowledge to the next generation.
And when you have great people, you want to empower those people. And so, culture gives them a roadmap. In other words, you can give people more autonomy if there's a culture to guide them, and that may be more important in this business than many. We've literally got thousands of people that make individual decisions to put risk on our books in terms of underwriting and thousands of claim professionals that make individual decisions in managing our liabilities, our claims.
And so, when you've got that many people making individual decisions that individually and collectively are so consequential, I think it's very important for those people to know what's expected and for them to do it at a place that they appreciate, so that they're doing it for the place as opposed to either without a lot of direction at all or for some other reason. So culture is very important here.
JOAN WOODWARD: So what do you look for for people you want to put on your team? So what are you looking for? What ingredients maybe?
ALAN SCHNITZER: Well, if you're talking that very senior levels of the place, I would say, in some cases, you just know it when you see it, and you can't boil that down to a formula. I won't embarrass you and tell the story here about how I was able to recruit and attract you, what, 15 years ago or something like that.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yes, 10 years ago.
ALAN SCHNITZER: But you were one of those where you know it when you see it categories.
JOAN WOODWARD: Thank you.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Maybe there are four non-negotiables when you're talking at senior level at a place like this. One, you want expertise. You want people that are good at their job, and I don't think you get to this level unless you are really good at your job. Two, you need people that subscribe to our standard of excellence. We have a standard of excellence that's very high. And, as you know, I set out to define what that meant a couple of years ago.
But you need people that understand that and subscribe to it. You need people that understand this culture and sign up to it and maybe taking those two together, that standard of excellence and that culture. Maybe that speaks to chemistry. Are those people going to fit in here and be part of our chemistry? And that doesn't mean everybody who doesn't meet our-- isn't going to align to our chemistry. They're not necessarily bad people. They may work in some other environment.
But I think, in terms of our chemistry, understanding that standard of excellence and understanding that culture is really important. And then, finally, and this may be the hardest one to assess up front, is judgment. When you get to senior levels at a company, I think the more senior you get, the more nuanced the job gets. And so, you need people that really can deal with uncertainty, novel situations and exercise great judgment.
JOAN WOODWARD: Well, thank you for that nice compliment.
ALAN SCHNITZER: True, very true.
JOAN WOODWARD: It didn't take me long after you offered me the position. I knew I wanted to work for you.
ALAN SCHNITZER: There was a little bit of negotiating back and forth back then.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. Maybe a little bit. So let's talk about our new normal after the pandemic pivot. I don't want to say we're done with the pandemic because who knows, right? But, at Travelers now, we have policies that allow work from home for up to two days a week. How did you come up with Travelers’ hybrid and remote strategies? And, really, how are they going?
ALAN SCHNITZER: Well, I didn't do it by myself. We did it as a senior team. So there was a real, I think, collective input and buy-in to it. And I would say one of the important things is it reflected values that we established at the very beginning. And so, we've been very consistent about this from the get-go. But I think we learned a lot during the pandemic about what technology can do for us.
Technology can enable people to live richer lives. And by that, I mean maybe somebody wants to be there to get home when their child is home from school, or maybe they're taking care of an elderly parent, or maybe they got to be there when their refrigerator repair person comes. But technology, there's no question about it, it lets us live fuller, richer lives, and I think we appreciated before the pandemic. It also gives us the ability to be more nimble.
So pre-pandemic, we might have spent weeks and bought a bunch of airplane tickets to get people together for a meeting, particularly if it involved people from other cities. That still happens today, but as often as not, you can get together that afternoon over Zoom and have a pretty good experience. And so, I think we've learned a lot.
At the same time, I think we've identified why it's important to be in the office. That's where we collaborate. That's where we innovate. That's where we train people, particularly informal training, the stuff that happens at the water coolers, where we foster a culture. I believe the office is where leaders lead. I think that's where careers are built.
And so, you balance those two things, what we've learned about what technology can do for us and the value of being in the office, and you say, OK, so how do you bring those together? And we came up with a hybrid model. I think-- for us I think it's going very well. I don't think it's perfect. I don't think the old model was perfect either by the way.
JOAN WOODWARD: Right, sure.
ALAN SCHNITZER: I don't think we've dialed it in perfectly yet, but I think it's pretty good. And I think we'll continue to manage it, and we'll see where it goes. I think it'll evolve over time, but I think it's working pretty well.
JOAN WOODWARD: Sure.
ALAN SCHNITZER: What do you think?
JOAN WOODWARD: Oh, I think it's great. It's fabulous. My team is so energized by it. I think a lot of teams around the place really are.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Yeah, I do too.
JOAN WOODWARD: So thank you. OK. staying on culture, talent, let's talk about you've been such an advocate for employee wellness and overall holistic wellness, whether it's sleep, mental health, all sorts of wellness programs you're rolling out just now in our open enrollment period for employees. Why do you think that a wellness mindset is so critical to our work and our personal lives? Because you've been such a champion.
ALAN SCHNITZER: I think we should frame that in the context of our mission and purpose, which I've also been very outspoken about. Our mission is to create shareholder value, there's no confusion about that. But that goes hand in hand with our purpose, which is taking care of the people we're privileged to serve, and we call that the Travelers Promise. And that is taking care of our customers, our communities and each other.
And so, when I think about taking care of each other, meaning our colleagues, and I would extend that to our agent broker partners, a commitment to wellness is really just a very natural extension of that. And I do, I'm very outspoken about mental wellness. But I also think about physical wellness and financial wellness. I think those are the three components, physical, financial and mental. I also-- it is that natural extension, so I think that's important.
But there's such an obvious need. Speaking of mental wellness in particular, I think the statistic is one in five adults in the United States had a mental health condition in the last year, so 20%. And I would speculate that's an understatement, maybe a significant understatement. And so, that means that you or somebody you love or somebody you work with is probably suffering, and I think we've got both the opportunity and the responsibility to help. And so, I think focusing on those three dimensions of wellness could make all the difference.
JOAN WOODWARD: Well, I want to thank you for that, and I know a lot of employees really, really thank you for taking a lead and putting money towards it for our benefit. So thank you.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Really important. Thank you.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. We're going to shift. This may not be as easy as the last category, but we're going to go to polarization and partisanship because you've talked a lot about how a polarized world we've all become. How does polarization impact how you lead today?
ALAN SCHNITZER: I've been very outspoken about polarization over the last, I don't know, a year or so, and I think it's a big problem. There are lots of challenges we face as a country. Education policy, health care policy, immigration policy, wherever you stand on those issues, you could go on and on and say there's lots of issues. And I don't think gridlock serves us. Whether it's in Washington or state capitals among our public policymakers or whether it's among ordinary citizens, I don't think gridlock serves us.
And so, as a leader, I try to be very outspoken about rejecting cancel culture. I think cancel culture and the inability to engage and share ideas is problematic. And the opposite of that is pluralism. I try to promote pluralism, this idea that competing ideas can coexist. That we can agree to disagree but respect people's rights to have different points of view. And I think, through that, you get together. And, hopefully, in the spirit of constructive engagement, you get together, and you try to solve problems.
And David French is a columnist for The New York Times, happens to be a conservative columnist writing in not such a conservative newspaper. He wrote a book called “Divided We Fall,” and for anybody who wants to explore this topic I recommend that.
JOAN WOODWARD: So not only do you kind of have these ideas and have these beliefs, you actually do something about it. So two years ago here at Travelers, at an effort really to drive that positive change through civic engagement, you chose to launch another initiative, which we now call Citizen Travelers. Why did you launch that? And talk to us about what it is.
ALAN SCHNITZER: So Citizen Travelers is our initiative to encourage and support our employees getting involved in civic life in whatever ways are important to them. It could range from registering to vote, to running for elected office and anything in between those two extremes. I like to say it's aggressively nonpartisan. People should get out there and do what's important to them and engage in ways that they want to engage.
But I think people-- I think they need to engage, and it ties to a few things we've discussed. One is communications. I get asked as CEO to weigh in on lots of things, some of them-- some of them pretty controversial. And I'm not shy about weighing in on topics controversial or not that are important to our business, but where there are topics that aren't directly related to our business, who am I to develop Travelers’ view on that?
We've got employees. We've got customers. We've got agent broker partners, shareholders that span the whole political spectrum. So, if it's not an issue that's front and center to our business, who am I to be expressing a corporate view? I may have my personal view, but I'm not sure Travelers needs to have a corporate view on those things.
But that doesn't mean Travelers doesn't have a role to play. We've got 30,000 employees who should, as citizens, have a view and should get involved. And so, Citizen Travelers is meant to support them in doing that. We've long been a good corporate citizen. This is about being a corporation of good citizens.
JOAN WOODWARD: Well, I want to thank you for creating that. As you know, I spent a lot of years in government. And I think the employee reaction has just been overwhelming.
ALAN SCHNITZER: It's been crazy.
JOAN WOODWARD: We have an employee group, if anyone's interested in joining that. Citizen Travelers on our website. So we also partner with Citizen Travelers at the Institute, and we're hosting a lot of the webinars focused on that content. So it's critically important that we talk about those issues.
ALAN SCHNITZER: One of the things I'll share is we've taken our experience and created Citizen Travelers in a box because I would love to promote this idea for other companies. And we're happy to share this program with other businesses. They can take it, they can white label it. They can rename it. And we will share with them the things that we've learned, the things that have worked, the things that haven't worked. And the more people engaging, the better, so we're happy to share what we've learned.
JOAN WOODWARD: That's fabulous. That's fabulous. So anybody is interested in that, they could just email me at the Institute, and we'll get them that content. So thank you.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Or email@example.com.
JOAN WOODWARD: Citizentravelers@travelers.com. Excellent. All right. Let's move on to diversity and inclusion. You've called it a business imperative. Travelers has been a leader in this for many years with our first diversity networks over about 12 years ago now. Why is D&I a business imperative?
ALAN SCHNITZER: So I always answer that question by throwing around three data points. So, for about a decade, white kids have been a minority in public schools. For many years longer than that, more women than men have earned associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, master's and doctorates. And, in about a single generation in less than 30 years, white men are going to make up 25% or less of the working-age population.
So, if you knew nothing else but those three data points, you'd say I know what my employees are going to look like. I know what my customers are going to look like, and I know what my distribution partners are going to look like. And, if we're not approaching diversity and inclusion by casting the broadest possible net, we're going to lose the war for talent, and we can't afford to do that.
So, to me, diversity and inclusion is very simply about the business imperative of winning the war for talent. And I think, increasingly, we're going to have to do that by casting the broadest possible net.
JOAN WOODWARD: Great. Thank you for your leadership there as well.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Thank you.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. We're going to pivot again, and we're going to talk about technology and innovation. So, a couple of months ago, we hosted a fascinating webinar on emerging AI trends and ChatGPT. It attracted the most viewers of any of our programs over the three years. Well, except for this one, folks. OK. Let's be honest. This attracted the most.
People are really trying to understand what these new technologies mean for their businesses and even society at large really. So how are you thinking about AI and emerging technologies?
ALAN SCHNITZER: I think this is another one where it might be different for every business, but I think it's hard to say the opportunity that comes from technology and AI isn't going to be profound across the entire economy. And I think, for business leaders, that means figuring out how to get it right. And I don't think this is an urgent crisis today or tomorrow. But I think in the coming days, weeks, months and years, people need to figure out what bets are the right bets for their business because I do think it's going to be profound.
So, for us, we've been focused on innovation for a while. And if I had to describe it with a broad stroke, I would say it's about digitizing the value chain. And we've got three very discrete priorities. One is extending our lead in risk expertise. I think we've become a great company over decades in being really unparalleled in understanding risk and the products and services our customers need to manage their risk. We've got lots of great competitors that are also doing great work in those areas, so we need to extend that lead.
We've got to provide great experiences to customers, agents, brokers and employees. Every engagement we have with any one of our stakeholders, they're measuring against their last experience with Amazon or Spotify or on and on. So we've got to be focused on providing great experiences, and we've got to do more with less. We've got to optimize productivity and efficiency.
And so, those are our three priorities, and there's no question that AI will help us deliver on all three. The challenge really is in prioritizing and figuring out where the most bang is for the buck and then, again back to velocity, going hard at those things.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. So staying on another aspect of technology, as we all know October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and you highlighted that critical role the insurance industry now plays in strengthening America's cybersecurity at that White House meeting with President Biden. So what is the role, in your mind, of insurance in cybersecurity?
ALAN SCHNITZER: Cybersecurity is a growing risk. And I think the surveys you've conducted through the Travelers Institute has demonstrated it's one of the top concerns for our customers and businesses across the country. So I think we've got an obligation to help our customers and future customers manage that risk. And I think that's everything from providing insurance products, to offering risk management, our expertise and tools that will help them manage their vulnerabilities. So I think that's where we come in as it relates to the customer.
You mentioned that we were invited to the White House to have a conversation with the president and members of his cabinet about it. I do think we've got expertise. I think cybersecurity is a public policy issue. So I think we've got the responsibility to weigh in from a public policy perspective and try to improve cyber readiness across the country and across government.
And then, I also think, whether we're talking about customers or public policy, insurance is a signal. It gives a signal about risk. And so the cost and availability of insurance sends that signal. So you think-- I don't know, a year or two ago, we decided that we weren't going to write cyber insurance for companies that didn't use multifactor authentication in their cyber readiness.
And so, I think, between what we did and what other companies independently on their own were doing, it sent a signal to people that cyber insurance was going to be important or unavailable if you didn't do that. And so sending that signal with insurance through that example and others I think is also important when it comes to cyber insurance.
JOAN WOODWARD: I also want to just point out that you were the only national insurance carrier that was invited to that White House meeting with all the tech CEOs. So, you know, we've been working on this a long time with our cyber awareness campaign, and we're just thrilled to be a part of that conversation at the White House.
ALAN SCHNITZER: It's good to be part of it.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK, this is my favorite part when I interview CEOs, and you're my most favorite CEO by the way. Let's talk about your personal career, your personal journey, how you got here. What is the biggest risk you've taken in your career?
ALAN SCHNITZER: I would say leaving my prior job to come to Travelers. As I said, I practiced corporate law at a firm that I loved. I was there for 16 years. I had great friends there. I had great clients. It was-- I thought I would retire from there. I, obviously, left that job to come to Travelers, and so far, so good. So maybe, with hindsight, it doesn't feel like it was such a big risk, but at the time, it seemed like a pretty big risk.
JOAN WOODWARD: Yeah.
ALAN SCHNITZER: And you've had similar experiences, right?
JOAN WOODWARD: Similar, yeah.
ALAN SCHNITZER: You changed jobs.
JOAN WOODWARD: I left government to go to Goldman Sachs, and leaving Goldman Sachs to come to Travelers was--
ALAN SCHNITZER: I'm sure that felt risky.
JOAN WOODWARD: I had a few thoughts about that, but let me tell you, Alan, I think it all worked out for us.
ALAN SCHNITZER: It worked out for us, that's for sure.
JOAN WOODWARD: What leaders do you admire? Who inspires you?
ALAN SCHNITZER: That's also a big question, and it would-- I could go back in time and think about leaders in history that have inspired me, current leaders that inspire me, and maybe I'll take a cop-out here and just say I don't have to look very far. You think about leaders of Travelers, and the senior leadership team that we have that I think do a spectacular job, that there's a lot to admire about, and other leaders, emerging leaders at Travelers that are inspiring.
When I think about inspiring, I was going to say my kids, but I think about your kids, too, because I know your kids. But, you know, my kids are 26 and 21, and you watch the next generation making their way in the world. I mean, I'm probably the first one to, "Get off my lawn." But I think every generation does that.
But, you know, it's not easy being that age and making your way in the world these days. And I watch them all and admire what they do and think about the talent of the next generation. It's inspiring.
JOAN WOODWARD: I agree. I agree. So, as our audience thinks about the day in the life of a CEO, what part of your day might kind of surprise them?
ALAN SCHNITZER: Every day is a little unpredictable, and almost no two days are the same. I'm not sure that much would be surprising. Maybe the frequency with which I bring my lunch to work.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK.
ALAN SCHNITZER: I'm a very big leftovers person--
JOAN WOODWARD: Me too.
ALAN SCHNITZER: --so I love leftovers.
JOAN WOODWARD: You can't waste food. Well, your wife is also a very good cook, for sure.
ALAN SCHNITZER: My wife is a very good cook.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. We're going to go to some audience questions. We got a lot of them as you can imagine from our audience. So first one we're going to go to is Ben Mulder. I always like to shout out who's giving the question. What three pieces of advice would you give a young professional?
ALAN SCHNITZER: I would say the first piece of advice I would give is read the newspaper every day. And it's OK with me if it's one article on the front page, but I would say read it every day. Extra credit if you read something from-- if you read an op-ed, and maybe gold star if you read the other newspaper. Meaning, if your politics lean left, read a right-leaning newspaper. If your politics lean right-- this is back to my fighting polarization-- read a left-leaning newspaper. So that would be the first.
Second, I think public speaking is really important. And there are a lot of people that I think are intimidated by that. And I think the only really way to get comfortable at it is just miles on the odometer. So I would say as much experience as you can, public speaking, and I think public speaking courses are great, whether it's Toastmasters or Dale Carnegie or even private coaching for people that are that interested in it.
And I guess, the third, Mellody Hobson. Mellody Hobson is the President and, I think, co-CEO of Ariel Investments and somebody I really admire. But I was listening to her talk to a group of young professionals once, and she gave a piece of advice I thought was spectacular, which is she said to them, make yourself indispensable.
And I think that is just such a perfect piece of advice that, if you think about incorporating that into the way you think about what your responsibilities are day in and day out, putting aside whatever technical work you got to get done during the day, if you think, "Gee, I'm going to make myself indispensable," it just seems to me there's nothing stopping you.
JOAN WOODWARD: I got that piece of advice, it worked for me, most cases, maybe not all. OK. Another audience question. Thank you so much for your audience engagement. This comes from Greg Magnus, one of our other agents out there. How do you balance making both your stockholders and your customers happy? That's a big, big question today.
ALAN SCHNITZER: You know, I get that question a lot. It comes in very different forms, but honestly, I don't see the conflict at all. There are lots of leaders out there that will rank various stakeholders. They'll say, gee, you got to take care of employees. And if you take care of employees, everything will fall into place, or customer, customer, customer, or the Milton Friedmans of the world that would say, the only responsibility of a corporation is to focus on creating value for shareholders.
I think that whole thing falls apart because either you take care of all your stakeholders extraordinarily well or you fail them all. I mean, you need a successful business in order to take care of your stakeholders. And, if you don't take care of your stakeholders, you'll never have a successful business. So, to me, all those things go hand in hand, and there's no alternative but to take care of all of them extraordinarily well.
JOAN WOODWARD: Which I think you absolutely have done in the past eight years.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Thank you.
JOAN WOODWARD: Alan, I cannot thank you enough. This time has just flown by. Thank you so much for joining us. It's been such an honor to have you on our 100th.
ALAN SCHNITZER: My pleasure.
JOAN WOODWARD: Please promise me you'll come back for the 200th.
ALAN SCHNITZER: It will be my pleasure.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Congratulations, Joan. Thank you for having me.
JOAN WOODWARD: No, it's your vision and leadership that has really propelled Travelers in these past few years. And I'm just grateful that-- I'm grateful to be here, be a part of it.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Thank you. Thank you very much.
JOAN WOODWARD: OK. So, with that folks, we're ready for program number 101.
Slide, Upcoming Webinars. Citizen Travelers at the Travelers Institute. A Series on Civic Engagement. October 30 - Evolution of the Supreme Court with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Wednesdays with Woodward (registered trademark) Webinar Series. November 8 - An Insurance Agent's Field Guide to Gen Z. November 15 - Retirement Playbook: Your Guide to Life After Insurance. Register: travelersinstitute.org.
We have a great lineup over the next few weeks, and I hope you'll join us. On October 30th, we're going to join Citizen Travelers to help us better understand the Supreme Court on a webinar. On November the 8th, we're going to take a deep dive into Gen Z and how they are thinking about insurance, then from Gen Z to baby boomers.
On November 15th, insurance industry veterans and a couple of my friends out there are going to share secrets to a fulfilling and meaningful retirement and life after insurance. So you don't need to wait till you're in your 60s to think about life after insurance. It's out there, I'm sure.
And for more information or to register for any of these programs, please visit us at travelersinstitute.org. And thank you so much again for being with us today and on so many of these Wednesdays the past three years. And, again, a huge thanks to my special guest today, Alan, for his time, your leadership, and we just really appreciate it.
ALAN SCHNITZER: Thank you, Joan.
JOAN WOODWARD: Have a great afternoon, folks.
Slide, Wednesdays with Woodward (registered trademark) Webinar Series. Watch Replays: travelersinstitute.org. Connect: LinkedIn, Joan Kois Woodward. Take Our Survey: Link in chat. #WednesdayswithWoodward.
Text, Travelers Institute (registered trademark). Travelers.
The History of Wednesdays With Woodward
The world changed in the spring of 2020. In response, the Travelers Institute created a new virtual platform to safely bring people together and continue conversations about the most pressing issues at the intersection of insurance, business and public policy. More than three years since the first Wednesdays with Woodward webinar program aired in June 2020, the series marks its 100th episode and celebrates 100 hours of in-depth interviews with government officials, C-suite business leaders and thought leaders from across sectors.