BREAK TIME with … Adam Kerns
Assistant Vice President, State Affairs
Zurich North America (Zurich NA)
You’re a lawyer and an accountant. That’s a formidable background for some in public affairs.
Yeah, I’m an overachiever! But I can see what you mean. I worked as a CPA for a few years before going to law school, and I’ve worked for financial services companies and two professional associations, the American Insurance Association and the Reinsurance Association of America, ever since. So I suppose this gives me a somewhat different insight into public affairs — especially legal and regulatory matters — than someone who comes to the lobbying profession from a communications background or from Capitol Hill, as valuable as those backgrounds are. People who worked on the Hill first in some ways had a leg up on me.
In what way?
They tend to have a network of connections already in place — other people they worked with on Capitol Hill. I didn’t have those connections. I did know a fair number of regulators, though. And at the state level in the insurance industry, regulators tend to have more power over the insurers than legislators, at least on a daily basis.
Because insurance is regulated at the state level?
That’s right. And insurance is a highly regulated business. In fact, it was my background as an accountant and controller that led me into my first work as a lobbyist. I was hired as director of finance for Farmers Insurance Group precisely to help the company navigate Dodd-Frank, and then I went to the American Insurance Association and then the Reinsurance Association of America because I had some familiarity with insolvency regulation. Because of my background, I can be the “subject matter expert” and the government relations person in the same meeting. Usually, that’s two different people. So there are advantages. Also, a person with my background often has a better understanding of the company’s business decisions, and because they know the language the C-suite people use, they can often have greater credibility. But that’s not to say professions with different backgrounds don’t bring strengths that are unique to their professional experiences, because they do.
How does the fact that Zurich NA is the American and Canadian arm of a global company affect your work?
It has advantages for me, personally. Our global headquarters is in Zurich, and the corporate culture and general attitudes have a European feel to them. I appreciate that because it allows me to work on issues that are very much in tune with my own opinions. Zurich was working on environmental issues long before a lot of other companies were. That means a lot to me.
You’re also the national co-chair of PrideZ. What is that?
PrideZ is our business and employee resource group (BERG) for LGBT people, and the company takes the mission of its BERGs seriously. It is amazing to me how quickly the business community has embraced diversity, equity and inclusion, but so much has yet to be done. Too many organizations make the right proclamations, but what matters is the actions that follow. The devil, as they say, is in the details. And the sad fact is, the financial services world is not a diverse one. It tends to be very white and very straight, and that’s not what our diverse customer base necessarily looks like.
Explain why that is important.
Let me answer that this way. At Zurich NA, we refer to our DIEB initiative. That’s for diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging. Belonging is a huge component. It can be easy without that belonging piece to silo the DEI initiatives, failing to create a “safe space” for employees to talk. But what matters is bringing everyone in the organization into the effort. Also, there should be baselines and metrics — not as ends in themselves, but as ways to measure the results. Ultimately, it is just good business to look like your customers. Companies that embrace these values in an authentic way are simply more profitable than those that don’t.
You’ve been recognized as one of Diversity MBA’s Top 100 Under 50 Executive and Emerging Leaders. Tell us about that.
It is definitely an honor. Our communications department knew about it and asked if they could nominate me for one of those awards, and I agreed. They have a conference every year, and I am looking forward to it, though it will be virtual this time. I’ll never forget one of my friends’ reaction when he heard the news.
What was his reaction?
He said, in mock disbelief, “You’re under 50?” Yes. I’m 43.
Reach Kerns at 202.805.4373 or email@example.com.
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