Episode 10: Full Transcript

[00:00:00.09] JIM HACKBARTH: Going back 20 years to where we are now, it's now all coming together. And you look at the knitting together of all these businesses, and the new technologies that are coming, and the infrastructures that are being built, and it's absolutely an incredible time.
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[00:00:21.73] SPEAKER 1: This is the Insurance Technology Podcast, where we bring interesting people from across the insurance ecosystem to discuss and debate technology's impact on the industry. Join us each episode for insights and best practices from industry stewards and tomorrow's innovators. Now here's your host, Reid Holzworth.
[00:00:41.73] REID HOLZWORTH: Welcome to the Insurance Technology Podcast. I'm your host, Reid Holzworth. Today I'm going to be interviewing Jim Hackbarth. Jim Hackbarth is currently the CEO of Assurex Global, but retiring soon. Now, Jim is not only a friend, but I consider Jim family. And those of you out there that know Jim know why I'm saying that. Just an awesome human, awesome individual, really great guy. In this episode, you're going to learn how he went from wanting to be a football coach to getting into insurance and insurance technology.
[00:01:16.90] You also learn about all of his classical training when he was at IBM, and what that looked like, to really mold him into the amazing salesperson that he is today. Stay tuned. Jim's a really great guy, great interview. Really happy to have him on the podcast.
[00:01:38.58] Jim, how you doing man?
[00:01:39.80] JIM HACKBARTH: Reid, I'm doing fine. It's great to be with you today, and I look forward to our conversation.
[00:01:46.78] REID HOLZWORTH: So Jim and I have known each other for a number of years. Jim's been the CEO of Assurex Global for what, 18 years or so?
[00:01:55.23] JIM HACKBARTH: 18 years, that's correct. Yup.
[00:01:58.26] REID HOLZWORTH: Big industry guy. I remember the first time I met you. It was a very formal environment. I came to Ohio. You were like, hey, I want to learn more about what you guys are doing-- this is in the TechCanary days-- and show your product to the team. And I remember I was nervous, because it's Assurex, man. And I came in that office, and I was there-- I forgot who was all there. There was a few people there.
[00:02:23.13] JIM HACKBARTH: Absolutely.
[00:02:23.94] REID HOLZWORTH: All pros. Intimidating, right? And I was fairly intimidated. And then I just got to know you man, and I'm like, man, this guy is cool. I love this dude. And I think it's been love ever since. So appreciate you joining the show.
[00:02:41.55] JIM HACKBARTH: Well thanks. I've made a hobby of surrounding myself with really smart people. So if they intimidated you they did their job. But anyhow it was a lot of fun. And I remember calling you. I mean, I had to call you a couple times to say, will you come to Columbus, please. Because I was hearing so much about TechCanary, and I was so high with what you were doing and what I was hearing from brokers all over the place. I said, we need to get our arms around this. I feel lucky that we had a chance to meet and even better than that we've become friends over the years, really good friends.
[00:03:17.22] REID HOLZWORTH: Absolutely.
[00:03:17.97] JIM HACKBARTH: Thanks.
[00:03:18.90] REID HOLZWORTH: We have a lot of the same friends. Small industry.
[00:03:21.42] JIM HACKBARTH: It is very small. Very small.
[00:03:24.51] REID HOLZWORTH: Awesome. So tell us-- actually, I don't really know this. I kind of know this, but how did you actually get into insurance?
[00:03:34.89] JIM HACKBARTH: Probably like most people by accident. It was not on purpose. My first two years of college in undergrad I was a phys ed major. I aspired to be a high school football coach. That's what I wanted to do.
[00:03:52.71] There was a unexpected death in the family and I moved home to Columbus, which is where I was born and raised, finished up at Ohio State. And it was my father that had passed away. And one of the things that he said to me a couple of hours before he passed unexpectedly is that, listen, do me a favor and just take one business course. Because if this high school football coach stuff doesn't work out for you, you're probably going to be a sales guy of some type or another. But just take a business course.
[00:04:18.33] And he at the time was Head Of Claims of a Midwest insurance company. And if you've been exposed to people that come out of claims, usually the first answer is no. No you know you can't have a motorcycle, no you can't jump out of airplanes, no you can't do this. So my first exposure to insurance was like, it begins with no. So I had no desire to be in insurance.
[00:04:43.23] My first business course that I took when I transferred to Ohio State-- that I could get into, because hardly anyone was in it-- was Principles Of Insurance. I was not what I would call a great student when you look at grade point average, but that was the only A that I got in my undergrad.
[00:05:02.16] REID HOLZWORTH: Really?
[00:05:05.04] JIM HACKBARTH: Because I understood it. And all of a sudden life became serious. And so I really studied, understood it. I mean, all the words I understood it because it was talked about around the dinner table growing up as a kid. And the professor, I'll never forget it, his name was Dr. Bickelhaupt. He had written several books that were CPCU type books. He came up to me and said, at the end of the quarter-- this is before most colleges moved to semesters-- and he said, have you ever thought about changing your major to insurance? And I said absolutely not. I have no desire. And then he said something that changed my mind. He says, well, there's a scholarship fund called the Griffith Insurance Foundation, and they're giving scholarships out to people that have a desire to major in insurance. And I said, you know something, I think that sounds good. Because I had no money, and I was working three part time jobs. And I said, I'm in.
[00:06:00.75] So then, in order to prove you were serious, you had to find a part-time job in insurance. And so I sold life insurance as a special agent at night for Prudential, which was crazy, which is why I learned some of the basics of selling.
[00:06:16.53] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh yeah.
[00:06:17.22] JIM HACKBARTH: And then I came out. I graduated on time, and I applied to two major insurance companies in Ohio. I'll leave their names-- in fact, it was probably the best choice they ever made not to hire me. And they were not hiring then. At the time, IBM was hiring like crazy. So I applied at IBM coming out of Ohio State. They hired me. 12 months of sales training. Unbelievable sales training that they would put you through. And then when you got done with sales training they would put you into a territory. And I lobbied just to be in a territory by myself. I didn't want to be a junior rep. The worst territory at the moment, at the time when I was ready to go on quote, as they say, was the insurance industry. I was like, you've got to be kidding me.
[00:07:08.59] And so as a rookie sales rep, 22, 23 years old, I was calling on companies like Nationwide, and State Auto, and Motorist, and AAA, and Grange Insurance. And since my undergrad was in insurance, I kind of understood it. And IBM always taught you to call off the top. And then all of a sudden the market turned and these companies were buying mainframes like crazy. And I blew through my quota in my first year and my second year, and could not figure out why they were buying so much. But lo and behold, there was a company at the time, which I'm sure you've heard of, called Policy Management Systems Corp. The founder was Larry Wilson.
[00:07:55.03] REID HOLZWORTH: PMS.
[00:07:56.02] JIM HACKBARTH: PMS. And all these carriers were buying the Policy Management System. And all of a sudden after they buy it they have to buy a larger mainframe, strings of disk drives, and then bam. And I was with IBM a short period of time, about four years. They kept wanting to move me to be a sales trainer, and I had no desire.
[00:08:17.77] And then I got a phone call from Larry Wilson at Policy Management Systems. And he said, would you ever consider coming on board? And I didn't know what software was. I could hardly spell it. And so we got together. I flew down, spent a day with him, and we struck a deal. And so I moved to Columbia and then start calling on major insurance companies like Travelers, and USF&G, St. Paul, AIG, et cetera. And was selling mainframe policy processing systems to most of the major carriers.
[00:08:59.71] REID HOLZWORTH: How old were you at the time?
[00:09:01.09] JIM HACKBARTH: Oh gosh. At that time I was 28, 29. And I don't know if it was from just being confident, or I knew what I was selling and understood the insurance industry, was never really intimidated by going to the top floor. IBM trained you that's where you start. And I sold a very, very large contract, $26 million contract, to a very large carrier in New York City. The letter begins with A and it ends with G. And right after that--
[00:09:38.77] JIM HACKBARTH: Exactly. And right after that I received a phone call from an executive at USF&G. And his name was Bob Treweek. And Bob Treweek is a name, when you go way, way back and you talk to other people that have been around the industry as long as I have, he was actually the executive director of the FAIA, Florida Association of Insurance. It is the FAIA that actually, I think, came out with the first comparative rater. He left there and joined USF&G as Executive Vice President.
[00:10:12.84] I knew him, we had sold him some stuff, and he thought I was much older than what I was. And so he calls me and says, we bought a little software company in Atlanta, and it needs a president. There's like 120 people there. And we're interested in you coming and running it. He thought I was about 36, 37. I had just turned 30.
[00:10:33.56] REID HOLZWORTH: Wow.
[00:10:34.28] JIM HACKBARTH: And I had never really managed anything more than two or three people at a time. And I said sure, why not? It sounds fun. Now at the time, AMS was out there. Larry Wilson at PMSC had just sold it to Commercial Union. That's where David Rowe had entered the industry. And I landed in Atlanta and ran this little company called Leader Systems.
[00:10:57.74] And that was at the time when carriers were giving away back office systems, probably in trade for volume and everything else. And that's where I met David Rowe and Dennis Chookaszian. And that was during the phase-- and Reid, there was probably 25 or 30 back office systems. AMS, Applied had as just entered the arena. Redshaw, there was probably a couple dozen Leader Systems. Most of them were owned or backed by insurance companies as a way to put their cash register in the agent's office.
[00:11:32.87] And they would give them the IBM PCXD or whatever, and trade for volume. And they were helping them automate the back office. Accounting only. Way before anyone even thought about front office automation. Probably the first front office automation was probably rating systems, personal lines rating systems. You can say that was front office, and by today's standard it's certainly not, which goes which goes back to when we reached out to you that I really wanted to meet you. TechCanary, along with many others, was the first step a few years back really doing a proactive, let's automate the front office. The suspecting, the prospecting, managing the sales funnel, targeting vertical markets and how to go after it.
[00:12:22.02] So anyhow, ended up at AMS. David Rowe and Dennis Chookaszian tried to buy Leader Systems from USF&G. USF&G did not want to sell it and they and they said to me, hey listen, we actually want to roll this thing up to Baltimore and roll it in. We don't want you selling this to anybody else except USF&G agents. And I decided this probably wasn't the best. And that's when I joined AMS and moved to Boston.
[00:12:51.14] And so very early on, looking back--
[00:12:54.81] REID HOLZWORTH: Sorry, why Boston, Jim? Why did you move to Boston?
[00:12:57.62] JIM HACKBARTH: Well, because at the time that's where AMS was headquartered. They were on the South Shore of Boston in a town called Hingham. David Rowe lived on the Cape which is where he is today. And so AMS was there. And then there was ARC in College Station, Texas. And at the time there was a consortium of companies that had owned it. And then through different ownership changes, CNA end up owning most of the stock of AMS. So it went from Commercial Union to a consortium of insurance companies. St. Paul, Great American, New Hampshire Insurance Group, and then ownership got consolidated.
[00:13:38.99] And Dennis Chookaszian, with all his wisdom-- he was the CFO at the time-- between him and David, probably two of the best visionaries. I've been lucky. I've been lucky to be able to work with people like a Larry Wilson. I mean, a real thought leader. A David Rowe, a Dennis Chookaszian. I mean, people like that. I've always known I'm not the brightest bulb in the box. But I figured out if you work with smart people, and you can figure out a way that you can help them, help me help you, and learn as much as you can at an early stage-- and that's kind of how it all worked out, and the pieces came together, et cetera.
[00:14:27.81] And then, you may know this story, being at applied-- through the hard work of Dennis Chookaszian, and David Rowe, and Tom Eustace-- and god bless Tom, he died a young life-- and his brother Bob, they decided, let's form a organization called APT, Alliance For Protective Technology. And at the time I think Applied was headquartered in Tinley Park. And they did a joint venture, and David and Dennis asked me if I'd moved from Boston to Chicago to head up that joint venture.
[00:15:07.82] And that was basically the very beginning of two powers coming together for the common good of the industry. And you and I could spend hours talking about the history of insurance and how people that do compete with common interests have come together over the years to find a solution for a problem that makes the industry better. Which is why I'm excited to see the role that you're in at IVANS and we can talk about this later. I just think the opportunity that is available to IVANS right now in the industry is everything is starting to come together from a technology is absolutely awesome.
[00:15:42.47] So that's a long winded answer of how did a guy like me that wanted to be a high school football coach end up in the insurance industry. So what happened, unfortunately, during the formation of APT, Tom Eustace died unexpectedly. And he was the number one leader at Applied. He and his brother Bob, Jim Kellner, people like that, people's names you may have heard.
[00:16:07.70] Bob died unexpectedly, and when that happened APT started to unravel. And without his leadership and commitment it just wasn't going to happen. And so then that's when I moved. I wasn't going to move back to Boston for family reasons, and then for other family reasons it made sense for me to move back to Columbus, after living in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago.
[00:16:33.70] REID HOLZWORTH: So for the audience, just so people understand, I'll just break down what Jim just said. Vertafore and Applied came together to build APT.
[00:16:43.46] JIM HACKBARTH: Absolutely.
[00:16:44.39] REID HOLZWORTH: Merging together. A lot of people don't know this story. I've heard this story multiple times from Dennis, David, as well as yourself.
[00:16:51.53] JIM HACKBARTH: Right.
[00:16:52.31] REID HOLZWORTH: It's pretty crazy. And literally the deal was done for the story. Basically everything was almost inked. Everybody was going up-- Dennis does this thing at this cabin in northern Wisconsin every year, where he brings his friends and family together-- you guys were all going up there, I won't name the place. I've been, it's an awesome time.
[00:17:11.36] JIM HACKBARTH: It is.
[00:17:12.38] REID HOLZWORTH: And so anyways everybody was going up to ink the deal, celebrate, and then enjoy a beautiful weekend. And Tom passed, literally. Right?
[00:17:23.06] JIM HACKBARTH: Tom passed unexpectedly. Tom and I were actually supposed to have lunch that day. And it was about 2 o'clock. He was going to pick me up, I called his office, and they said you hadn't heard the news. I go, no, what happened? They said, Tom died in his office a couple hours ago. And then that just took everything into a different direction.
[00:17:46.31] And I was very flattered, me of all people to be asked, by both David Rowe, and Dennis, and Tom Eustace, and Bob Eustace to be the guy that would be leading that. It was an awesome opportunity, and looking back, just the minds and the cooperation that happened-- but it took visionaries. It took strong visionaries that had guts, and said, we need to do this for the industry.
[00:18:18.44] You know it's funny, here we are 20 years later. And I think this is probably one of the most opportunistic times in the insurance industry and also the embedding of more technology to go to the next level. I think this is an awesome time with where we are in the industry today.
[00:18:36.26] REID HOLZWORTH: I agree. It almost feels like-- for lack of a better term, it's like a revolution is happening to some degree. Things that people have been talking about for many, many, many, many years, are actually finally starting to move.
[00:18:49.29] JIM HACKBARTH: Yup. And you've heard this, I'm much older than you, but it's funny how history has a way to repeat itself. And then when it does, you learn from the past to make it better and better and better. And I think that's where we are. Going back 20 years to where we are now, it's now all coming together. And you look at the knitting together of all these businesses, and the new technologies that are coming, and the infrastructures that are being built. And it's absolutely an incredible time.
[00:19:25.19] REID HOLZWORTH: You know what's interesting to me too? Is you're right. History does repeat itself. But a lot of the same players that were making moves back then are making moves today to help that. You guys are all involved in tons of stuff.
[00:19:39.90] JIM HACKBARTH: A little bit. But Reid, let me challenge you a little bit. If somebody would have said 10 years ago that you'd be doing what you're doing today, what would you have said? There's no way.
[00:19:53.63] REID HOLZWORTH: No way. No way.
[00:19:55.10] JIM HACKBARTH: You look at some of the fresh minds that have come into this industry, people like yourself-- Ilya Bodner, for example. Brilliant. Kabir, and then many others. But yeah, there are some people like us that are hanging out on the fringes that just want to see this continue to happen. And so you bring in this fresh blood and these fresh minds of people that say, why are we doing this Why do we do this?
[00:20:21.87] How many times did you ask why before you sat down and said, you know something? We need to build a platform that sits on top of sales force. This is absolutely crazy. How many times did Kabir say, I'm leaving Marsh and I'm going to really figure out a way to make data that people can harvest it and make use of it.
[00:20:42.39] I was privileged to sit on the board of advisors at Bold Penguin when it was three guys and a dog, or three guys and a penguin. But let me tell you, and I probably learned more from them than they ever learned from me, but what they have built in a platform-- and then you hear about the recent announcement that just was made between Bold Penguin and Marsh and Amazon. That's exciting. That's going to increase the pace, and that is very exciting. And you take the people that think through those things. But it's people like you, and Ilya, and others that are out there. Kristen Nunery, and I can go on, and on, and on about the young minds that are coming, and people that probably never thought they'd ever want to be in the insurance industry. It is an exciting time.
[00:21:33.97] REID HOLZWORTH: Wow, well that was awesome. It's really funny to hear Jim's take on the fresh minds in the industry like Ilya and Kabir. Jim, you obviously don't listen to my podcast because I just interviewed those dudes. So maybe you will now. But awesome stuff. So stay tuned to the next episode. We're going to hear Jim's take on technology's impact in the industry, as well as why Jim loves sales, why he's so good at it, really. Stay tuned.

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