07:12 AM

Our strategy IS our movement


CEO Jack Salzwedel reflects on why engaging in societal issues is part of a sound business strategy. 

True change over the long term must be ingrained in our strategy.

As American Family’s senior leadership team finalizes a new enterprise strategic plan, I’ve thought about this phrase often. I want our strategy to drive business results that provide products and services our customers want. I also want that same strategy to provide opportunities for our people and serve the communities where we live and work.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching, analyzing and speaking to recent events related to police brutality, the pandemic and its effects on minority groups, the impending election, and the national divide about things as seemingly simple as wearing a mask. It’s abundantly clear: We must think even more deeply about our company’s strategy and our role enacting change in our world.

Yes, it feels good to help our communities. But, it’s also imperative to the long-term success of our business. We must do more.

I’ve spoken to various audiences about four crises plaguing our nation: Health, the economy, race and leadership. Each would command significant attention on its own. The focus placed on each is important now because the people they impact demand action and won’t rest until they see results.

This is our reality. These are our customers. They are our neighbors. Helping find solutions to societal crises affecting them is not separate from our work or mission. It is core to American Family’s business strategy.

The thing is, we’re ready for this.

Several years ago, we began assembling the talent needed to differentiate our organization from others. We created a more diverse and inclusive workplace. We improved our benefits. We strengthened our culture.

We’ve done these things not just because we want the best talent, to treat people well, and to do what’s right. We’ve done them because they’re good for business. Our talent and inclusive excellence work set us apart. They make us a better place to work. They make us stronger partners in solving problems for our customers and in tackling issues facing our society.

The ideals of equity, diversity and inclusivity are embedded in our values, philanthropy and – now – our strategy. So, when moments like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Amy Cooper, Heather Heyer and others happen – we immediately engage. We react to these moments – not to grab a headline – but because we’re called to lead in a movement important to our customers, our people and our communities.

Some other companies struggle to engage in societal issues because it’s not been embedded in their strategies. Support fades when the moment passes. Ours will not.

One CEO at another company recently asked me – somewhat negatively – “How much time do you spend on inclusive excellence?” I was taken aback and asked my own follow-up question: “How much time do you spend on strategy?”

To some leaders, strategy may be synonymous with profit and loss, expense ratios, and revenue growth. I’d argue it’s just as important to plan for, act on and measure work around inclusive excellence, equity and social issues -- just like we do for traditional business metrics.

This is our strategy because it syncs with traditional business results.

Diverse Americans drive 100% of our country’s population growth, while influencing the buying attitudes of the non-diverse. They represent $3.5 trillion in spending power. As an organization, we can’t ignore issues important to them – ones affecting our country now. We can’t sit this one out and “stick to insurance” while customers take their buying power and influence elsewhere.

Our country is hurting. Unfortunately, moments likes these were squandered before. What’s different now? There’s a groundswell for business to lead – to act – in this moment.

I’m confident our strategy – one connected directly to this work and led by our talented and passionate people – will help us turn this moment into a movement. And it will set us up for sustained success for decades to come.

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About the American Family Insurance group
Based in Madison, Wisconsin, American Family Insurance has been serving customers since 1927. We inspire, protect and restore dreams through our insurance products, exceptional service from our agency owners and employees, community investment and creative partnerships to address societal challenges. We act on our belief in diversity and inclusion by constantly evolving to meet customer needs and preferences. American Family Insurance group is the nation’s 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group, ranking No. 254 on the Fortune 500 list. The group sells American Family-brand products, primarily through exclusive agency owners in 19 states. The American Family Insurance group also includes CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance, The GeneralHomesite and Main Street America. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.