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Photo essay: Jack Salzwedel through the years


As Chair and CEO Jack Salzwedel retires as CEO at the end of December (he will continue as chair), we look back in photos at some of the siginficant milestones in his remarkable career with American Family Insurance.

Jack Salzwedel began his career with American Family Insurance in 1983. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Tom, and became an agent in 1985. Jack then took sales and product line leadership roles at American Family, leading up to his election as chair and chief executive officer in November 2011.

During his tenure as CEO, Jack oversaw a dramatic transformation – from standalone company to national and international holding company with multiple insurers, new distribution systems, and noninsurance companies including technology and artificial intelligence.

Under Jack’s leadership – the American Family brand has been established and strengthened, and the company has expanded its footprint and grown from No. 358 to 232 on the Fortune 500 list. American Family is a recognized leader in venture investing, philanthropy and social justice. Strong business results – in growth, profit, equity, assets and people – accompanied this transformation. 

See the photos above/captions below for some of the highlights of Jack’s storied career with American Family.

1 - An American Family
The Salzwedels put ‘Family’ in American Family Insurance. Jack’s dad, Tom, was an agency owner in DeForest, Wisconsin. As a youngster, Jack and his siblings would distribute flyers around town to prospect for new business.

2 - First job
Jack began his career with American Family in 1983 as a claim adjuster. Here he’s with others in training with then-Health Division coworkers, learning medical terminology and other claims-related processes. Jack said many in this photo were hired by the same manager, Don Minter, and still get together regularly. “We call ourselves ‘The Junior Mints’,” Jack said.

3 - Agency owner days
In 1985, Jack became an agency owner in Sun Prairie, Wis. Pictured (from left) with Jack are Larry “Smokey” Anderson (D-16, Sun Prairie, Wis.); Paul Swalve, Jack’s sales manager at the time; Jerry Hackbart, an agency owner in the same district; and Drew Lawrence, a member of the Marketing Division at the time.

4 - Agency recognition
Jack earned several honors as an agency owner. He began to forge deep and lasting friendships with other agency owners, sales leadership and company employees. Here he’s pictured with then-CEO Dale Mathwich at the 1988 All American convention.

5 - Executive leadership
In his interview for the President/Chief Operating Officer role in 2006, Jack stressed he wanted to help lead a transformation at American Family. He told the Board of Directors status quo was not going to get it done. The board agreed and Jack – and then-CEO Dave Anderson (pictured here with Jack) – began that transformation in 2007.

6 - Supporting those impacted by catastrophes
Jack personally visited with customers and agency owners after devastating catastrophes. Here, Jack helps deliver a claim check to a customer after a tornado in Wadena, Iowa, in 2010.

7 - Long live dreams
As he noted in an accompanying Beyond the Tweet “Privilege of a Lifetime,” Jack sees the dreams-inspired advertising campaign as a defining moment in his CEO tenure. The campaign changed the trajectory of the American Family brand, leading to geographic expansion, new distribution systems, venture investing, philanthropy, social justice and more.

8 - Bringing dreams to life
Jack helped welcome the addition of DreamBank to American Family Insurance in October 2012. Created as an experiential space to explore dreams, DreamBank has since moved to the first floor of the Spark Building.

9 - Welcoming new operating companies to the family
Geographic and distribution channel expansion has been a key strategy component during Jack's tenure as CEO, adding The General, Homesite, Main Street America and CONNECT to the enterprise. Shaquille O'Neil became a brand ambassador for The General in 2016.

10 - A social CEO
Jack has embraced social media to stay connected with customers, employees and other leaders. He started blogging in 2013 and authored a chapter in a book on how leaders can use social media. He’s remained one of the most active and engaged CEOs on Twitter, earning numerous accolades for his use of social media.

11 - Strengthening community partnerships: UW-Madison
A longtime partner of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, American Family affirmed its commitment in 2015, supporting academic programs, research, athletics and charitable activities. In 2019, that support expanded to include UW data science initiatives. “This strengthens our support of a world-class university that educates our customers’ children and influences people’s lives beyond the classroom,” Jack said.

12 - Supporting American Family Children's Hospital
A long-time supporter of the American Family Children’s Hospital, Jack visits a young patient with brand ambassador Kathy Ireland. Jack also served as co-chair of the hospital’s board

13 - Expanding American Family's philanthropy
The American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation was established in 2015 under Jack’s leadership. It builds upon the long-standing support of communities American Family serves. As the company’s mission has evolved from corporate giving to community investing, the Foundation turned its focus to building strong partnerships with nonprofit organizations that help strengthen both families and communities.

14 - The American Family Insurance Championship
An idea originally discussed between Jack and brand ambassador Steve Stricker, the formation of the American Family Insurance Championship was announced in 2015, bringing professional golf back to Wisconsin. It also created the Steve Stricker American Family Insurance Foundation that uses tournament proceeds to support the American Family Children’s Hospital and other local nonprofits. Since 2016, the PGA TOUR Champions event has raised nearly $12.6 million for charity and created a $68 million economic impact for the local area.

15 - A Spark for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship
In 2017, American Family broke ground for the Spark – a new building in downtown Madison. It’s home to DreamBank, an agency office, American Family Ventures, and the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact. “The Spark represents American Family’s commitment to be on the leading edge of new ideas, while boosting Wisconsin’s reputation as a magnet for entrepreneurs,” Jack said during the groundbreaking ceremony. Spark opened in 2018.

16 - A commitment to Milwaukee: Summerfest
Under Jack’s leadership, American Family began a 10-year partnership with Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. in 2017, which was also part of a larger commitment to the Milwaukee community. The partnership included a presenting sponsorship of Summerfest and construction of the new 23,000-seat American Family Insurance Amphitheater, which opened earlier this year.

17 - A commitment to Milwaukee: The Brewers and AmFam Field
Perhaps American Family’s most visible commitment to Milwaukee is the partnership with the Brewers, including naming rights for the team’s ballpark – announced in 2019. “This is the beginning of something very special for our company -- and we think it's the beginning of something special with this ball club as well,” Jack said. The renamed American Family Field (often referred to as AmFam Field) officially opened in 2021.

18 - A pledge for diversity, equity and inclusion
Joined by Tyler Whipple, Jack signed a pledge as part of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion in 2018, committing American Family to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Jack has used his voice to advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across the enterprise, and in communities.

19 - Passing the torch
Under Jack’s leadership, the American Family Insurance Board of Directors established a more deliberate approach to leadership succession, which included the selection of Bill Westrate as his successor. “Bill is a strategic, driven and authentic leader,” Jack said. “He has incredible knowledge of our company and industry, combined with a forward-looking vision and interest in new opportunities, that will serve him well not only as CEO of a Fortune 300 company but also as a strong community partner.”

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