Westrate to succeed Salzwedel as American Family CEO in 2022
Company announces succession plan to help ensure continued transformation.
American Family Insurance group today announced a succession plan for Chair and Chief Executive Officer Jack Salzwedel, reinforcing its commitment to business growth, an innovative and inclusive work culture, and strong involvement in communities where its customers live and work.
The plan, which was initiated by Salzwedel two years ago and developed with the board of directors, calls for him to continue as chair and CEO until Jan. 1, 2022.
American Family Enterprise President Bill Westrate will serve as CEO-elect starting January 2021 and will succeed Salzwedel as CEO one year later, with Salzwedel continuing in the role of board chair.
"Bill is a strategic, driven and authentic leader,” Salzwedel 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.”
The year-long transition of CEO responsibilities is not unusual for large companies and is intended to ensure continued operational and customer service excellence, said Paul Shain, presiding director of the American Family board.
“Bill is a superb fit for American Family’s next CEO,” Shain said. “He brings incredible knowledge of the industry and the company to this role. He has a passion for our customers, a vision for the future, and he develops high performing teams.
“He has a focus on operational execution that is critical as the enterprise continues to leverage its acquisitions of the past several years. He is the perfect leader to continue the journey that American Family has embarked upon under Jack’s leadership.”
American Family transformed under Salzwedel’s leadership
Salzwedel called his 10-year tenure as American Family CEO the “honor of a lifetime.”
“Staying true to who we are as a mutual company owned by our policyholders, we have intensified our focus on meeting their needs and preferences, both in the short-term and long-term,” he said. “We have become significantly more agile, innovative and courageous, blessed with employees and agency owners who care for our customers, communities and each other.”
Salzwedel added, “I am forever grateful for the experiences and relationships I developed as CEO. But my wife, Sarah, and I believe it’s time to step back. We want to spend more time with each other, our four children and new grandchild. We will stay involved in the community, but we look forward to traveling as well – without having it related to business.”
Salzwedel’s time with American Family spans back to his childhood when he helped out at the office of his father, American Family agency owner Tom Salzwedel.
After graduating from Wartburg College, Salzwedel joined American Family in 1983 as a claim adjuster. Two years later, he became an American Family agency owner and over time advanced into sales management, which included a career-defining period in Milwaukee where he arrived to rebuild community relationships and enhance insurance availability to the city’s Black community.
After serving in a variety of executive positions, Salzwedel became CEO and chair in 2011, succeeding one of his closest mentors, David Anderson.
During Salzwedel’s CEO tenure, American Family increased its investment in its exclusive agency owners through extensive product and technology development, while simultaneously expanding into new geographic markets and distribution channels through acquisitions of three other insurance companies (The General, Homesite and Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance), and a merger with another (Main Street America).
The changes enabled American Family to grow from a regional insurer – pegged by one industry expert as “sleepy” – to a hard-charging national enterprise. It has expanded its operating states from 19 to 50 and has seen its policies in force grow to more than 12 million and employees to approximately 13,500.
The company also gained policyholder approval to convert to a mutual holding company and established expertise in diversity and inclusion, data science, artificial intelligence, venture capital investment and customer-focused operational efficiency. In addition, American Family enhanced employee programs and benefits – including a $20-per-hour minimum wage – and significantly increased philanthropy and involvement in the community, including the establishment of the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation and American Family Institute for Corporate and Social Impact. The American Family Insurance Championship, a PGA TOUR Champions golf tournament in Madison, was also launched in 2016, and has since raised millions of dollars for the American Family Children’s Hospital and other charities.
“American Family believes in our people and our communities. It is impossible to be successful without them, and they deserve and need our support,” said Salzwedel. An advocate for social justice, equality and equity, he has championed those causes within and outside American Family, including commentary on Twitter as @AmFamJack, where he was recently named Best Leader on Twitter by the CSuite Digital Leadership Awards.
“Jack has been a visionary leader for American Family and the industry in the areas of technology, innovation of products and services and more, issues that not only benefit policyholders and customers but position American Family for a strong, sustainable future,” said David Sampson, president and CEO of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.
“Jack has been focused on the importance of leadership development, social equity and inclusion issues long before it came to the front of national consciousness in 2020.”
Shain praised Salzwedel for “leaving an indelible mark on American Family through many different lenses.”
“Jack embraced a digital transformation with a focus on customer benefit. He embraced the importance of social engagement and the value of a diverse and engaged workforce,” Shain said. “And he embraced change to address the evolving marketplace and the desire of customers to engage across many different channels. The result is a stronger company that is the envy of the industry.
“American Family was fortunate to have Jack serve as CEO during this critical time, and as he passes the baton to the next generation of leaders, we can all be thankful for the work he has done.”
Westrate plans to build on company’s legacy
Westrate has served as president of the American Family enterprise since 2017. Most of his 26-year career in the insurance industry has been in service to American Family. He joined the company in 1996 as an actuary and steadily rose through the leadership ranks, including stints as vice president of the actuarial and personal lines divisions. After serving as executive vice president of the personal lines and commercial-farm/ranch divisions, he was elected chief operating officer in 2014, a role he filled until becoming enterprise president.
“I am humbled, honored and prepared to serve the customers, employees and agency owners of American Family as their CEO,” said Westrate. “I’ve been fortunate to partner with Jack, our board and executives in leading the company’s growth and transformation, which will continue.
“Our foundation as a mutual company is rock-solid. Our strategy as a national multi-line, multi-channel insurance provider is sound. And, our people and commitment to an inclusive and diverse culture will continue to fuel our success.”
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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 General, Homesite and Main Street America. Across these companies the group has more than 13,500 employees nationwide.