Risk Management Magazine Spoke with John Sinnot, Chairman and CEO of Hew York-Based Insurance Broker Marsh Inc., Recently about Evolving Leadership Styles, the Lessons Learned from September 11, Understanding Corporate Culture and What Kind of Risk Managers Will Succeed in Tomorrow's Risk Environment. (Executive Perspective: John Sinnott Chairman & CEO Marsh Inc.)

Article excerpt

RM: Is there a leadership crisis looming?

John Sinnott: That's a rather broad statement. I suppose in certain companies that's true. But I don't think you can apply that in any way across the board for business throughout America. Unfortunately, there is that connotation that's coming out.

In the business that we're in, what we've seen for the last six or seven months certainly hasn't created any distraction. The whole area of risk has gone through a rather dramatic shift not only because of September 11, but other events thereafter, and we've had to apply our talents to those challenges. And this includes not just my leadership talents but the leadership talents of all our senior people.

I don't see a leadership crisis for our business or for the vast bulk of our clients. So long as you maintain a close eye on what are proper business practices, as long as you do that, I think you'll be OK.

RM: Over the course of your career, has your leadership theory changed?

Sinnott: I'm not sure the right word is "change." As with anything else, leadership theory grows as your area of responsibility becomes greater and wider, not just geographically, but financially and in terms of people. That growth does require you to change.

I've been with the company for thirty-nine years. Looking back thirty years, twenty years or ten years ago, I've had to change my style somewhat based upon my responsibilities. I certainly cannot be as hands-on in certain areas as I might have been thirty years ago when I had a smaller area of responsibility. That's one aspect. The other aspect is the change in my purview, from mostly U.S. risk issues to global risk issues.

I suppose if your responsibilities stay fairly stagnant, you might have to force yourself a bit more to reevaluate your leadership style, but when a business is growing, you don't have to prompt yourself very much to realize that change is important.

RM: Would you say that you have one underlying leadership philosophy?

Sinnott: There are two mantras. They might sound like cliches but they are true in the nature of our business.

The first is, we're in the professional service business. Everything starts with client service. So you have to gear the way you behave with that always in mind. That means you have to spend time not only with others in the firm thinking about the best way to deliver client service, but you also have to be accessible to clients. That's one aspect of it.

The other is, we don't run a plant, we don't manufacture anything. Our business is our people. Marsh Inc. has roughly thirty-six thousand people around the world and you can't just decide you're going to sit in your office and pull strings. You have to be seen out there with your people, with your colleagues in delivering that client service.

Maybe those issues that I've raised are somewhat specific to the type of business that we're in, but they're important tenets. Your leadership style therefore has to be geared toward that.

RM: How was Marsh's response to its losses on September 11 developed?

Sinnott: It's a given that the entire company responded first and foremost to the colleagues who were originally missing and to those who were lost. In our business, people work very closely together. We lost people not just from the New York office; we lost people from sixteen different offices, people from out-of-town offices that were visiting at that particular time.

We immediately set up an emergency center in our building at 1166 [Avenue of the Americas] in midtown. Volunteers from within the company manned phones around the clock trying to locate colleagues and gather information and provide a point of contact for families that didn't know what had happened to their spouses, daughters, sons, fathers, mothers.

We soon realized that this was too big an issue to handle on premises, so we then set up a family center in a hotel just around the corner from our midtown office and invited families of the missing to come in. …