How did you get started in the business?
When I was in my 20s, my older brother, Burt, was (and still is) a prominent attorney in Boston. He wanted to help me get into a stable career. At the time, he was Executive Director of MAPIA – the Massachusetts Association of Public Insurance Adjusters – and he was a close childhood friend of Bruce Swerling. Based on my personality, everybody knew — including myself – that I probably wouldn’t be too interested in sitting behind a desk. Bruce knew I had street smarts and took a chance on me. It turns out I had the right personality for this business – but I had to get the right credentials, too. Bruce wanted me to take the Massachusetts exam for public adjusters. Even though I wasn’t an academic, he forced me to get ready for the exam – took me to his house for Sunday study sessions, all that. He was a tough teacher. Back then, the Swerling team really helped me, and I was able to pass the exam. Things just progressed from there.
What was your most memorable claim?
There are numerous memorable times in this business. When I was really young, a few hurricanes tore through the Caribbean, and I decided to go the U.S. Virgin Islands to see what opportunities might be for SMW to help. When I got down there, there was no running water or power. The car the rental agency gave me had no windows – it was a wild time. But with a little luck and a lot of hustle, I was able to sign several very rewarding contracts on losses in the region. And it grew from there. As the years went on, we continued to grow this business throughout the Caribbean islands. I was fortunate that Bruce and the SMW team recognized this opportunity and supported me in running these new claims. To this day, we are still working in those regions. In fact, we just finished several claims in St. Maarten and Puerto Rico – so that type of business is still very much part of our portfolio. It was really satisfying to go down there and create something for us while helping people there recover from tropical storms.
From your first role in the company to what you do now – how has it changed?
I was always a salesperson – bottom line. My job was to bring business into the company. So, I spent a lot of time at events, dinners – even out in the street chasing fires at 5 a.m. – whatever it took for me to solidify my place in the firm. As time went on, Bruce and Marvin Milton instilled in me the need to be involved with the processing of the claims, and more or less forced me to pay attention to that. I’m happy I became more involved in that side of the business, because when Bruce passed, my role completely changed. The firm changed, too, and each of us had the opportunity to take on new responsibilities – and we have succeeded in answering that challenge. I’m proud to say that today the company is stronger than ever, and we continue to grow. This is due in no small part to my successful working relationship with Diane Swerling, which has positioned the firm to enter new areas of business and take on new clientele. We have built on the respect we’ve always had in the industry, and we handle the biggest and most sophisticated claims of anyone. And, after all these years, I’m a lot different from the kid I was when I started. Now I’m here late every day, deeply engaged in all aspects of the business 24-7. I think of all the things that I used to do that annoyed the leadership team back then – and now today’s staff is doing those same things to me!
What’s a lesson that you have learned about this business?
Clearly, businesses can’t be successful without the sales. And my focus on sales all those years were important to me and to the firm. Conversely, I now understand the equal importance of having excellent staff and individual expertise in claims management. When I was younger, I didn’t fully appreciate the necessary estimates, analysis and evaluations for a claim to be successful. So, I would say that one lesson I have learned is that – even though sales are obviously critical – overall, I now appreciate the degree to which your reputation is based on the work product you put out. In this regard, preparation makes all the difference. You have to out-prepare the other side and know more about the claim to assist your clients.
What’s the most fun part of the job?
I love our staff. Coming to work is not a job for me. I enjoy working with the team we have; we truly have a great group of people. Some days are harder than others for all of us, of course, but I personally love the challenge of dealing with different scenarios and coming up with different strategies to bring claims to a successful conclusion. Different clients have different expectations, and every insurance adjuster has individual quirks. Take two claims that seem identical, and each would present unique challenges. I enjoy the process of weeding out and determining what must be done to make each successful. That requires working with the insureds, managing clients, and meeting everybody’s expectations. When it all finally comes together – and it always does – it’s extremely rewarding to see the clients satisfied with the services we provided. It’s very hard sometimes, but it’s truly rewarding.
When are you at your best?
I have to be crazy busy. I’m not much fun to be around when things are slow.
What’s the hardest part?
The same staff I love – they also drive me crazy!
As far as the industry, I’m always torn by the emotional side of the job. To be a successful public adjuster, you must have real empathy for your clients. We engage with people who have suffered really traumatic property losses – their homes, their business, all of their personal possessions. And I feel strongly that, to be successful, a public adjuster absolutely must connect with clients on a personal level. So, I get emotionally invested in my client’s losses, and I’m aware every day how difficult and upsetting it is for them to go through this process. It’s not just about money – they also need support, and they rely on us to help them. They’re essentially turning over their emotional and financial lives to us, and we have to honor that relationship. At the same time, we sometimes have to give them hard news – not every claim settles in the most favorable way. We take that role very seriously, and it can be very difficult sometimes.
Who is your favorite singer?
I like all kinds of music. I’m mostly into pop music. I was into Bruno Mars for a while, but not recently. I listen to a lot of talk radio – Felger and Mazz, sports radio, that kind of thing. I like to listen to music while I’m driving, but unfortunately, I’m often on the phone when I’m in the car.
What’s your favorite meal?
Chinese food – with Italian a close second.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
Ketel One on the rocks with an orange wedge.
What’s your workout routine?
I try to get to the gym 3-4 times a week. I’ll mostly lift weights and do some cardio – in between a lot of talking to the members who are in there.
Most irrational fear?
That somebody is going to catch on to me.
Fact that surprises people:
I’m more than just a salesman – I’m actually engrossed in the details of the claims. And I’m actually warm and fuzzy.
What’s your go-to for karaoke?
Earth Wind and Fire; Charlie Puth; Shawn Mendes; the Weeknd.
Check out: Electric Light Orchestra – it’s an old band that’s coming back.
What’s your next vacation destination?
I’m a fan of the Caribbean. My favorite vacation is hitting the beach and relaxing.
Who is your dream dinner guest?
I would find it fascinating to sit down with a big-time entertainment sports agent – someone who represents a top musician, or an athlete, or a rock star. I think it would be so interesting to hear the stories they would tell.
How would your mother describe you?
I was a “major pain in the ass”. I was a lot of trouble as a kid. Sports helped keep me out of too much trouble, but I was clearly a handful for both of my parents to manage.
What’s the worst fad you’ve participated in?
Platform shoes. Someone showed me an old photo recently. I had the bell bottom pants, long hair – and the platform shoes. I look at that and think, “what the F#$% was I thinking?”
What’s the last book you read?
A novel by James Patterson – Liar Liar.
What are your resolutions for the new year?
I’m going to try to live a healthier existence for my grandkids and my family. I’d like to stick around as long as possible.
What’s your top insurance tip?
Make sure you get advice from a real professional. There are a lot of fakers out there. When you’re considering purchasing insurance, regardless of what kind, understand that there are a lot of people out there who really don’t know what they’re selling. Educate yourself before you make choices. As PAs, we see it all the time – people who are underinsured, or don’t have the right insurance, or who purchase inadequate coverage – even though they’re being advised by supposed experts. It’s tough to weed out the bad ones, but we certainly see the good ones every day. Make sure you rely on somebody in the field who truly is top notch.