Leadership changes at The AMS Users' Group
New AMS Users’ Group chief exec brings unique background to the job
By Nancy Doucette
Never underestimate the power of goal setting. Just ask Brady Polansky, CPCU, CIC, who became chief executive officer of The AMS Users’ Group in August 2008.
On second thought, don’t ask Polansky. He’ll tell you that the successes he’s enjoyed during his 20-year association with the insurance industry are the result of “dumb luck.” But ask him about his reading list and he’ll tell you that he’s a fan of Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles, which carries the subtitle “How to get from where you are to where you want to be.”
Polansky’s resume chronicles his successes in the insurance industry. Most recently he was director of agency operations for Westfield Insurance. His responsibilities included industry relations, agency education and automation for the carrier. Before Westfield, he was the chief technology officer for Dawson Companies, a large, multi-location agency headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to that, he owned an agency himself.
Admittedly, the insurance industry is pretty conservative. So it’s probably tactically astute that Polansky didn’t reference on his resume his experience in touring entertainment for some high-profile rockers such as AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen and The Ramones.
But how does a guy in his late teens from Cleveland become a roadie for international entertainers like this? “Dumb luck,” is Polansky’s answer. He started out doing the sound and lights for his older brother’s band in high school. “And that became my passion,” he recalls, “working in engineering for entertainment.”
By the time he was 22, though, he discovered he was the “senior” technician. People in that line of work didn’t stay in it much past their mid-20s. “The path I was on was heading nowhere long-term,” he says.
Imagining the unimaginable
Polansky’s career path took a decided turn. He joined his father’s agency—something he never imagined would happen. His “dumb luck” prevailed as he built his book of business and eventually bought the agency. His participation in the state Big “I” and Kiwanis extended his network of contacts and heightened his reputation as a mover and shaker.
His involvements outside the agency caught the attention of the Dawson Companies. Polansky remembers that the executives at Dawson invited him to come onboard in a behind-the-scenes capacity—helping to train the producers and make sure the technology was properly configured. He sold his agency and joined Dawson. During the seven years that he was at Dawson, he says, “we went from $10 million in premium and 68 employees to over $22.5 million and 225 employees. It was an incredible time; a lot of fun.”
Westfield Insurance Company managed to lure Polansky away, though. During his five years there the carrier redefined how it interfaced with agents—both technically and personally. He is quick to point out, however: “The whole success with Westfield had nothing to do with me. All I did was say, ‘We have to listen to our agents.’ So we put together an advisory council and met with the agent members on a regular basis, to show them what we were developing in terms of technology. And then we would listen to what they had to say about what they saw.
“That’s all I really did—get people to change the way they thought about what was important.
“There were more than 100 people involved in the various teams, contributing to Westfield’s success. So it wasn’t because of what any one person did.”
The next step
Dumb luck cropped up again as Polansky was mentally reviewing his next steps. “I was in mid-thought and the phone rang,“ he recalls. “It was the recruiter for The AMS Users’ Group wanting to gauge my interest in the CEO position.” Discussions ensued. Agreements were made. Polansky and his family pulled up stakes and moved to the Dallas area where The AMS Users’ Group is located.
And that brings us back to the power of goal setting. Polansky has followed author Jack Canfield’s suggestion that people need to create a list of 101 things they want to do before they die. Although he didn’t enumerate all 101 things during his interview with Rough Notes, he did share some highlights. For one, he wanted to draw on his touring entertainment experience and provide the sound for the major sporting events for the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL.
“I did nothing more than write down that goal. I didn’t solicit anything,” he explains. That was about 2-1/2 years ago. In the last year, he continues, “I’ve been a consultant on the payroll for Major League Baseball’s World Series, for the NHL Stanley Cup, for the NBA Finals and the NFL’s Super Bowl. Amazing. It’s dumb luck.
“I also listed that I wanted to be a CEO,” Polansky notes. “And here I am.”
As The AMS Users’ Group CEO, he anticipates that about 80% of his time will be spent on leadership development, teaching staff and volunteers these techniques, and helping them understand the power of having a plan.
Polansky insists that he has always been a behind-the-scenes kind of guy and while the position of CEO is a visible one, he prefers to stand behind the staff and volunteers. “I want The AMS Users’ Group to be the most revered technology trade association for the insurance industry,” he says.
Not surprisingly, he has some goals in order to accomplish his vision for the users’ group.
“The mission of The AMS Users’ Group is to provide world class education, advocacy and networking opportunities,” he begins. “We want to do all that to help drive business performance for the benefit of the folks who use any of the AMS family of products.
“Three main goals are an outgrowth of that mission.
“The first is to find, empower and grow the best volunteers and staff on the planet,” Polansky explains. “We will create a plan for staff and volunteers and will mentor, coach, train and educate them in order to achieve that.
“The second goal is a bit controversial,” he continues. “I want to grow the top line while also achieving positive pre-tax profit. It’s controversial because we’re a nonprofit association. Federally we’re a for-profit organization because of the way some of our revenues are generated. In the state of Texas we’re a nonprofit corporation.
“In either case, we need to grow revenues. I propose doing that by selling our services and sponsorships.
“What I need to be clear on,” Polansky emphasizes, “is that it’s not so much about cutting expenses, as much as it is about doing things that provide positive return on our investment.”
He notes that his third goal is “very altruistic. I want to leave the insurance industry better than when I found it. I want to do that by maximizing the value derived by our members.
“In the last five to seven years, the insurance industry has come farther than it has in the last 300 years in terms of trying to come together to make the industry a better place.
“If the members of The AMS Users’ Group control 40% - 45% of all the written premium in our industry, what better place to try to influence the industry?”
FINDING THE RIGHT STUFF
“This was a very long process,” says AMS Users’ Group President Mike Gray, commenting on the search process for the new CEO. “Around August 2007, AMS Users’ Group Executive Director Susie Buyck told the executive committee that we should begin thinking about finding her replacement.”
The users’ group worked with the Laurel Group to search for the right candidates. “At one point they had a list of 90 potential candidates,” Gray recalls. That list was narrowed to about 35 and then down to five, with Brady Polansky being one of them. The list included individuals with association background as well as non-association folks.
“The individuals on the short list all brought a lot of knowledge to the table,” Gray continues. “But Brady’s credentials stood out—especially his ability to grasp the strategic direction in which the industry is probably headed. He has the ability to ‘skate to where the puck is going to be,’ as Wayne Gretzky used to say.”
AMS Users’ Group executive director retires after 25 years of leadership
If you’re familiar with the work of Linda Ellis, then you’re familiar with her poem “The Dash.” It speaks of that time between when something begins and when some-thing ends. For Susie Buyck, CAE, her “dash” was the time between when she joined The AMS Users’ Group in 1983 and when she retired in August 2008.
During that time, she saw the association grow from a handful of agencies when she came on board to more than 15,000 independent agencies today. She saw the staff grow from three to 17. And she saw the board of directors, executive committee and committee structure take root and grow.
“In the beginning,” she recalls, “we provided education on one system. Now, in addition to our education offerings on the array of AMS products, we advocate for industry-wide change. We do that through our involvement in ACT (the Agents Council for Technology), AUGIE (the ACORD-User Group Information Exchange), our Industry Affairs Committee sharing member concerns with carriers, and members’ participation on carrier advisory councils.”
Buyck notes that the “founding fathers” of The AMS Users’ Group knew nothing about automation or technology, but they knew enough to understand that they needed to figure it out or they were going to be left behind by their competition. So they made frequent visits to the vendor’s headquarters to sit down with management to learn more about the technology they’d purchased.
The vendor (known in those days as ARC-Agency Records Control) harnessed the enthusiasm of those early adopters and had them help new customers get started with the technology. “They became networking resources for the new agents,” she says, and the seeds for the users’ group were sown.
Close personal and professional relationships developed as the numbers of agents sharing automation knowledge with other agents grew, she continues. “They recognized what their ‘association’ had done for them as individuals and as individual agencies. They realized that there was a need for this type of organization.
“However, the core individuals wanted the group to be more than just another organization. They envisioned a relationship-based association. That core group of agents was so customer service oriented that it was meaningful to them to help others. And it helped them in return. The more knowledgeable they helped others become, the more resources they had to turn to,” Buyck says.
“The AMS Users’ Group was the first users’ group in the insurance technology space,” she points out. “And we were the first to have paid staff.”
Buyck says she had a consistent goal during her tenure with the users’ group: “to ensure that our members are successful—both in the agency and as individuals. My role was to get people involved and once they were involved, to make them feel that their contributions were vital to the success of The AMS Users’ Group, and to the growth of their fellow agents.
“Through their involvement, volunteers are certainly helping to build the organization,” she adds, “but they are growing as individuals as well—making them more valuable to their agency.”
“Having enthusiastic members brings on more enthusiastic members—so there are more people who are successful, who share their ideas. But you can’t get people talking and sharing unless you build a relationship with them,” Buyck explains.
After 25 years as executive director of The AMS Users’ Group, Susie Buyck acknowledges it will be difficult to walk away, but, she says, “There has to be a ending and a new beginning. If there ever was a good time to stop, this is it because The AMS Users’ Group is where it needs to be and now can be moved forward.”
For more information:
The AMS Users’ Group
Web site: www.amsug.org