Gore Mutual Insurance Company Board Appointment

I am extremely pleased to share today’s announcement from Gore Mutual Insurance Company that I have been appointed to their Board of Directors. I was officially appointed at the July 28, 2009 Board meeting and initially, I will serve on the Audit, Pension and Conduct Review & Governance Committees.

Because people may see this diferent from other activities I’m engaged in, I thought I would provide some perspective on what this appointment means for me personally.

Founded in 1839, this venerable Waterloo Region financial services institution is Canada’s oldest insurance company. Such a long and magnificent heritage and time scale is obviously very different from that of the technology startup scene. That said, this company is an object lesson to all in the nature of innovation in a long term business, and that intrigued me. The Gore, as it is affectionately known by most, has survived and thrived, not by  resting on its legacy, but through a constant process of change and innovation, to stay ahead of the many curve balls that time throws at any business.

And yet, as a regulated financial services company, through organizations like OSFI (Ontario of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions) and with a mission and obligation to prudently pool and manage risks for their members and clients, the company always walks a much finer line than startups in regards to balancing risk and innovation. That is something that both intrigued me and impressed me at how well this company has navigated that highly tuned path, particularly in recent years. Having reviewed this history as part of my due diligence, I’m absolutely convinced that without innovation and change, the Gore would never have survived on it’s long legacy alone, and that’s a great testimonial when a company can manage that for 170 years.

A second consideration for me is the opportunity to learn more about the whole world of financial insitutions. In my career, I’ve sold enterprise software to some of the largest such companies in the world (e.g. HSBC, UBS, Nations Bank). Success with these customers entailed a detailed understanding of how to make their organizations more effective through better IT productivity and quality. The chance to drill deeper in a highly respected local firm like The Gore and to help shape their forward strategy, was  not to be missed. I was warned, and certainly recognize, that the learning curve will be steep, but I’m already relishing that challenge, having just internalized 5 thick binders of briefing materials and background documentation.

Over the years, first as a CEO and more recently as a hands-on investor, I’ve internalized a very important truth — the people you work with (or invest in, or sit on a board with) must be the most important selection factor. In my due diligence, I was absolutely impressed with management. The CEO, Kevin McNeil, has assembled an extremely impressive team that has moved the Gore forward a quantum leap over the last few years. Likewise, the Board members are a diverse, smart and engaged team that complements this excellence in management. It is to be noted that they come from many industries and all had the same learning curve I did, including one from the Life Insurance industry which is a different business from general insurance. Furthermore, each and every employee I have talked to so far seems passionate, committed, yet not afraid to make the difficult suggestions to help shape the company’s execution. This is a company of surprisingly innovative people and in that respect, it isn’t really that different from the culture in a startup.

Finally, I note that 2009 is an interesting time to be joining a financial services company Board. While Property and Casualty insurers haven’t seen the exposure to the excesses of the credit crunch (ie. CDOs and such derivatives), it is clear that the public’s need for transparent and well executed corporate governance has never been more heartfelt. As I mentioned, the Gore is easily one of the best governed companies I’ve encountered.

Currently, I am appointed to serve on the Audit, Pension and Conduct Review & Governance Committees. Particularly in the case of the Audit Committee, my deep background in IT systems will help to balance the risk review and management activities in that important area.

I am happy to share more with people about this appointment over the coming weeks.