12 Qs with Gary Kaplan, President of Construction at AXA XL

5 min read
June 22, 2021

12 Questions with Gary Kaplan

Welcome to 12 Questions, a Q&A series where we pose the same set of 12 questions to intriguing folks at the intersection of insurance, risk management, commercial real estate, and digital innovation. 

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This week, we chat with Gary Kaplan, President of Construction at AXA XL.

1. What is the most interesting idea you’ve encountered in your world lately?

Building our Construction Ecosystem to help our customers (North America’s top contractors) adopt new risk-reducing technologies to help them solve issues and problems encountered on construction projects. We believe that bringing new, curated technologies to our most forward-thinking contractors through our Ecosystem Platform will realize our vision “to successfully build and rebuild North America through construction projects.” 

2. Where do you think no one is looking right now?

Developing new underwriting categories that incentivize the adoption of game-changing technologies for construction projects. This concept has been around for decades in HPR but has never really been used in our industry. We’ve recently announced two new underwriting classes for Highly Protected Projects (HPP) and Mass Timber Projects.  There will be more as we figure out how to match up risk-improving technologies with segments of the construction industry. We are already planning to move this concept beyond the construction industry.

3. If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your industry?

The uncertainty of performance that has existed for my entire career as an underwriter and an insurance business unit leader. Every few years, some significant change will force us to rethink how much of the premium we collect for any given risk needs to be reserved for paying for future losses. The impact of climate change on weather patterns, social inflation and nuclear verdicts, distracted drivers, social and political unrest, and changes in the labor pool are all things that drive this uncertainty.

4. What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?

Using our Leadership, Planning and Execution model to develop the next generation of leaders. Also, teaching the graduating classes at NIU and ISU and new AXA XL interns each year. The numerous podcasts I’ve done over Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been rewarding, as well. At AXA XL, we also have an internal leadership development program (working with my other team at the Rapid Results Institute) focused on coaching those driving social reform (youth homelessness in the USA). This model is how we lead, plan, and execute across the globe at AXA XL.

[Editor's note: Gary was recently a guest on the podcast, Building BITE.]

5. What do you envision the next 12 months will bring?

They will bring profitability back to the insurance market, in-person sporting events (And, of course, some live music!), and more and more face-to-face collaboration and relationship building (I just got back from my first conference in Florida - it was awesome catching up with everyone.)

6. What’s your favorite building?

It has to be Soldier Field in Chicago (opened in 1924). I hated it before the renovation and even when I attended the first game against Green Bay in 2003 (They crushed the Bears.) However, after visiting the stadium at least eight times per year, I have learned to love it. I saw the Rolling Stones in both versions of the stadium. I also got to see Pink Floyd (with 100K other fans), Lynyrd Skynyrd (before their plane crash), Ted Nugent (He jumped off a speaker into a sea of plastic jugs on the stage.), Journey, and even Metallica in that venue. Also, I love the way the Bears honor veterans at each game. I have been to almost every other NFL stadium over the years and find the Chicago tradition second to none.

7. Please dispel a myth or misconception about your work.

That insurance is boring! I have spent my entire career (42 years) working with and meeting some of the most interesting people in any industry:

  • I spent my first ten years as a Risk Engineer crawling around energy plants all over the world.
  • Learning to be an underwriter by matching risk to reward.
  • Finding better ways to do this using new tools like Lotus 1-2-3.
  • Building workstations and teaching underwriters how to use a PC for the first time.
  • Piloting new software to price and manage natural catastrophe accumulations, as well as man-made exposures like terrorism and cyber.
  • Creating global processes to reduce underwriting & claims leakage and improve execution.
  • And, now, the Ecosystem Project has been the most exciting project of my long career.

8. What are the tools, apps, or gadgets that you just can’t live without?

  • LinkedIn for finding and sharing great thought leadership.
  • My smartphone for instant information, communication, and access to my music.
  • Small speakers for the golf carts—when will these be part of the cart?
  • My Yeti is always with me for hydration.
  • And last but not least, my Peloton bike for that daily workout (required if you live in Chicago).

9. What’s your biggest pleasant surprise related to remote work?

I finally got in shape! I used all the travel I did as an excuse for being overweight and out of shape. It finally hit me in February that this was no longer the case, and I had an amazing opportunity to work out every day and eat healthier. This has really helped my golf game and reduced the aches and pains in my knees. I also got back into writing limericks. I did a four-part series called ‘An Ode to the New Normal’ that was a very popular post on LinkedIn. Read Part 1 here.

10. What’s your favorite productivity tip for staying motivated and getting work done?

We found a company called Turner Time Management. Steve Turner teaches you to maximize the tools constantly being added to your software. Using these amazing shortcuts, you can save at least one hour per day when working on a PC. Think about that across the entire organization (minimum 12.5% improvement). I have worked on many, more expensive corporate initiatives that don’t return that much time to every employee. We all just need to find and use these productivity tools hidden sometimes in plain sight across the ribbon on the top of your screen.

11. What or who do you read/watch to keep informed?

I love to read books on business, innovation, and leadership. Biographies about rock & sports legends are the most frequent. Also, I always read the latest edition of Harvard Business Review. Over the past 15 months, I have found myself reading a lot of articles shared on social media and listening to many podcasts, usually featuring one of my many contacts on LinkedIn.

Also, don’t miss The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The Future of Insurance by Bryan Falchuk.

12. Please nominate folks who should answer this next.

Justin Levine – Founder & CEO of TradeTapp and now at Shepherd, an InsurTech startup:

  • He’s an entrepreneur who decided to take a chance on himself and develop useful software for the construction industry.

Seraina Macia – CEO at Joyn Insurance and former CEO of Blackboard:

  • She’s an awesome inspirational leader that took on building a digital platform for the middle market segment.

Nadim Matta – Founder and CEO of the Rapid Results Institute:

  • I have worked with him since 1999, learning how to effectively execute projects using a very simple but powerful methodology consisting of 100-day challenges to small, empowered teams.

Thank you to Jack Gibson, President & CEO at International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) and CEO of WebCE, for nominating Gary in his 12 Questions.

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