The career of Patrick Nails is a lesson in saying “yes” and figuring out the rest later. The executive vice president and chief claims officer at Arch Insurance Group has spent more than eighteen years at the organization, where he has routinely been asked to handle new and challenging tasks—something he’s never shied away from.
“I always tell people that you shouldn’t be afraid to take a left-hand turn in your career,” Nails explains. “Don’t get caught up in titles. Many of the jumps I’ve made didn’t necessarily mean a change in my title, but I always thought about it from the perspective of what new experience this was going to give me. What new skill was this going to allow me to develop that I didn’t have?”
That outlook took shape during the decade that Nails spent working at Kemper Insurance as assistant general counsel. Kemper’s general counsel challenged him to take on increasingly complex assignments: Nails tackled regulatory work, numerous books of litigation, and extensive mergers and acquisition work that continued to build out his skill set not just as a lawyer, but as a high-performing executive.
When Kemper closed up shop, Nails was asked to stay on and help shut the business down, giving him a niche experience that few lawyers ever gain. That work led to Nails being asked to come to Arch Insurance and run its ceded reinsurance claims operation. There was one problem, however.
“I told [Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer] Dennis Brand that I knew a few things about reinsurance, but I had no idea how to run a ceded reinsurance claims operation,” Nails says, laughing. “But Dennis said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll teach you, and you’ll figure it out.’”
Nails finally said yes, which has led to nearly two decades in-house at Arch Insurance in a variety of positions. When the company’s general counsel retired, Nails took on what he thought would be his permanent role, heading up the fifteen-person legal department.
“I really thought that was where I was going to finish my career,” Nails remembers. “But I was asked to step in as the interim chief claims officer while the company searched for a new one. Eight weeks later, our insurance group CEO at the time and now overall group president, Nicolas Papadopoulo, offered me the job.”
Suddenly, Nails was overseeing more than two hundred people. He says that accepting those challenges have helped him grow in ways that he never imagined, including boosting his leadership skills. He’s been developing those skills for a long time: he grew up playing basketball and baseball, and believes that what he learned in the gym and on the field all those years ago has significantly impacted his leadership, even today.
“Those foundational experiences like learning the concept of a team, working with each other, and helping people lean into their strengths have been so important for me in growing as a leader,” Nails explains.
That leadership is inspired by the culture of pride and service that exists at Arch Insurance. Like his colleagues, Nails believes deeply in the importance of what his company does.
“Insurance companies helped rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ida,” Nails explains. “I get to oversee the people that are on the other line when something happens. I know everyone has heard a bad story about an insurance claim, but I get to see so many examples of helping make businesses whole again after anything from a fire to an explosion to a natural disaster.”
Arch is obviously doing something right: since Nails joined the company, it has doubled its business and expects continue growing. And while that kind of growth can disrupt company culture, Nails says that’s not the case here.
“We’ve grown significantly over time, but we’ve been able to hang onto that culture that was here eighteen years ago when I had just joined what was a much smaller company,” Nails says. “Arch is made up of an incredibly talented group of creative people who possess a can-do attitude. We don’t have a blueprint for how we’re going to manage the growth, but we all have a shared belief in Pursuing Better Together [the company slogan].”
The Nails Rules of Management
As Patrick Nails has continued to oversee larger and larger teams throughout his career, he’s cultivated three rules of leadership—thanks in part to lessons he learned from playing sports while growing up and through coaching his daughters’ teams.
- Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. You have weaknesses, and you need to acknowledge them and put people in place to balance out that expertise.
- Empower your people to make decisions. Smart people want to take risks. Give them that opportunity.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. If you’re going to empower your people, you need to create a fluid line of communication. When you’ve done that, communicate some more!