Christopher Castaldo knows the attributes that have made him who he is. That sort of inner reflection is often found in the best leaders, the ones who have taken the time to harness the best parts of themselves for the good of their organization.
In 2020, he was promoted to the role of chief financial officer for QBE North America and tasked to turn the underperforming division into a business that delivers consistent profits and stable returns for shareholders. Those challenges, along with many others throughout his career, have tested the best parts of Castaldo—and the CFO is better for it.
So much of Castaldo’s philosophy comes down to three tenants, and their application can be seen throughout his career. Whether it’s the financial crisis of 2008 or a return to profitability during 2022, Castaldo is willing to bet that hard work, resiliency, and empathy all play a major part.
“The importance of working hard and doing my best was instilled in me from a young age,” Castaldo recalls. “It began with my parents, and it’s something I carried into my teenage years and adulthood. It’s still incredibly important to me today.”
As a competitive long-distance runner in high school and college, he readily admits there were others with more natural ability. What set Castaldo apart was his strong work ethic. “I didn’t want to just participate, I wanted to be a meaningful contributor to the success of the team,” he says. “So, I put in the time and effort to improve, to be the best I could be.”
“I’ve always had the innate desire to push my limits, not to settle for less than my best,” Castaldo says. “When you know that you’ve left everything you’ve got on the field, it makes hard times and failures easier to handle.”
While holding no one to a higher standard than
That expectation and drive must be balanced delicately with compassion and empathy, which Castaldo says he came to value more as he matured, and his career progressed. More on that later…
Castaldo spent nearly five years at AIG during the most tumultuous period in its history. Following the financial crisis of 2008, the federal government stepped in, bolstering the insurer with a bailout. AIG accepted $182 billion in federal aid, and the court of public opinion was in full, open session.
“I was part of a group that was tasked with solving the government exit strategy,” he explains. “It was so challenging, because while we worked through countless nights and weekends to find solutions to repay the taxpayer, the backdrop of public scrutiny wasn’t all that inspiring.”
That scrutiny, Castaldo says, he absolutely understands. However, the resiliency required to work through this difficult period—a high stress environment, long hours, countless starts and stops with many ideas falling to the cutting room floor—provided him with a unique perspective and the confidence in his ability to work through any challenge, no matter how daunting it may appear.
The softer side of leadership, Castaldo reflects, was not a natural strength for him early in his career. “Being an empathetic leader was something that grew with time and experience. I was also lucky enough to have some great mentors around me to learn from,” he reveals.
There was one critical inflection point: the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this time, the CFO gained a unique window into the personal lives his people and learned to manage his expectations with empathy and compassion.
“I’m responsible for a team of over two hundred people across the US, and while the work didn’t stop because of the pandemic—we were busier than ever—we were all dealing with a myriad of personal challenges at the same time. That period gave me a picture of the lives of my people and the things they were dealing with at home, big and small. I realized that leading with compassion and empathy was more important than ever before,” Castaldo reflects.
Attributes in Application
After spending several years abroad in Sydney, Australia where QBE, the global insurer is headquartered, Castaldo moved back to the US and took the reins as CFO of QBE North America in early 2020. The division was underperforming financially—the business mix was too volatile, and the expense ratio was too high due to several subscale portfolios.
The CFO and his team embarked on a mission to understand the problems that were impacting the business. They pinpointed the portfolios that were key to the division’s success, and those that were non-core. They focused their efforts on investing and growing in core areas and exiting portfolios that were dragging the division’s performance down.
It meant readjusting where to allocate capital and resources, being deliberate in their investments, making choices not to invest in certain areas, and utilizing reinsurance to better manage the inherent volatility across parts of the platform.
Castaldo’s understanding of the overall QBE enterprise was particularly valuable, and bringing that knowledge stateside helped the business leverage the company’s strengths more broadly—but that evolution isn’t done.
“We’ve turned a corner but, in my eyes, there is no end to improvement, and that’s a good thing. We ultimately want to be a business that’s high-performing and delivering consistent returns for our shareholders,” he says. “That means understanding the risk and reward trade-offs in our businesses, having the right diversification so that volatility is at a manageable level, and continuing to scale in a very focused manner so we are competitive in all the markets we participate in.”
Every one of these efforts requires a different set of ingredients, but Castaldo sees the base as the same. With hard work, resilience, and empathy, the foundation is strong. The CFO knows his team is on the right track, and he knows how to continue to empower them to be their best.