People of Crum & Forster

Nick Cook
Chief Risk Officer, Ceded Reinsurance
Crum & Forster Surplus & Specialty Lines

Most people I work with don’t know that prior to my insurance career, I was a professional golfer. It’s not the kind of thing that comes up in conversation. When it does come up, I often get asked what it was like to make the transition to insurance. Everyone in insurance has a different path and an interesting story on how they get started – my story is below.

I attended Georgetown University and graduated in 2004. During my four years there, I competed on the golf team and was fortunate enough to have some competitive success. So I turned pro, and started competing in professional tournaments on satellite tours around the country. There were some good results and some bad results – not enough good results to make a career out of it. At some point in 2007, I came to the realization that there were other opportunities in the world and it was time to try my hand at a new challenge.

A friend of a friend of a friend knew someone at GenRe and thought they seemed to lead a good life… so I went online and started sending out my not-very-good resume to any insurance or reinsurance carrier who had a job posting. I received a call from OdysseyRe about an underwriting trainee position. After interviewing, they made me an offer. The offer included a salary, health insurance, a 401K match, paid vacation days, ESPP, etc. Having not had any of these benefits, it felt like winning the lottery. I tried to play it cool and not accept immediately. After making Odyssey sweat it out for four minutes, I accepted the offer.

Here is where some really great luck comes in to my career. I didn’t know OdysseyRe, insurance, reinsurance– I really didn’t know anything at all. Odyssey hired me into a small team of very talented treaty casualty underwriters and we all sat next to each other on an open floor. Tom Bredahl was my boss and I sat next to Tom, Steve Van de Graaf and Joe Lasicki – all excellent experienced underwriting minds. Every day they were discussing accounts and underwriting principles. I listened in on every conversation.

Coming in with no insurance experience, it wasn’t easy to see how I could contribute to this team. So I fell back on what had been keys for me with golf, the two things you can control – preparation and attitude. On the preparation side, there is some good academic content out there. The Institutes have various exams so I studied for the ARe and CPCU exams. That was a good foundation but that can only take you so far. So I went through old accounts that Odyssey had written, who were the key players, what went well and what went wrong. I asked as many questions as I could think of to the underwriting team. The actuarial team was also very gracious with their time teaching me the different methodologies they employed in their analyses. I wrote white papers on some of the specialty lines of business we reinsured to try to organize my research. Looking back, these papers were probably not very good but the process helped build my confidence as an underwriter and plausibly may have helped us avoid one or two bad decisions. Over time, I was fortunate enough to work with and learn from leaders outside of the treaty casualty department.

On the attitude side, attitudes are contagious – good and bad. Anyone who has played on a sports team where one of the teammates gave up before the game was over has experienced how demoralizing that can be. The reverse is also true – individuals with positive energy can be force multipliers. This applies to business every bit as much as it does to sports. I do my best to bring a calm, positive attitude to work – definitely not always successful with this but I am trying!

The opportunity to join Crum & Forster came in 2014. Tom Bredahl had been my first boss at Odyssey but had been quickly promoted and moved on to different and greater responsibilities within Odyssey. So I was surprised when I got a call from him in the fall of 2014. Oddly enough, when Tom called, I was literally right next to the C&F office on 160 Water St. for a reinsurance audit of Allied World. I hung up the phone, walked across the street and Tom said something along the lines of “there is huge potential within First Mercury that hasn’t yet been unlocked – it just needs a little TLC. Would you like to be part of the team that makes it great?” I responded to that articulate and visionary statement with something deep and profound like, “OK.” That’s how I joined C&F.

I have had different responsibilities within C&F but it hasn’t been through any deliberate planning or career path management. Some very smart people advocate being the architect of your own career. Maybe that is right and we all should seek to build a logical progression of expertise and responsibility over our careers. My career path does not look like that. The approach has been to embrace whatever tasks are in front of me and let the career chips fall where they may. Since 2014, that has meant different jobs and titles, most recently Chief Risk Officer, Ceded Reinsurance within Surplus & Specialty Lines. My team works on reinsurance placements for many of the C&F divisions as well as more holistic risk measurement within Surplus & Specialty Lines. We also help manage C&F corporate aggregations for catastrophes across property and workers compensation. It’s not an easy job – our team participates in lots of conversations about how to manage risk and optimize underwriting returns relative to the risk. Hopefully we are adding value in those conversations.

For anyone who is early in their career or considering what might be next, my best advice would be spend as much time as you can listening to the smartest people you can find. We are fortunate to have a lot of very smart people at C&F. If you listen to those people, good things will happen.

Best Career Decision Ever
Choosing to not worry about my career path. The goal is to focus on what is in front of me – learning, executing, and being a good colleague.

AHA Moment
Listening is often more helpful than speaking.

If Not Insurance?
No idea. Hoping I don’t have to figure that out!

Role Model
I have many! All of my immediate family and many colleagues at C&F and within the Fairfax group.

Top on Bucket List
Exploring Europe

Favorite Team (any sport)
The U.S. Ryder Cup Team

Favorite Book (Summer Book Club recommendation?)
It’s not a book, but for interesting content I would recommend the Netflix Fyre Festival documentary.

Favorite Food
New York Strip, medium rare.

Favorite Saying
The Golden Rule – treat others how you would like to be treated.

Favorite Song
Dear Boy by Avicii