Donald A. Smith, Jr.
President and CEO, SCF Arizona
Describe your very first job and what lessons you learned from it.
My first job was my newspaper route delivering the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. The most important lesson I learned was the importance of being diligent and responsible. The news agency would put written complaints on my bundle of papers for a number of reasons (such as a wet paper, not bagged properly, a paper left in an inappropriate place or a missing paper). It really bothered me on the rare occasions when I received a complaint, not because I would get in trouble, but because I’d let someone down. I knew from my own parents how important that morning paper was to people.
Describe your first job in your industry and what you learned from it.
I was hired as a personal lines underwriter trainee in 1975. I had no idea what this job entailed but it was a tough time in the economy (much worse than today, I believe) and I needed to work! The job involved deciding whether to insure people for automobile and/or homeowners insurance, and what price we would charge them. From this job I learned an important skill: communication. I learned that the way you communicate is as important as what is communicated, and the tougher the message, the more thoughtful one must be. It was here that I learned to deliver the most difficult decisions in person or at least by phone, and not in writing. I find many others today have not learned this lesson.
What were your salaries at both of these jobs?
For my paper route it depended on the number of papers I delivered. I think I was paid two pennies a paper for the daily and a nickel a paper for the Sunday paper. I usually had about 35 dailies and 70 Sundays, so that was about $8 a week. For my job as an underwriter, I made a salary of $8,200 a year and no bonus. Try living on that today!
Who is your biggest mentor and what role did they play?
I had many mentors, but the one that influenced me most was Dan Smith (Do you believe it? Don Smith working for Dan Smith!).
Dan was the western region personal lines VP for our company. Dan taught me two important things: tenacity and straightforward honesty. I give him credit for pushing me to a level of accomplishment I myself didn’t believe could be done, and doing it with a direct, honest approach. Dan was not one for mincing words and this made everyone clear as to expectations. Most importantly, those expectations while a stretch, were never an impossibility. And he knew that to be the case.
What advice would you give to a person just entering your industry?
I would tell them that the opportunities are significant (there is already a shortage of qualified young professionals in the property and casualty business), but you must distinguish yourself from the pack, nonetheless. First, demonstrate good work habits; second, seek out educational opportunity (advanced degrees or at least certifications like the Chartered Property Casualty Professional designation); third, speak out and offer ideas and solutions when the opportunity presents itself; and finally, make sacrifices and don’t be afraid to take on the tough assignments that are offered or are available to you. Remember, your career advancement depends upon what you can do for your company, not what your company can do for you.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
I love working with people and I love history. Almost all my leisure reading is dedicated to historic events or people. I would love to be a history teacher!