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A Life Of Risk, Reward

In A Triathlon As In Business, Passion And Discipline Define The Hartford's Claims Chief

June 3, 2007

Juan C. Andrade gets up at 4 a.m. on weekdays to run, swim, and bike. He enters Ironman triathlons and marathons, skydives, skis and flies Cessnas. He thrives on risk and reward in his day job, too -- running The Hartford's claim operations.

It's all about competition to the Colombia native, who finds his pastimes make him more effective as executive vice president of property and casualty insurance claims at The Hartford Financial Services Group.

"I've always been a very driven, very aggressive individual," said Andrade, whose voice is incongruously soft. "I think a lot of that comes from the competitive spirit, frankly, from racing."

The Hartford hired Andrade away from the insurer Progressive Corp. in early 2006, initially making him deputy head of property-casualty claims, an operation that currently has more than 5,000 employees. He was promoted to his present position a few months later, succeeding Calvin Hudson, who retired.

At a time of feverish competition in business, auto, and homeowner lines, Andrade, 41, now controls an operation that can make or break an insurer.

"The face of The Hartford is really the claims organization" because it's what customers see in their time of need, he said. A claims organization can be an "engine for growth," allowing an insurer to build its reputation and retain and attract customers, or it can be "an Achilles' heel," he said.

"If we do a good job," Andrade said, "they will remember that. If we do a bad job, they will remember that even more, and they will talk about it. And that ultimately will drive business away."

Andrade's passion for claims rivals his fervor for sports, which he plays hard.

He participated last year in the Ford Ironman Arizona triathlon and plans to compete in Ironman Florida later this year. He has run in recent years in the Marine Corps and LaSalle Bank Chicago marathons and the Florida Gulf Beaches half-marathon.

Andrade picked up skydiving as a student at the University of Florida, home of the Falling Gators club. He and a couple of friends, bored one weekend, visited an airfield and two hours later were jumping from a plane. He has made nearly 600 jumps, some over California's mountains and coast in the south and the vineyards in the north.

Not content to just jump from planes, he also flies single-engine Cessnas, although he has been too busy to do either for about a year. He got his pilot's license in 1993, having trained over the scenic Shenandoah Valley.

A skiing accident at Ski Sundown in New Hartford over the winter sidelined Andrade with a broken leg, but he has been getting back into his 4 a.m. exercise routine. For two hours, he runs and bikes, or swims and runs.

Andrade ran 11 miles last weekend, and "it's that kind of passion and discipline you see in his personal life and in the way he conducts his mission here," said Mike Concannon, senior vice president of personal lines at The Hartford.

Pre-dawn workouts, Andrade says, keep him focused and organized, and give him energy and valuable thinking time.

"When I come in to work, I've already thought about all the issues that have been on my mind, or I've come up with solutions, or know who to talk to," he explained.

World Of Experience

In addition to focus, Andrade brings to the job a world of experience - literally.

He spent his early years in Bogota, Colombia, and came to the United States in 1975 when his U.S.-educated father, who worked for Ralston Purina, transferred to Miami. His dad wanted to get the family out of Colombia, which was wracked by civil war and kidnappings, and expose his three children to U.S. schooling.

Andrade's earliest jobs in Miami were restaurant busboy, bag boy at a Publix supermarket, Chevron gas station attendant and a barnacle-scraper of boat bottoms.

While earning a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science at the University of Florida, he worked at the school paper, interned for the Florida Times-Union and did some work "stringing" for UPI. He became a U.S. citizen in 1985.

He'd fancied himself a foreign correspondent, and got a master's degree in international economics and Latin American studies from Johns Hopkins University. But reality set in, and he realized it would take a long time before a newspaper would send him overseas.

So instead, he entered what was then called the Presidential Management Intern Program, after inspiration by government officials who taught at Johns Hopkins in Washington, D.C. He worked in a variety of government agencies, getting a high-level view of the executive branch.

Andrade spent time, for instance, in the Department of Defense when Dick Cheney was its secretary and worked on international security affairs and counter-narcotics policy.

He did a stint with the State Department and ended up in the Defense Department as his home base, writing policy on how military resources should be used to help civilian agencies and the government wage the war on drugs.

By 1993, family life required a change because Andrade and his wife, Sandy, a lawyer, were both traveling a lot - a challenge for child-rearing. Besides, "you don't make a big living on a civil servant's salary," noted Andrade, who has a son, 13, and two daughters, 10 and 8.

Hoping to use his master's degree and three languages, which include Portuguese, he applied to multinational companies. He turned down Occidental Petroleum's offer to become an arbitrage analyst and trader, and AT&T's offer to be a regional security officer in Latin America.

He opted for American International Group's offer to learn the insurance business, and after 18 months was sent to San Juan to assist the Caribbean division president and run the personal lines business on the islands.

In the mid-1990s, Progressive hired Andrade and moved him through various jobs and states. He rose to claims manager for the Gulf states and national catastrophe leader, dealing with devastating hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.

Determined And Ambitious

Now at The Hartford and in the community, Andrade is known as determined and ambitious, while also displaying an empathetic and upbeat character with an easy smile.

"He has a lovely sweetness and gentleness about him, and you feel very comfortable with him," said Linda Steigleder, director and chief executive of the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, where Andrade has been a board member for about a year. "He is a wonderful role model, someone who's willing to take on responsibility and take on a leadership role."

Andrade's fellow members of the Stony Corners Running Team, which does Saturday runs in the Farmington Valley, describe the Avon resident as inspirational and a "glass-half-full" kind of guy.

Jill Wine of Simsbury, one of the team members, says that when runners complain that a route is too hilly or boring, Andrade will chime in that it's pretty and has no traffic to worry about. He has also taken the time to look at other people's race results and offer "a nice comment," she said. "He inspires confidence."

Andrade believes he brings empathy to his claims job, too.

"Sometimes I tell our adjusters, `think about it [as if] it's your mom on the other end of the line that's calling in a claim,'" he said.

Even though The Hartford deals with more than 1 million claims a year, many people will have only one or two in a lifetime. "So when they deal with us, I want to make sure they're dealing with an adjuster that's going to be empathetic, that's going to be understanding, that's going to be caring," Andrade said.

However, some consumers see insurers' goal as collecting as much in premiums as they can while trying to pay out as little as possible, and disputes about Hurricane Katrina coverage fueled that view.

Andrade insists that's not the mind-set at The Hartford, although he acknowledges that there may be a legitimate debate about the value of a claim. The company pays what it owes under terms of its policies, he said.

Andrade's mandate as claims chief is the "scale" of the claims organization. That means finding ways for The Hartford to increase its claims-handling capability without spending as much as the new revenue it's taking in. He's supposed to make the operation more efficient without sacrificing customer service.

Using predictive models, the company can send a claim more quickly to the adjuster with the right set of skills, for instance. Technology can be used to scan paper documents coming in regarding claims and route them electronically to the right people, freeing up adjusters, Andrade said.

Various estimating tools, he added, enable The Hartford's people to write claim estimates on laptop computers while in the field so they don't have to return to the office and redo all of the work.

The company is also trying to create a greater sense of accountability and "ownership" of claims among its adjusters, so "there's going to be somebody personally accountable to help you resolve your problems," Andrade said.

Auto insurers, meanwhile, have come under fire from some body shops for steering customers to the companies' "preferred" repairers. The Hartford offers a $100 reduction of collision deductibles when customers with certain policies use a preferred shop, a discount that the Auto Body Association of Connecticut views as "bribery."

But Andrade says many consumers ask for a referral to a shop after an accident, and "they have absolutely every right to go anywhere they want to."

Still, he thinks insurers, including The Hartford, could improve communications in general with consumers.

"We probably need to do a much better job telling people we're here to help" when it comes to claims, Andrade said. "It's about rebuilding people's lives. That's really what it's about."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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