September 15, 2021

Taking Left-Hand Turns Towards Success

Insights North America United States
Arch Voices

Meet Patrick Nails

There’s a definite irony to my life.  I’m in a business that seeks to mitigate risk, yet most of the good things that have happened to me have been the result of a willingness to jump in the deep end, feet first. I call these left-hand turns.

“Take the left-hand turn and make the most of it. You will discover abilities you never knew you had.”

My earliest lefts were in pursuit of foul balls, not a better career – straight down West Addison Street then a left turn into Wrigley Field to visit my grandfather. He was a Chicago cop, known to players and coaches alike by the shade of his hair, Whitey. Mom and I spent many a summer afternoon in the friendly confines while my dad, an insurance lawyer, was confined to his office. No way I was ever doing that for a living.

The joke was on me, but I didn’t know it when I headed off to the University of Illinois. I wasn’t a star, I was a cog in a wheel. But I learned it takes every single person giving 100% to make a team go. These were the years of Gordon Gekko and LA Law. I studied finance as an undergrad then headed to law school to get into mergers and acquisitions. Graduation brought the Chicago law firm, 7-day work weeks and exhaustion. Four years later, a friend called to see if I’d be interested in an in-house counsel spot at an insurance company.  Better hours, better life, easier to start a family, he said. Somewhere, from behind a tall stack of dusty file folders, I heard my dad laugh.

Left turn – believe in yourself. In a single afternoon, I moved from corporate litigation to overseeing a book of insurance litigation. Suddenly I was managing regulatory matters and a team of lawyers. It turns out, I really enjoyed being in-house counsel. I was promoted, moved to the east coast and, before long, my wife and I welcomed two daughters. My world was settled and happy. That’s when a mentor, Dennis Brand, called to ask if I’d help him start the ceded reinsurance division at a new company called Arch. Who was Arch? What was ceded reinsurance?

Left turn – surround yourself with smart people and learn all you can. We spent three years building up ceded reinsurance and making it a success. Someone noticed because I was asked return to legal and handle numerous matters. I was just getting settled when the phone rang… Dennis again. Arch had a problem in its Surety division, he said. A perfect storm of claims had occurred and I was asked to evaluate and rectify the situation. The company wanted me to head down to Philly, learn surety and steer us back on track. He must be crazy, I thought.

Left turn – jump in. My learning curve was steep but there wasn’t time to dwell on all I didn’t know. We had to meet with reinsurers, show them our plan and act quickly. Our first move was wiping out an entire quarter of earnings to build up our reserves—a tough call but the right one. It took three years but we got back on track. Management noticed and sent me back to legal to shore things up there. I knew it was a test, but I did it. From there, I was asked to move to Claims. You’ll never see me, I told my wife. Instead of 12 lawyers I’ll be overseeing 200 people. Should I do it? I’m sure you’ve already accepted, she said. Now she’ll find out in print, she was right.

This may sound like a resume, but it’s actually a recipe…for success.

The best careers end up being the ones you didn’t plan. Take the left-hand turn, even when the prize is unclear, and make the most of it.  You will discover abilities you never knew you had. You will be rewarded with opportunity.

Patrick Nails

EVP, Chief Claims Officer
Arch Insurance | Jersey City, N.J.


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