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One of the best indicators of economic activity is the number of miles Americans drive, and as CEO of Progressive Corp., one of the largest in the US. uu. Auto Insurers, Tricia Griffith keeps a close eye on the comings and goings of the nation. Since the pandemic began, people have been driving less (miles traveled fell by 40% in April) and have fewer accidents.
Griffith has spent her career at Progressive, beginning as a claims representative, and is a rare CEO who previously served as her company’s head of human resources, an experience she attributes to helping make Progressive the best corporation around. qualified in diversity and inclusion. , according to a ranking by the wall street journal.
griffith, 55, joined the time for a video chat from his home outside cleveland. Griffith shared her views on humor in insurance advertising (comedian Stephanie Courtney has been appearing in progressive ads like Flo since 2008), the “sophomore” status of the nation’s leadership, and how to build a diverse corporate culture. and inclusive.
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This interview has been edited and summarized for clarity.
You are in the risk business. How well are we Americans doing at judging risks right now? How would you rate our decision-making process?
f, f, f. I can’t believe people aren’t wearing masks. it’s ridiculous. and it’s selfish. because you wear the mask for me, I will wear it for you. I am looking at these beaches and I am very disturbed. I just don’t understand why people don’t wear masks. 400 people attended my daughter’s wedding and now there are 12. And we all wear masks.
and what grade would you give to the leadership of the nation?
I think the secondary ways that both sides of the aisle are acting, it’s like, I told my team the other day, it was right when the Democrats were saying $600 unemployment. Republicans said $200. and they could not reach a compromise. I said, “If we worked this way as a team, we should all be fired.” I wouldn’t allow that. and my board wouldn’t let me work like that. I’ve been upset that people can’t commit.
shouldn’t the business community speak out louder? you have a lot of influence.
we really have. as a member of the business roundtable, we have sent letters to congress asking them to do specific things for small businesses, etc. I can forward you a note we sent.
yes, but there are degrees. I mean, a polite letter from the business roundtable is fine, but a scathing comment from a particular CEO creates another level of pressure. should more people speak?
correct. I personally don’t, but many business roundtable members have been on different talk shows and been more aggressive about it.
and another thing: the stock market is acting so irrationally.
why does the market continue to reach these frothy levels?
It’s hard for me to say. I really try not to second guess the market. very little of our investment portfolio is in stocks, like 11%. we are very conservative from that perspective. we are invested in all areas in fixed income. we do commercial mortgage-backed securities. we make investments in corporate bonds. municipal bonds.
so you’re not looking at the squawk box and calling your investment division and saying, “sell! move it all to cash!”
No, no, no.
You spend more than a billion dollars a year on advertising. Why is the consumer insurance industry such a big advertiser?
It’s funny you ask that because when you really think about it, everyone should have insurance, but we advertise it. but it works. We measured it and it works. we know that customers react. makes the proverbial phone ring.
Are you fighting every day for customers?
absolutely. Geico and progressive, we’re kind of like coke and pepsi. it is very competitive.
It’s funny, I’m a senior consumer and which insurance company I use is a decision I want to make once. I’m surprised people constantly reevaluate it.
Years ago, we brought people together. We have Sams, Dianes, Wrights and the Robinsons. you are a robinson i am a robinson i have my phone i have my cars the ones that move a lot are sams. they are what we would call inconsistently insured. And they do it solely for the price. and so they will move for $50 or $100. so dianes are a little bit more stable, where they have a car and maybe they have a rental policy. we want to get those dians to become robinsons, which are packages of cars and houses.
insurance is serious business. but the predominant tone of the ads is very comical. Why has the industry taken this approach?
There is so much noise out there with advertising from so many different insurance companies, you have to have something memorable. it is a serious category. when you call, we’re not going to be happy about it. but we have to get their attention to be on the short list.
how important has flo been for the growth of progressive?
she has been extremely important.
but at the same time, back in 2015, there was a secondary reddit thread advocating “flo must go”. how do you balance his continued popularity with the anti-flo faction?
we look at the data. and then we send out a survey that literally says, “are you tired of flo?” and we haven’t seen that change.
Are any of your new characters taking off? As a parent, I have to love the series about parent-like behaviors.
we call it parent-to-morph. you become your parents. we designed it in my office when I was COO about four and a half years ago. it’s funny because it’s true. those lines are literally from all of our parents: “defense wins championships.” that was my dad
what about all the new trendy insurance companies like hippo and lemonade, root and young alfred? what drives that dynamic?
There has been a lot of money to be able to finance new companies. and, in fact, I think a lot of those companies are responding to unmet needs of people. making it easy. you can get a very quick quote with lemonade. root is all insurance based on usage. those companies are pushing us not to be complacent. I love competition. I just think it makes you better.
Let’s move on to your core business: auto insurance. With the pandemic, are people driving less?
It was down 40% [in April] and then immediately after the states opened, it was up again. so it’s not at normal levels, but it’s getting close.
As an indicator of how the economy is doing, with reopening and then closing, are we below a peak? Did it rise in June and now it’s falling again?
no, it’s been relatively stable since things started opening up because different states are going to open and close. so when we shut down some of the states again, other states recovered.
so the general trend line continues to rise, is it?
but the miles traveled are still lower year after year?
It’s probably still below 10%.
And what is happening on the accident front?
We are seeing fewer accidents. we believe that because there is less congestion, people have fewer accidents.
Even before the pandemic, the frequency of accidents has been going down, right?
the frequency [of accidents] in the industry has decreased over the last 60 years. the compensation for that has been severity. our components are much more complex due to technology. when it was in claims the bumper might be $300. but now it would be $2000 if it has cameras etc. and medical costs.
Do people get injured more seriously?
No, when you’re injured, medical costs go up. so your visit to the chiropractor yesterday is much more than it was 10 years ago.
Regarding accidents, historically, are there certain times you want to avoid being on the road, the Fourth of July?
I think the highest rate of duis is the wednesday before thanksgiving. everyone comes home. you’ve been out with your friends from college or your friends from high school.
To what extent is the full development of autonomous vehicles an existential threat to the auto insurance business? say that tomorrow was complete.
is a threat to the industry. if it were here tomorrow, it would be huge for our car business because there would be far fewer accidents. and so the premiums would go down. That’s one of the reasons we’ve branched out and bought a homeowners business, we have business lines, and we have relationships with Lyft and Uber. but I think everyone is in favor of safer vehicles because it is good for society. I’m not putting my head in the sand. cars will be safer and that will be great for society. but I think it’s going to be a bit of time.
last year the wall street journal ranked progressive as the no. 1 company for diversity and inclusion. What advice would you give to a company that is now starting to take this more seriously, going beyond making statements of support and donations?
You have to be really intentional. you have to realize that it takes a long time. and you really should have programs in place that you can monitor. We started employee resource groups when I ran human resources in 2007. We now have nine that are really embedded in our culture. we started a program three or four years ago called our multicultural leadership development program. we have a cohort of people who go through an 18-month program. most of them are people of color. and your promotion rate after going through this 18-month program is about 60% higher than your standard peer. we’re going to supercharge that program to bridge that gap in the middle so that when I leave, my team will be more diverse.
That same study found that companies that are more diverse performed better financially. what do you think about why this is so?
because you get input from a variety of people. if you have the same people who grew up the same way you did, who look like you, who love the same way you do, you will probably come to the same conclusions. diversity allows debate and action. And it’s more fun. I don’t want to be around a bunch of 55 year old white women all the time.
What else has been successful in building a diverse culture?
I had the opportunity to hire several members of my board of directors over the past few years. and I think having a board that’s diverse is so important because they’re guiding me. And I think we’re the only fortune 500 company that has a female CEO and a female president. and I have 12 members on the board: half men, half women, and one of the women is a person of color.
where are you from? How was your childhood?
I was born in decatur, illinois, which is a blue-collar place. I am the youngest of six children. my mom stayed home until I was in elementary school. she was a waitress, and then she worked as a mom. my father sold life insurance door to door, so we were really broke. I had a very small house with a lot of people.
what kind of behavior will you not tolerate from your management team?
disrespect. be respectful to everyone.
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business book: principles, ray dalio
author: david halberstam mostly because, i’ll give you a quick story. so my sister bought me a book years ago, in october 1964. and that was actually the month and year i was born, and it’s about the cardinals and the yankees going to the world series. my dad played triple-a farm ball for the cardinals. he’s a Cardinals fan, so that was really big. and i was born the day the cardinals won the pennant, oct. 4, 1964. My grandmother called and said, “Congratulations!” and my dad said, “yeah, can you believe the cardinals won?”
exercise/anti-stress: my husband and I get up every day at 5 to exercise. I love going for long walks.
Alternative Fantasy Career: I’d like to be a talk show host.
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