When Sammis was working for Cigna Healthcare in the 1980s, he found himself at the helm of a huge project. “I was put in charge way before I was ready,” he says. “I tried to fix everything from Day One.”
A higher-up in the company gave Sammis advice that has since become a guiding tenet in his life. “He told me that when people ask how things are going, they want to hear the words, ‘Never better,’ not something negative,” Sammis says. “To be a leader, you have to be the person who gives energy, not the one who drains it.”
Sammis now heads up Lockton Dunning Benefits, which is the largest privately held insurance broker in the world—and growing. In April, Lockton launched a new specialty practice that uses science and economics to determine the value of a company’s wellness programs.
Clearly, the CEO and his team are on to something. Lockton boasts a client retention rate of 95 percent, and Sammis has increased revenue from $2.5 million to $50 million during his tenure.
First job: I pulled lobster pots in New England for a couple of summers, starting when I was 12 years old. If I’d known they were going to make the show Deadliest Catch, I might have stuck with it longer.
Worst job: When I was 17, I worked in a Life Savers plant, cleaning sugar residue from the walls and vats. It made for a very long summer.
Life in the office: Lockton associates run; they don’t walk. It’s a high-energy environment.
Management style: Trust but verify. We have an empowered culture because there’s nothing worse for a customer than dealing with someone who can’t make a decision.
Biggest pet peeve: We absolutely won’t stand for arrogance or an inflated sense of ego. Those tend to creep into businesses that have a lot of success, but our culture is first and foremost about the customer.
Strengths: The ability to see around corners and connect dots in our industry. With all the change going on in healthcare, people tend to look back or around as opposed to looking forward.
Weaknesses: I’m intellectually curious, and occasionally that can cause me to chase down some rabbit holes as I look for solutions.
Family: I have four women in my life; my wife and I have been married for 25 years, and we have three adult daughters.
Weekends: Now that we’re empty-nesters, my wife and I are starting to do a little bit of travel. I also like to go sailing and play golf.
Reading material: The last book I read was a re-read of Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a business fable, but it’s a fun one to read on airplanes because people wonder what you’re doing.
TV: When I’m in control of the remote, which is not that often, I like to watch political talk shows or sports.
People would be surprised to know: Some of my friends have no idea what kind of business we’ve built or that I travel 50 days a year.
Best way to lower personnel costs: Hire healthy employees. Companies want an easy solution, but there is no quick fix to lowering the risk profile of an employee population. You can build a gym, but you still have to get employees to use it.
Most common corporate wellness mistakes: Trusting their intuition as opposed to science and economics. Sometimes, intuition can take you down the wrong path and end in disappointment.
Best advice: Choose wisely the people and companies you work with and for.
This story originally appeared in the July/August issue of D CEO magazine. Story by Claire St. Amant; photography by Ben Garrett.