Meet Colin Zessis, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Management Liability
What is your backstory? Tell us about your path to Sompo International.
Like many others, I stumbled into insurance without much prior knowledge or general interest in the industry. Despite having other offers in industries more aligned to what I was studying in Dallas and Houston, I decided to take a summer internship with AIG partly because it was in New York and I wanted to travel. In the end, I’m glad I did because through that Commercial Directors & Officers (D&O) internship I met and was trained by some of the brightest people in the industry, more than a handful of which I now call friends and colleagues here at Sompo International. After graduating from The McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas with a B.B.A in Finance and high honors, I went to work full time as an Underwriter at AIG in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to join Sompo a few years later, reuniting with friends, to help continue the tremendous growth trajectory the team had achieved on the West Coast.
Give us three words to describe Sompo International.
Connected. I truly value the relationships I’ve fostered here at Sompo, both personally and professionally, and see great cultural benefit in the camaraderie we all share. There’s also a high level of collaboration that I think is at least partly attributable to the closeness and trust that’s been built.
Nurturing. The level of peer and managerial support at Sompo is highly uplifting in such a competitive field. From day one I’ve had professional development goals that continue to evolve as I grow and Sompo grows. My group recognizes and rewards its employees when they exceed expectations.
Curious. Through numerous group-level projects Sompo is willing to explore new processes and ways of thinking. Though our technology systems, data collection, and analytical capabilities can still be a hinderance, it’s encouraging to see a willingness to change and shake free of an insurance cliché. This curiosity adds another dimension to all our responsibilities and creates a more challenging workplace where we can learn, grow, and evolve.
What is a trend you feel is impacting the industry and more specifically, your role at the moment?
The D&O market is characteristically under constant macroeconomic pressure. Today, we’re measuring the affects, and mitigation efforts of our insureds, of the tight labor market, semiconductor chip shortage, global port congestion, falling consumer confidence, Evergrande default, political brinkmanship of raising the debt ceiling, and Fed tapering and liftoff. Tomorrow, there may be an entirely new list of concerns to be conscious of. Despite this wall of worry, we’re seeing unprecedented private company valuations driving unprecedented public company demand. We’re only three quarters through the year and 2021 has already established itself as the largest year for IPO capital ever and the busiest year by deal count since the 2000 internet bubble. In 2015, the term “unicorn” described 80 privately held companies valued at $1B or greater. Today, the number is ~800 with a cumulative valuation of around $2.6T. This dynamic has created extraordinary opportunity for growth but also extraordinary dangers for our portfolio. No matter what the economic backdrop, there’s never a dull moment in the D&O markets.
What advice do you have for prospective Sompo International candidates?
You’re not expected to solidify your long-term goals at 21 years old and stay on that path for the rest of your life. You should stray from that path. Your goals and motivations should change as you change. It’s extremely important to continuously redefine what you want out of your career, and how you’ll get there will change along with it. Part of it is maintaining the ambition you have right now and being open-minded to new paths.
What would you do for a career if you weren’t doing this?
I was very close to majoring in biology with the thought of becoming a doctor or biomedical engineer. I’ve always found the natural sciences extremely fascinating and never minded studying complex concepts for long hours in school. It’s hard to imagine that career path now… I’d have only just finished my residency this year!
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.
After this year I’ll have been to 13 National Parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Gateway Arch, Grand Canyon, Haleakalā, Indiana Dunes, Joshua Tree, Petrified Forest, Saguaro, Virgin Islands, Yosemite, Zion). The toughest hike so far was rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon, traversing 23 miles and 6,600 feet of elevation gain (over 5 Empire State Buildings). The next parks on my bucket list are in Alaska, but my goal is to hike as many as I can!