James P. Knight
Executive VP & Global CIO, the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies
Chubb has a decentralized structure for IT, with individual CIOs running IT for their units and reporting to Jim Knight, who was once one of them, as CIO of the claims unit. Knight, 51, has led the group for the last five years, including through a significant department restructuring to make it faster and more aligned with Chubb's businesses. One such project was supporting the rollout of a major social media platform.
How long at Chubb Group?: 17 years, and in my current role a little over five years.
Most important career influencer: In my last couple of years at Home Insurance Company, 1994-'95, my boss, Vic Guyan, became my mentor. Vic is a lighthouse in a storm. He's very polished and doesn't have a political agenda -- he just does the right thing. He helped me understand the business landscape, the role, being more collaborative, a leader. He's probably the one who first instilled in me that if you have a brand that talks about value add, no matter what you do, you're going to do quite well.
Here at Chubb, three years prior to me becoming the global CIO, the CIO at the time retired and I was in the mix of potential replacements. They narrowed it down to two internal candidates and deemed that neither one of us was ready yet. They brought in a transitional CIO instead, June Drewry. She helped me develop a sense of leadership, that it's okay to lead the way Jim Knight leads, to understand and exploit the things that work and minimize or delegate where I'm not as strong. My current boss, Dino Robusto, co-president, has taken me and pushed me from an IT exec into a business executive.
Career accomplishment I'm most proud of: A series of things where I was given a certain challenge that others couldn't seem to solve and I got it solved. At Home Insurance we implemented a claims system that clearly went off the tracks. I got it back together. Similar story here, also with a claims system. We outsourced our back office HR function, and for the new system, the person in charge of governance was an HR person, great guy but his strength was not in implementing systems. That project was severely off the tracks. They asked me to fix it and do it without ruffling political feathers. Everything came to a successful conclusion, no dead bodies left behind and relationships were forged that were better than before I started these initiatives.
Why do you do what you do? I'm lucky. I always knew what I wanted to do and pursued it. In 10th, 11th grade, I took computer math and learned basic programming. It's the challenge and the problem solving, and now technology is so critical to any information-based corporation such as Chubb that the impact is extremely visible. You know you're making a difference in terms of what IT does.
Decisions I wish I could do over: I don't have many. It was like there was someone looking out for me. Understanding the business executive side of it, having an MBA would have been helpful.
Hardest thing about what I'm doing: In this continuing transformation of IT, we're making some tough choices. Over the last couple of years, we clarified roles. Some people who were very, very good jack-of-all-trades but master of none, kind of fell out. They were high performers but they didn't fit our model anymore. People who survived the transformation didn't quite get it at the time. They would say, "Oh, how could they let her go, how could they let him go?" We also had compression at the middle layer of the team. We were starting to get too many at that level. Another tough decision was we had to downgrade some of them. They could keep their job but had to level it. We're getting through it fine, but it wasn't easy.
One thing I'm looking to do better: Inspire and motivate already highly effective leaders, to take them to the next level.
On The Job
Size of IT team: Flirting with 1,400 people, about 1,000 in the U.S. Our infrastructure is outsourced to IBM, our quality assurance is outsourced, and those are not counted in the employment numbers.
What I want from tech vendors: Real partnerships. Like in a marriage, one partner is going to stumble and the other is going to pick them up, and it doesn't mean you're going to owe more money. Also, integrity.
Most disruptive force in my industry: The pace of technology change.
Most overrated IT movement: Cloud computing. It is not a panacea. It's good, don't get me wrong. I just think it's overrated.
Degrees: BS in computer science from Utica College, Master's in management Information science from Kennedy-Western University.
Person I'd like to have lunch with: This is going to make my Republican friends angry, but Bill Clinton. There's negativity around this country and where it's heading. I'd just like to get his thoughts on that, and I'd love to speak to him about the real inner workings of the White House. If Ronald Reagan was alive, I'd choose him.
First job: I was 10 years old and I worked in lower Manhattan delivering microfilm for my dad, who owned his own microfilming service. My first non-family job was at McDonald's, flipping burgers.
If you weren't doing what you do: I'd run a hospitality business, a bed-and-breakfast or a restaurant or small resort.