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An Interview with Ross Buchmueller, President and CEO of PURE Insurance

Chris Hann sits with Ross Buchmueller to learn more about how this business is a journey without a destination.

Best in Biz Awards just named you Executive of the Year and your company one of the fastest-growing companies of the year. How do you top that?

This business is a journey without a destination. We try to get better and better every day. This week we were named the Best High-Net-Worth Insurance Company at the Private Asset Management Awards. These team awards are really satisfying.

You founded AIG’s Private Client Group before founding PURE. Where did you get your entrepreneurial streak?

When I first explored building a business with AIG, I was 34. Hank Greenberg was 74 and told me that I should work for him because I was getting too old. He went on to explain that, as we were just about to have our first child, I might find it harder to take risks as time went on. I think that was a good reminder to me about the need to have that courage to try things.

Have you mentored others in that way?

In some ways, but I also feel it’s deeply personal and everybody will make their own decisions. I probably used that advice to better understand why some people don’t want to take a chance.

What else did you learn from Hank?

There are two big themes I carry with me from my days at AIG. One is that culture matters. The other is nothing truly matters if you can’t execute. We spend an awful lot of time creating an environment where people can do great work and then making sure great work gets done.

When you talk workplace culture at PURE, what does that mean?

We fight hard to ensure culture doesn’t become a slogan or jargon. It’s not about our ping-pong tables or free food. It’s about an environment where people feel safe, where people feel encouraged and challenged to do great work, where they gain inspiration from their colleagues.

When you started PURE, how did you decide on the right people to work with?

We started by seeking smart, curious people who were willing to challenge the status quo and wanted to achieve great things. That prescription continues to serve us well.

You’ve had great success recruiting college grads. What have you figured out that others haven’t?

Our company is driven by young people in a way that I never could have imagined—61% of all employees are millennials, and 25% are under the age of 26. The vast majority of the graduates we hire come from liberal arts colleges, and they never imagined a career in insurance. In fact, the one area where we have not had success is recruiting through the college insurance programs. Why? Perhaps it’s easier to describe why we succeed in the strong liberal arts programs. We find intelligent, driven kids from Trinity or Williams or Bowdoin, and we train them to become underwriters or claims professionals or for a career on an actuarial track. Over the years, they go back and lead the next recruiting effort.

How about you. How did you get into the industry?

I went to Trinity College and got recruited on campus—so there you go. The job was in Manhattan. A lot of other jobs were in Hartford. I was a Boston kid, but I liked the idea of living in New York. Now, I am forced to raise Boston sports fans in New York.

Tell me about the Teddy Roosevelt bobblehead doll in your office.

I’ve tried to reinforce to our folks the message behind his “Man in the Arena” speech. In insurance companies, the people in the home office often tell people what to do, but they may never have sold a policy or settled a claim. “It’s not the critic who counts…but the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.

What gives you your leader’s edge?

Having done one thing for over 30 years helps. As much as I think leadership skills are broad-based skills, it sure helps to be a subject matter expert. I do feel like part of my edge is I do know the high-net-worth niche, which is helpful.

The Buchmueller File

Favorite Vacation Spot: Newport, Rhode Island (“We’ve had a home there for years. When I go over the bridge onto the island, my blood pressure is lowered. Everything just feels great.”)

Favorite Movie: The Graduate

Favorite Actor: Clint Eastwood

Favorite Musician: Bruce Springsteen

Wheels: Audi A6