Lifestyle Personal Lines the July/August 2020 issue

Taylor Rhodes, CEO, Applied Systems

The art of leadership is being worthy of followership.
By Chris Hann Posted on July 9, 2020
You spent five years as an infantry officer in the Marines. What lessons did you learn from your military experience?
The Marine Corps teaches you to grow up pretty fast. You’re 22 years old, and suddenly you’re given an officer title and people are calling you “sir” and you have little training whatsoever to be a leader. The learning curve is steep.

Favorite vacation spot: “Anywhere in Europe.”

Favorite movie: Knives Out

Favorite actor: “I’m a big Will Ferrell fan, so when I want to laugh, Will Ferrell is the guy I go to.”

Favorite Will Ferrell movie: Anchorman

Favorite musical group: U2

Favorite book: “My current favorite book is Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, by Jim Mattis. It’s a great book on leadership.”

Favorite Chicago restaurant: Bavette’s

Favorite dish at Bavette’s: Rib eye

Where were you stationed?
I spent most of my time deployed to the Persian Gulf area. The Gulf and East Africa was our area of operation.
Why the Marine Corps?
My grandfather was one of the biggest figures in my life. He was an army veteran—he landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. I wanted to one-up him and go into the Marine Corps. He pinned my second lieutenant bars on me, which is a really special memory.
What did you carry from the Marine Corps into your business life?
I think it’s all about how to get the best out of people. The art of leadership is being worthy of followership. You’ve got to earn followership—that’s what I carried out of the Marine Corps into the corporate world.
You grew up in Phoenix and worked on your grandfather’s ranch in northern Arizona in the summer. What was that like?
My grandfather had a cattle ranch—several thousand acres, with horses and cattle. We did lots of fence post digging and weed pulling and everything else you can imagine on a big piece of land with lots of animals on it. This really developed my work ethic.
Besides your grandfather, who were your childhood heroes?
I remember seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark with my dad when I was 10 or 11 years old. I remember how cool Indiana Jones was. I figured I’d be an archaeologist and travel all over the world fighting the bad guys.
How has Applied Systems responded to the coronavirus outbreak?
Thankfully, quite well. A very small number of our 2,000 people were diagnosed with COVID, and all of them recovered. Like many companies and many CEOs, I’ve found transitioning to home easier than I thought it would be. Most companies have invested in cloud platforms, so it really does make this crisis much different from the 2008 financial crisis, when we really would have been hard-pressed to do this remote working. I’m very pleased to say all of our performance metrics are as high or higher than prior to COVID. I think our team has done a fabulous job, and the feedback from customers would echo that.
How about your family?
My wife, Stacey, and I will celebrate 23 years of marriage this summer. We have three children: Peyton, 20; Parker, 18; and Pierce, 15. Because of the current situation, they’re all home and living under the same roof. We’re all in close quarters—and surviving.
Is there a leader in the business world whom you most admire?
Despite some of Jeff Bezos’s controversial traits, you have to step back and say, “Here’s a man who’s changed the world in unparalleled ways in a relatively short period of time.”
If you could change one thing about the insurance industry, what would it be?
The customer experience. In other industries, you can say the consumers have won the discussion: You need to serve me when and where I want. In the insurance industry, we still create friction for the insured.
Last question: What gives you your leader’s edge?
I get to walk in as a newcomer with a curious mind and experience helping other industries transform using technology. That allows me to ask all kinds of dumb questions about why do we do it this way and not that way. So it’s a combination of my newness, my curious mind and my experience helping other industries do things that can make insurance better.
Chris Hann Associate Editor Read More

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