MIchael E. LaRocco, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, State Auto Insurance Companies, recently sat down with Homeport representatives to discuss the Columbus-based insurance company’s commitment to the community it serves including Homeport’s “Strengthening Communities” bus tours. The following is a condensed overview of the interview.
Homeport: In your company’s last annual report, you wrote about State Auto being there for policy holders in a moment of need -- and that State Auto applies the same commitment “to people in our communities.” Could you elaborate on State Auto’s commitment to “giving back” in dollars, volunteer time, or both and why it is important for your company to be engaged as it is?
Michael LaRocco: “Last year we celebrated our 95th year in business. We were built on core principles of integrity, doing the right thing, and relationships, whether it’s with our policyholders, agents or community. I feel a very strong obligation to continue that tradition. We care a lot about our communities. We certainly understand the responsibility to make money and to be financially strong. But quite frankly, we have an equal obligation to give back. One of the things I’m most proud of, beyond the financial contributions from the State Auto Foundation, is that we encourage our associates to go back into their communities and volunteer. We give time off to do that. More than 3,300 hours of volunteer service last year alone."
Homeport: In May 2015 you became State Auto’s President and CEO. Your start with the company was shortly after State Auto became the official sponsor of Homeport’s “Strengthening Communities” bus tours which provide a first-hand view of impact and the need for affordable housing in our community. What does having a home mean to you personally and what would you tell people who ask you about wanting to serve their community through Homeport?
ML: “Having a home to me is really the foundation of the relationship in a family. Whether your family is just you, a spouse and kids, partner and kids – whatever family is to you, home is that central place where you can go with loved ones and have that feeling of safety and protection. Homeport gives them a real advantage in creating that . As central Ohioans look for ways to give back to the community, your organization is a terrific outlet for them in helping others.”
Homeport: You were raised in Cleveland and went to Ohio State University for college, but left the state in 1979 for a long and successful coast-to-coast career in the property/casualty insurance industry that took you to Tampa, New York and Seattle. What is the biggest difference you notice returning to your home state and to Columbus in particular?
ML: “It’s great to be home. Columbus is a completely different city than the one I left after graduating from Ohio State in 1978. The Columbus I remember was a completely different city than it is today. I’m very impressed with a lot of the renovation in the city. Keeping young people in central Ohio was a challenge then; now it’s a place they want to stay. The work the business community, government and community organizations done collectively has been excellent. Those are some of the positives. On the other side, I’ve been very disappointed to learn that over 20 percent of the population remains below the poverty line. There are a whole bunch of folks that need help. We’ve got to put as much effort in to addressing those issues as we do the ongoing economic strength of the community.”
Homeport: State Auto has had representation on the Homeport Board. Your Senior VP and General Counsel Melissa Centers recently joined the Board. How do you envision the relationship between State Auto and Homeport evolving?
ML: “Our foundation and community relations organization is focused on poverty, homelessness, and education in underserved communities. A lot of those areas of focus are aligned with the issues Homeport is trying to address. There is a great opportunity for State Auto and Homeport to deepen our relationship. But the real key to me is how can we make it even more effective. What are the problems we are trying to solve? Are we thinking as creatively as we can to solve those problems? Are there things we’re doing that we can do better? Are there ways we can be more efficient and more effective in the community? Melissa is going to be a great Board member. She is bright. And cares deeply. She will challenge Homeport as she should to improve in all those areas. That is how I see the relationship moving forward.”
Homeport: Finally, the annual State Auto Christmas on East Broad Street is an iconic holiday season tradition in Columbus. How do you think family and tradition has impacted the success of State Auto?
ML: “We’re all facing a rapidly changing world when you think about technology. At State Auto, we’re working hard to be prepared for and take advantage of that change. But the greatest companies hold on to core values. Often they’re tradition based. Whether it’s the integrity that is foundational at State Auto, or its family-focused traditions like our Christmas Corner – those aren’t going to change. As the world around us changes, it’s good to have that anchor and foundation of core values of family and tradition. We’re proud of that tradition. I think it’s been an important part of our success. And it will be with us certainly as long I am here, I can promise you that.”