Dave Kaufman steers Motorists into new fields, both in and out of business


Dave Kaufman learned from a mentor that significance is more important than success.

“He was always coaching me to look at every situation to try to make a lasting difference and elevate it. How can you go beyond just what’s before you and have a positive impact that outlasts you and your team?” he says.

That quest for significance applies to business and life.

Kaufman became the CEO of Motorists Insurance Group in 2013; since then, he’s helped the company integrate its affiliated companies and double in size through a joint venture agreement with BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Co., all while steering through industry disruption.

The company also continues to make a mark on its downtown neighborhood with the bold move of developing townhomes on one of its surface lots. And Kaufman remains involved in his nonprofit, Future Possibilities.

It’s a lot to navigate, which is why he’s learned to focus.

“Everything that a CEO should do is probably around purpose and people,” he says.

Purpose focuses on the why and whether the company is doing the right things, while people considers engagement, culture and strategy. If the task doesn’t fall under one of those, it’s probably better handled by others, Kaufman says. It doesn’t matter that you likely got to your position because you were effective at executing operational matters.

Follow up and monitor without sacrificing empowerment. Once accountabilities are assigned, hold people accountable to bring back results, while watching for variance. If there’s variance, CEOs need to focus on what needs to be done and why, while those below them figure out the how, who and when, he says.

One identity

Over the past six years, Motorists has knocked down silo walls to create one company, rather than 12 companies previously under the Motorists umbrella.

The idea was to spark collaboration by working together on values, beliefs and behaviors, while centralizing operations into profit centers like personal lines, commercial lines, etc., rather than brands under different presidents. Employees would no longer identify first with a smaller affiliate like Wilson Mutual or Iowa Mutual.

It’s critical to focus on the strategy first, though, Kaufman says, not the structure you inherit.

“I’ve found it to be much more effective to make sure we’ve got the strategy clear, and then look at the structure that supports that strategy, and then look at the people you need, the skill sets within that structure,” he says.

It can be hard to call a timeout and ask, “What’s the strategy and what are the critical success factors to move from here to there?” but doing so is important.

“If you jump to the people first or the structure first and you let that dictate your strategy, it slows down and really lessens your potential,” Kaufman says.

Following its culture, strategy and structure approach, Motorists was getting close to coming together. Kaufman estimates the company was at eight on a 10-point scale, but he still watched for opportunities.

“We kept an eye open to if there was another company that could join our group and add immediate strategic value to that one-company vision,” he says.

While Motorists walked away from a number of opportunities, BrickStreet, out of Charleston, West Virginia, proved to be the exception. The companies signed a joint venture agreement in May 2017.