John Ammendola disrupts the status quo to transform Grange Insurance


When John Ammendola became the president and CEO of Grange Insurance in the beginning of 2015, he knew it was time to disrupt the status quo.

“We’re an 80-year old company and we have a culture that is disciplined, but has been very conservative,” he says.

Consumer preferences and expectations are changing dramatically, largely due to technology. At the same time, risk is shifting with cyber exposure, ride sharing, Airbnb and more. As he set out to change course, Ammendola found the pieces came together quickly to make a transformation possible.

Grange’s board of directors understood the necessity, the urgency and supported Ammendola as an agent of change. A new chief information officer could help Ammendola reinvent the organization — not only with technology changes, but also with encouraging innovation as a byproduct of culture. Plus, Grange’s senior team and many employees were pushing for change.

It was up to Ammendola to set the tone from the top and show the way forward, because change needed to remain a collective priority for a company with nearly 1,300 employees and more than $1 billion in revenue.

“There’s a circle of what I call conventional thinking,” he says. “That’s where the recipes are formed and they’ve been cooking for 80 years. They work and nobody wants to touch and disrupt (them).”

Companies like Blockbuster and Kodak likely discussed new trends, but they kept with what worked well. Today, artificial intelligence, chatbots, drones, greater mobility, increasingly autonomous vehicles, homes communicating with devices, buildings communicating with risk managers and wearables telling people about their health make it obvious that circle can become dangerous, Ammendola says. Often, fresh, or even disruptive, ideas are needed to stay in touch with the needs of your customers.

Starting out

It’s not easy to change the core of an organization, even if it’s necessary.

In addition to hiring new talent who’d experienced transformation and had the necessary skills, communication has been critical, he says. There is no end to it.

“You have to continuously keep that process of dialog going, because it is disorienting and it is something that without explanation or buy-in can become very difficult,” Ammendola says.

A new value was added to the corporate culture: To solve creatively for tomorrow. To invite associates to accept the idea of innovation, and failing fast and failing forward, a pillar of transformation and modernization was added to the strategy. This would encourage moving more ideas to action.

Ammendola also had to clarify alignment throughout the organization. Once he and his senior team made the case for change, what does that mean for each employee? Why is their job important and how can they play a part in the change?

“This is all in parallel, you don’t do this sequentially. You’re beginning to communicate, beginning to augment, bringing in talent,” he says.

Early changes included making the website mobile friendly, releasing a mobile application, making the MyGrange portal easier to use and becoming a part of Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service. At the release in January, Grange was just one of three insurance carriers to offer an Amazon Alexa skill. People can use Alexa to find a local independent Grange Insurance agent, hear the insurance tip of the day and learn about Grange and its insurance products.

To encourage more innovation, the CIO and others visited Silicon Valley on a discovery trip. Ammendola previously went on a similar trip with The Columbus Partnership.

Grange also launched an innovation incubator. It wasn’t a separate building with Ph.Ds. trying to change the trajectory of the world, but a chance to highlight employees who already had the spirit and desire to push the company forward.