Tim Bebout joined Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB) 11 years ago as an inspector and worked his way up to vice president of Strategic Product for the company.
In an interview with Claims Journal, Bebout, a Navy veteran, explains how skills acquired in the military can easily transfer to a job in the insurance industry.
Tim Bebout: I did some support work for multiple ships. I worked my way up from an operator of the boilers in vessels and machinery. I went on to an aircraft carrier, the USS Independence, where I really got into the plant operation and maintenance for the multiple plants supporting the aircrafts that we were launching at different deployments. I also did a tour working with the USS Christian, a heavy cruiser.
Claims Journal: Tell me about your transition to working within an insurance company?
Bebout: I joined Hartford Steam Boiler in 1992 as an inspector out of our central region. It was a fairly easy transition, really, when I joined the company. They were looking for some loss control inspectors, to look at the operation, safety and maintenance of equipment. I think over 68 percent of our inspectors are former military personnel.
I think the key to the transition was understanding what the goal and mission was, which is to help our customers maintain our equipment, stay operational, keep their business running. It’s very similar to the mission we had in the military.
Claims Journal: What skills specifically does HSB look for?
Bebout: The military offers a lot of technical expertise in equipment and machinery which is translated to the business world. I think leadership capabilities – most of my peers and counterparts who came from the military started their leadership skills early on in their careers. That translates to being able to work with diverse groups of people and businesses in demanding situations. Problem solving. I think that in the military you have a very short period of time to solve problems, many stressful situations and demands.
Claims Journal: You said that it was a relatively easy to transition to working at HSB, but are there some more things to think about in terms of transitioning from the military to any career, as well as a career in the insurance industry?
Bebout: I think so. I certainly liken it to coming out of college. You have a base experience or education in a particular discipline. Whereas in the military not only do most people in the military have some form of secondary education, whether its college or technical schools, but the college education or the technical schools in the military, most of them are college accredited. And then you add in the experience. For example, when I was working on an aircraft carrier many missions that we had were in different parts of the world, requiring not only your ability technically speaking, but to be able to interact with the local country that you might be in, helping them repair their equipment or getting parts, and so forth.
I think that in itself, the communication skills, the maturity level of the military people. People that make that transition, it helps them overcome any short term curves, such as being able to adapt to the language used in that business environment, to be able to communicate in writing to a customer about what types of problems we’ve identified and how they might be able to correct that.
Claims Journal: What would you say is a typical transition period?
Bebout: Certainly it varies by person but I think, again, that speaking on behalf of my peers and colleagues, I think that in a year’s time most of our inspectors are operational. Some less. The training program that Hartford Steam Boiler has is very rigorous. For example, to be an inspector you have to pass a national board exam. The failure rate for most people is fairly significant; however, the success rate for military personnel is very high.
In addition to that, the training extends to understanding coverage concepts, understanding other people’s coverages, understanding how businesses operate in terms of what the main exposures are for any particular class.
Imagine coming from any environment and walking through the door of one of 200 to 300 types of businesses and really drilling into what the core exposures are. That’s a skill in itself, learning how to assess a situation quickly.
I think that, again, is where the military training really helps. It really complements what they’ve been provided, being able to quickly assess what the needs are and what the problems are.
Claims Journal: How is the work conducted? Do you work out of you home or out of a field office?
Bebout: Our engineers do work remotely. Really, the way that I like to put it is we work close to our customers, so we have a distributed work force across the United States and around the world. Most inspectors would tell you that their office has four wheels. With today’s technology – with cell phones, laptops, digital systems, all of which HSB provides its inspection force – they have a lot of tools that are mobile with them.
Claims Journal: You’ve worked your way up. You were an inspector when you started and now you’re vice president of strategic product there. Do you feel that the military background is a benefit to any number of positions within an insurance company, or is it strictly in an inspector or claims role?
Bebout: I suppose the best way to put it is your leadership experience, your drive to be able to succeed, to be able to support the team in a greater way, is something that military experience really, I think, instills in people. It may come across as being ambitious, but really I think it stems from the need to be able to support the team in the greater way. I felt like my transition through Hartford Steam Boiler was a natural transition. I started working with inspection of machinery and equipment that we insure. I moved into underwriting of the equipment and machinery and the risks that we insure, to developing products, new products that would address new exposures and trends associate with machinery and equipment.