We caught up again with Dr. Andries Willemse, senior vice president of Crawford’s Global Technical Services (GTS®) business, recently to discuss a variety of topics ranging from the changing industry to the challenges of balancing an active life with a demanding position. Dr. Willemse is based in Crawford’s world headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. GTS is Crawford’s definitive global offering for major and complex incident claims handling.
Is there such a thing as a typical day for you?
Andries Willemse: Like many other people in our organization with global roles it really becomes a personal 24/7/365 commitment. The challenge with this is that there is never really a finite start and end to the day. I can almost look at my email at any point during the day or night and have an issue that requires an immediate response. I am working on several global projects at the moment which involves colleagues in every global region so time zone differences are but one aspect to contend with. My experience is not unique however and I take my hat off to our colleagues who are in client facing roles on a daily basis.
What has been the most surprising part of your job?
Willemse: During the 15 years that I have been with Crawford, I have been fortunate enough to have held several different positions, and for that I am very grateful. In each of these positions I have learned more about the industry at large, our organization (and how it is adapting to serving the industry better), and lastly more about myself. Even though we work in what is essentially no different from other professional services environments, markets drivers such as new legislation, new areas of interest such as Cyber Risk, Environmental Risk, etc., force us to continually adapt. To some we are often just another vendor in the larger insurance value chain but in reality we are a critical component to its overall success. I have no doubt that we will have to continue to evolve (as an organization and as individuals) to remain aligned to ever-changing market dynamics, organizational change etc. I regard every day as a learning opportunity and by doing so, I often come to realize that the most valuable lessons come from unexpected places and people. That’s the exciting part.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Willemse: Even though I value academic training highly, there are certain circumstances where there is simply no substitute at all for practical experience, especially when adjusting large and complex losses. There are many individuals that I have worked with or are currently working with, whose years and years of experience will not be transferred unless we as individuals or as a company make a conscious effort. I try my utmost to pay close attention to these individuals – there are two aspects to this – in order to benefit from knowledge transfer and proper regard for their experience. So if I have single out the most important lesson – respect.
How has your education helped you in your job?
Willemse: It’s a well-known fact the sheer volume of information available to us today has increased, and will continue to increase exponentially. The Internet has become the de facto original truth to many. Much of what we see on the Internet however are views expressed—as opposed to academic fact—so we need to cultivate in ourselves and others the ability to not only distinguish between facts and opinion, but perhaps most importantly, how to interpret and apply information and data. This applies equally to both our professional and personal lives. Cultivating the ability to make this distinction and apply what is needed is part of the learning experience. Studying, whether for education credits or for personal enrichment is a lifelong journey – we would be naïve if we thought that any of us have “arrived” at that point where we have enriched ourselves sufficiently. Having said that, making a commitment to enroll in a course or degree on a part-time basis is no easy task, and not one to be taken lightly given the effect on family, work, financial costs etc.
How do you balance an active life with the demands of your position?
Willemse: I am fortunate enough to have my wife Liza take care of that aspect for me. When you have been married for 24 years like we have, delaying course corrections are not optional.
You are a native South African and recently became an American citizen. What prompted your interest in U.S. citizenship?
Willemse: I truly believe that if you make a country your permanent home, that you should make every effort to fully assimilate into it. To me that means acknowledging and being aware of cultural differences and striving to fit into your new society. My decision to become a U.S. citizen had two parts to it. First, I believed that the socio-economic conditions and political situation in South Africa was not being as advantageous as it could be to all the citizens of the country, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to be a meaningful part of the solution. The second part relates to the U.S. and what it represents. This is the greatest nation on earth in every sense of rights, freedoms and opportunity to succeed. I view citizenship in the United States as a privilege and a gift to my family who will have greater opportunities to develop in this large country’s diverse and always evolving multicultural society. I don’t take citizenship lightly; it is a responsibility that demands care and constant attention. Becoming a U.S. citizen was truly one of my major life ideals and accomplishments; it was a very high honor.