SPARK OF THE CORPORATE
Don't risk a lot for a little, don't risk more than you can afford to lose....
Creating an altogether new brand identity that almost mocked at one's pedigree takes an enormous amount of courage, even if the conviction was strong and, ultimately, one's decision proved to be a master-stroke in making the company one of the top national brands as well as ensuring effective brand-connect. Daniel Amos did just that and much more to consolidate a business that had been built upon strong foundations of public service and customer confidence.
Born in 1951 at Pensacola, FL, Daniel is the son of Mary Jean Roberts and AFLAC co-founder Paul Amos, who along with brothers, John and William started AFLAC (originally called the American Family Life Insurance Company of Columbus) in 1955 to provide life cover and supplemental insurance in the United States of America. His father wanted him to be a leader, and groomed him to assume the responsibility at AFLAC, so it isn't surprising that he chose to take up risk management as the subject of his bachelor's degree from University of Georgia Business School.
By the time he completed his education, he was well and truly ready to dive into the family business. But, unlike many heirs of business families, he chose to start off like an upstart, and began his career at AFLAC as a sales representative. He worked in sales for ten years and became one of the top earners of the company during this period. Along the way, he also added to his business and man-management skills by assuming several leadership roles that drove the sales force to give their best.
Daniel was inducted into the leadership positions at AFLAC by his charismatic & dynamic uncle, John Amos, who seemed to have spotted the spark in the young Daniel. So, it was only logical that when he dies in 1983 leaving the President's (of the company) seat vacant, Daniel was elevated to that post. While not many would have expected Dan to have an impact like his uncle did, he did not disappoint. He had truly seized the situation to make an impact on the company's growth in Japan where AFLAC had made a definite presence since the time of the senior Amos'. He is believed to have been the driving force behind some of the re-investments in Japan that have ensured the company's strong association with the Japanese people, especially the sales force who now considered it to be a native Japanese business, and helped consolidate its position in that country.
The Defining Period
By the time Amos became CEO in 1990, he knew pretty well the mantra for successfully taking forward the company. He relied on diversification, anticipating customer needs, attracting high-quality talent, and creating a brand differentiation.
He had to chart a defining path also because, during this period, it appeared that the company's growth had stagnated owing to the general economic conditions in the world, especially Japan, as well as the advent of many me-too companies also eating into its revenues. That besides Amos was well aware of the fact that to be able to register sustained growth, the company had to have its differentiators. There had to be new ways of serving customers. Thus, while ensuring that prime offering of the company since its initial days, cancer insurance, remains sacrosanct, he set about a path of diversification to the company's product line.
Taking cognizance of the fact that cancer-deaths and related ailments were rampant in Japan, he initiated a policy Super cancer that would provide treatment for senile dementia, which also covered all shortcomings in government assistance for cancer sufferers. It proved to be a master strategy as the policy gained widespread acceptance and purchases. In fact, it was such a hit that by 1996 almost 75% of AFLAC's revenues came from Japan. More importantly, the policy helped AFLAC to increase its footprint in Japan to the extent of providing cover to 23% of the Japanese people. Even corporate Japan (publically held companies) was influenced by the strength of AFLAC's policies, and they were more than willing to offer the policies as payroll deductions. Similarly, the company offered a new policy in the US that covered disability. These were very good additions to the company's core product, cancer.
He then heralded the creation of an attractive, positive, and friendly working environment that included child care and flexible work hours, particularly suitable for working mothers. This attracted top quality talent to its ranks. In 2001 women held 29 percent of top-management positions and represented 42 percent of the top earners for AFLAC. All these have resulted in it being consistently voted as one of the best places to work.
It is said that even after more than 4 decades of presence (upto the 1990s), the company still remained relatively unknown. Only 10% of Americans were familiar with the company. A fact that was hard to digest for Amos, because it was getting all crowded in the insurance space, and AFLAC did not stand out, despite its specialty. First things he did was to change the name to something that set it apart while still being legally known as it was before. This he felt was necessitated because a lot of other companies had the phrase "American Family" in their names. Thus, he modified the named to have just the acronym AFLAC. Then, after having led many path-breaking initiatives, he set about changing the brand-recall situation in his own country and work on reinforcing the brand. In 2000, he launched the company's enduring national advertising campaign that featured the iconic AFLAC Duck, which transformed AFLAC into a top national brand. It was a courageous decision by Amos to let a quaking duck be regarded as the identity of this company which had long been known for traditional values. But, as we have seen, the thought leaders and visionaries are a different lot. They see beyond the ordinary and work to achieve those distant goals through their sheer courage of conviction. The series of commercials featuring the duck have now become part of successful branding folk-lore. Today, more than 90% of the people in USA are familiar with AFLAC, largely owing to the out-of-the-ordinary brand recall that the duck evokes.
He was very clear that insurance, especially supplemental, had large-scale endorsement only in Japan and the USA. But AFLAC had operations in many geographies, which were not bringing in much business. It could not continue like that. So, instead of letting them operate in a state of near obsolescence, Amos decided to shut them all and focus on the two countries which were presented opportunity for his company to grow as well as serve the ones who wanted to be served.
He also made sure that the company invested extensively in cancer research. Thus, under his leadership, the company developed Georgia's AFLAC Cancer Center at Atlanta's Egleston Children's Hospital.
All the efforts of Amos in the 23 years that he has been the CEO of AFLAC have had a tremendous impact on the company's fortunes. Today, AFLAC serves 50 million people with its insurance products (primarily operating in the US and, Japan). In fact, it is the leading provider of individual insurance policies offered at the worksite in the United States and is the largest life insurer in Japan in terms of individual policies in force - 25% of families are covered by AFLAC one way or the other. Its income grew from $2.7 billion in the early 1990s to $22.7 billion (2012) and assets grew to about $140 billion.
His leadership in the last two decades has had great impact on the company and its work culture. AFLAC was named by FORTUNE magazine as one of America's Most Admired Companies eleven times, besides the recognition of being the only insurance company to appear for 14 consecutive years on FORTUNE's list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. It has also featured in Ethisphere magazine's annual list of the World's Most Ethical Companies for six consecutive years.
While he respects the quality of the work-force, like most CEOs, he does not put up with non-sense which in corporate parlance is akin to integrity issues. This aspect of his personality was manifest when he did not bat an eye-lid while firing comedian Gilbert Gottfried -- who provided the US voice for the AFLAC duck -- threatened the AFLAC brand by making jokes on Twitter about the devastation wrought upon Japan by a tsunami. It is said that Amos fired Gottfried within 15 minutes of making the tasteless joke.
Amos is a member of the board of trustees of the House of Mercy of Columbus. He previously served as a member of the Consumer Affairs Advisory Committee of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is the former chairman of the board of The Japan America Society of Georgia and former chairman of the University of Georgia Foundation. He has been a Member of the Board of various companies including CIT Group (1998-2001), Georgia Power Company, Southern Co., and Synovus Financial.
Amos and his wife, Mary, devoted much of their time to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta – a hospital Amos helped create out of the merger of the Egleston Children's hospital and the Scottish Rite Children's hospital. The center treats cancer-afflicted children. Besides this, the couple has contributed millions of dollars to cancer research.
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