Name: Brad Bennett
Title: Senior Vice President, Chubb Group Regional President, Far East (since December 2017)
DOB: Jan. 21, 1959
Hometown: Fresno, California
Years in Japan: 7
The welcome that Brad Bennett, senior vice president, Chubb Group and regional president, Far East, received when he first visited Japan in 1979 was textbook rock and roll. Camera flash bulbs popping, people shrieking, and guards abandoning their posts at Narita Airport for autographs. But this was no ordinary visit.
A then-member of the U.S. National Baseball Team, “At that time (baseball) wasn’t an Olympic sport, so that was the national team,” Bennett was in Tokyo to play a seven-game tourney against Japan. One of his fellow team members was Hawaiian star pitcher, and subject of an inter-country bidding war, Derek Tatsuno.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Bennett recalled, discussing the pandemonium with The Japan Times, “but then afterwards, everyone was so polite; just so gracious and so grateful. I’m sure we weren’t the quietest group of respectable teenage guys when we visited, but that didn’t matter.”
His father being renowned baseball coach Robert “Bob” Bennett meant baseball was in Bennett’s blood. “I was drafted by the Yankees in 1980. I played a few years with the Yankees, the Cardinals and then opened up the business,” said Bennett, speaking of his minor league days during and after college.
The business, a franchise baseball academy and joint venture with his father, did not succeed. Yet for Bennett, his father remains his greatest source of inspiration. “My dad taught me about integrity, hard work. In treating people like you might have to see them again, every time you meet someone. Understanding that success is not without sacrifice, and it’s not without a commitment to discipline. And that you can do all that stuff and still keep family values intact.”
Bennett also realized that he had a taste for business. When an Allstate Insurance representative offered him a job running his own company as an insurance agent, so began Bennett’s career in the industry.
“I started as an agent with the notion of one day having my own agency,” said Bennett. “They were an organization that trained in the nuts and bolts on how to run a small business. I learned about basic insurance, principles and concepts.”
The job also allowed him to move between California and Texas, the two places Bennett had spent most of his time growing up, but fate once again intervened.
Headhunted for an opportunity at American International Group (AIG), it looked as if Bennett was going to end up in Latin America. “I didn’t even know who they (AIG) were,” Bennett laughed. “It was to run and develop captive agency operations in Latin America. My Spanish is okay, not great. But through that process, I met (current Chubb CEO) Evan Greenberg.”
Suddenly it was Thailand, and not Latin America, that was on Bennett’s agenda. Initially employed as deputy regional agency executive, where he developed captive agency models for Southeast Asian countries, what was touted as an 18-month role became seven years.
Other roles in Asia followed. Next responsible for agent and small broker development in 26 countries as AIG’s senior vice president of agency and branch operations, Bennett was then tapped for C-suite functions in Malaysia, Korea and then Japan.
“What I’ve found from these experiences living in Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, (a few minutes in) Hong Kong, Mongolia (and Japan) is that a language isn’t necessarily the key to communication,” began Bennett when asked about working across the region.
“There are a lot of other variables and how you’re able to exchange ideas and information, with your colleagues, subordinates, even superiors. You learn how to observe people and you learn how to shut up and listen when you’re not able to speak (the same language). I observe what people do more than what they say sometimes to me. It’s helped me quite a bit. It’s also helped me to realize and understand that cultural nuances matter on how information moves in an organization and how it’s received in an organization and I don’t know that I would’ve gotten here … if I were able to converse (in various languages) on a real-time basis.”
For Bennett, this ability to do what the Japanese refer to as “reading the air,” to be more aware of and attentive to the mood and undercurrents around him, also helped him when he later returned to work in America. “Sometimes just observing people in the room, or even lunch room, you have a better sense as to how and where information goes, and how it comes back,” he noted.
Joining Chubb marks Bennett’s third time living in Japan — he hopes to find time to fish and see more of the country, expressing a love for spring and autumn, but his professional life is also fulfilling.
“The work that’s been done by my predecessor Jeff Hager has really positioned the company in a good way. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to take it on.” Bennett highly recommends others follow suit should the occasion arise, but has some words of advice.
“There is a pace of work and a view of work as it relates to the entire society that I think is unique to Japan. I don’t know that I understand it all. I think you just need to be aware of it … and of a working culture that might be a little different than the one you’re coming from, and respect that.”
Experience in various roles around the world
Born in California, but also raised in Texas, Brad Bennett has over 30 years of insurance industry experience. In his current role, senior vice president, Chubb Group and regional president, Far East, he has overall responsibility for the management and business results for all of Chubb’s general insurance operations in Japan. Previously, Bennett was president of Combined Insurance, a Chubb company, and concurrently served as senior vice president, ACE Group. Before joining ACE, Bennett spent 17 years with American International Group (AIG). Roles included chief operating officer and head of distribution for Chartis Companies in Japan; president and CEO of AIG Korea; and president and CEO of AIG General Insurance Malaysia, among other roles responsible for agent and small broker development. Bennett joined AIG in 1995 as deputy regional agency executive in Thailand. He started his career as an agent with Allstate in the U.S., holding field sales management positions with the company. Bennett received his Bachelor of Science from California State University.
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5