On Aon

48: On Aon's Game Plan for Switching from Defense to Offense in Managing Risk with Greg Case

Episode Notes

On this week’s episode of the On Aon podcast, Aon’s Chief Marketing Officer Andy Weitz is joined by Aon’s CEO Greg Case for a discussion about themes impacting the firm, clients and colleagues. They also explore the risks leaders will continue to face in 2023 and how Aon is helping turn those risks into opportunities. 

Additional Resources:

Aon’s Website

On Aon Ep. 21: On Aon’s Conversation with CEO Greg Case

Aon’s 2022 Executive Risk Survey

New Aon Research Shows Prepared Leaders Embrace Risk And Make Better Decisions During Economic Uncertainty

Aon: Global Insured Losses From Natural Disasters Exceeded $130 Billion In 2022, Driven By Second-Costliest Event On Record

2023 Weather, Climate and Catastrophe Insight

On Aon Ep. 47: On Aon's Insights on Navigating and Preparing for Catastrophes with Michal Lörinc and Dominic Probyn

2022-2023 Global Wellbeing Survey

The One Brief: Greg Case: How Business Leaders Are Preparing for the “Great Volatility”


Episode Transcription


Welcome to “On Aon,” a now award-winning podcast featuring conversations between colleagues on, well, Aon. This week, we hear a special conversation with CEO Greg Case, as he reflects on turning risk into opportunity. And now, this week’s host, Andy Weitz.

Andy Weitz:

Hello, my name is Andy Weitz and I'm the CMO of Aon. Glad to be back here today. Very excited to welcome our CEO Greg Case to the On Aon podcast for a discussion on some critical themes impacting the firm, our clients and of course our colleagues. The team, by the way Greg, told me just before we sat down to record that our podcast last year, and I find this kind of hard to believe was the most downloaded and most listened to. So, the rumors is we have our work cut out for us today. So, thanks for joining us and no pressure.

Greg Case:

Andy, as always, happy to be here, looking forward to the discussion, and thank you again for the invitation.

Andy Weitz:

Absolutely, absolutely. And as you know Greg, given that this is, I think, podcast number 48 at this point we have a bit of a tradition upfront where we like to ask our guests a quick warmup question to kind of help our listeners get to know you better and really put in perspective what we want to cover today.

And so much of our focus is, I think, about the issues we want to talk about are about the evolution of the firm and the needs of our clients. So, what I'd like to do is kind of look back and look forward. And so, when you look back on the last year, what are some of the critical things you've heard from clients that impacted the way you look at what the firm accomplished and the opportunities we have ahead of us?

Greg Case:

Wow, boy, a lot in the last year, Andy, as you know well, but I reflect on different discussions and really around the world with counterparts across a whole variety of organizations. You always come back to the idea of the challenges they face and they have been formidable. We know that. More risk than ever before, more connectivity across those risks than ever before. And we know that, we see that. And in many respects, there is almost a sense that every decision's becoming more and more important, which is obviously true, but it creates a pressure, Andy, that I just have picked up throughout about the last year.

And leaders in many respects get to a point that it's almost decision fatigue. You have to make the right call because these calls become more and more important, but in the end, you end up, and I just had this discussion with so many of my counterparts, you worry that you're playing defense too much. You're actually making sure you protect your business in such a way that in some respects, you actually don't take the steps forward you want to take.

And if anything, 2022 was so much around getting these decisions right and the fatigue that comes with that. And I will tell you upon reflection, you worry that that's not enough to take the business forward. And I compared notes with my counterparts very often around how you move from defense to offense, and you've described before, we're in the business of better decisions. How do you make that a reality for businesses around the world and how do you partner with them to do that?

So, it's one reflection I have this idea of defense and protecting a business and how you move from defense to offense in terms of building a firm. And what surprised me was you hear that in every geography around the world, in every sector around the world.

Andy Weitz:

Well, Greg, I imagine yeah, any size business faces, regardless of the stakes for them, it feels gigantic, I'd imagine. Is the idea when you talk about decision fatigue, that it's simply more decisions to make or that there's a smaller margin for error that's been there in the past because of maybe the volatility, the connectivity you talked about? Is it both? What are you hearing from your counterparts?

Greg Case:

When I'm hearing from counterparts is it really is all the above, Andy. It really is more decisions than ever before as you think about the complexity around the world. The decisions are more complex and more interconnected than ever before in ways that they haven't been and then if you think about it, what's defense?

Defense is literally entering into COVID in an unprecedented time that everyone had to react to. Coming out of COVID, you're ready to jump in, you're ready to go. But what happened? The geopolitical turmoil all around the world. Then on top of that inflation and interest rates and the economic challenges, that combination, Andy, more than ever before.

What I'm picking up and hearing is literally that challenge, that combination is really what's created the challenge and the complexity. And in many respects, they kind of consume all your time. So, you don't really have the time to really think about the future and building momentum the way you'd like to do. And that that's really the, that's reflection on 2022 that just seems to be a reality across the world.

Andy Weitz:

Got it. So, the reality then is if I'm a leader of an organization, I went into the pandemic, maybe hunkered down a bit, in a way was just trying to protect the fundamentals of my business. You think offense is playing good defense, but what you got to do is find a way to stay a step ahead of your competitors. What should our clients be thinking then, Greg? How do they go from defense to offense and what can Aon do to help them get there?

Greg Case:

Well, listen, you've captured it perfectly, Andy, in so many respects. But if you think about it, just this idea of this fatigue, again, it isn't a lack of activity. Trust me, there's more initiative, more energy going into this than ever before. But when you're prudently playing defense, as you described, you then think about it from a stakeholder view.

Is new talent excited about what you're doing? And if you're playing defense, less so. Are your investors, are they understanding why it's all about defense and not about offense, less so. They want to see all of us taking action on all these fronts. And so, this is why the idea of the evolution from defense to offense is so, so important. And I will highlight maybe three areas, Andy if I could.

One is just a shift in mindset and really stepping back and asking the question, how do we protect the house? No doubt about that, but how do we think about the go forward? And really, I've watched a set of leaders approach risk very proactively. They understand the interconnectivity of it, they understand the risk today, but they are looking for opportunities in the face of risk. How do they understand risk, measure it, mitigate it more effectively and in doing so, step into opportunities, the likes of which they never have before.

It's really an interesting perspective that I have found very, very compelling. These leaders also almost universally take both a short- and a long-term view. They're absolutely defending the here and now, but they're taking actions with really think about what happens post-economic slowdown, post the inflation challenges, post the interest rate challenges, post the geopolitical challenges and how do you move forward?

And then finally, one other piece, Andy, that seems so universal in this conversation is around the people strategy and really taking a long-term view of around how talent strategy is evolving and continues to get shaped by all that's around us. And they're very clear on the strategy they're taking to bring in talent, develop talent and nurture talent.

So, those three approaches, Andy, I have found universal in my discussions with colleagues around the world and clients around the world on how to really lean into this idea of going from defense to offense as they think about addressing risks.

Andy Weitz:

Got it. So, I heard shift in mindset is one important piece, Greg, that idea of long-term thinking. And then obviously the fundamental piece you just talked about rethinking the people strategy. That's a great summary of what I think differentiates a prepared leader. And I know that in previous podcasts earlier this year, we had a few of our own leaders here in Aon on the podcast to discuss a little bit of some of the takeaways from our Executive Risk Survey, which talked about this, the idea that leaders who are prepared are able to lean in, they're able to go from defense to offense.

I'm curious, you cited a couple of examples, but let's make it a little bit more real for our listeners. In the past, I've heard you talk a lot about climate as one of these kinds of issues that it feels like it touches your business in so many ways. Or maybe the alternative, maybe it feels like it doesn't relate to you because you're a smaller business or you're not in the energy industry. What are you seeing when it comes to leading organizations and how they're dealing with something like climate? Where does it fit into this conversation?

Greg Case:

Well listen, first, Andy, you're right, this could gets applied across almost every aspect of an organization, but I love the fact you pick climate, let's call that out. Let's dive into that, understand sort of what that's looking like and how that is, that's evolving, and it really does show up this idea of defense to offense and how you think about it in the context of your own business.

First, I would say, listen, as we've described, climate is not a probability. The climate challenges are on the horizon. They're here and now this is a reality, and they pose real threats to what we're all doing, how we're thinking about our businesses and how they evolve. And when you think about it's in a number of categories. One is just resilience, literally how do you protect your business from the current evolution of what's going on in climate?

And also think about all the regulatory issues which come into play now in ways they haven't before. In addition to resilience, you've got transition. Literally, if you think about our own businesses, how are they transitioning when you think about the movement to a more carbon-neutral environment, but then you get to the idea of growth because resilience and transition aren't enough. How do you think about climate in the context of how you build and grow your business?

And maybe Andy, I'll pick one example. There's a global financial institution we've been spending a lot of time with, and it's been wonderful to watch what they've done and how they've approached it. First, it's a global financial institution. They have resilience challenges everywhere. They've got reporting requirements, the likes of which they've never seen before in terms of what does climate mean for their business. We're helping them understand that.

We're helping them ask questions around how they might be able to mitigate that, but they're not stopping there. They're then going to literally how do they think about their own transition, literally their fundamental business model and how that's going to change over time to both create a more zero carbon footprint in ways they've never done before. And then maybe the most exciting piece for them is around growth.

This firm is going to invest circa a trillion plus over time in climate, in investments, things that take carbon out of the air, et cetera. We're helping them understand how to take those investments and position them in a way in which they create the return that are required to grow the business but do so in a way that creates less volatility as they make those investments.

So, when you think about all the things that come into this idea of defending the house and then growing the house, building capability, what we're doing around resilience, transition and growth all fit into it. And again, if you think about it, colleagues are going to get excited about growth, investors are excited about growth. You build the firm around growth. Resilience is critical but not enough. So, it's a good example. It really talks to how this idea, the evolving idea of how you drive growth in a business is so important and so preeminent today. Just maybe one example, hopefully that was helpful.

Andy Weitz:

Very helpful. And I think it fits back to where we started the idea of decision fatigue. It sounds to me like resilience is the price of admission. You can't simply build a resilient organization. You have to make a decision; you have to be involved in the transition. And when you go on that journey, you have the opportunity to create growth.

And to me, that's the defense to offense journey you're talking about that it sounds like leading organizations are leaning into when they have a partner, they can help them navigate that journey.

I'm struck though by the fact that earlier when you were talking about some of the things on the horizon, some of the fundamentals out there that you talked about people strategy, you talked about talent, the idea that human capital is the foundation of executing any of these strategies.

I want to go back to that notion of resilience again now applied to talent. What does it mean to go on offense in the context of your team with your people strategy, and how does that fit into this bigger picture?

Greg Case:

Well, as usual, Andy, you captured the thinking perfectly and you can box the resilience and talent and the context of it, tremendous. If you go back to that example I just went through, that client literally is driven by their talent strategy. And it does start with resilience, no doubt about it. But to get to growth, to get to transition effectively, you're doing a lot more than just resilience. And if you think about talent and resilience, this has been very much around retention and all the aspects of that.

I have to tell you, you think about 2022 and into 2023, we're moving way past resilience. It's critical, as you said, it's the price of admission in every aspect of what we're doing, but it is nowhere near enough to do what we all want to do to build our businesses. And you evolve from resilience here to the idea of wellbeing and what it really means for our colleagues to succeed, not just retention, it really is around financial wellbeing for them.

It's around physical health, it's around mental health. It's around creating opportunities which they find more compelling than ever before and create excitement and energy in ways that haven't existed before. And stepping up to that challenge on wellbeing, we just see it everywhere. Andy, around the world with clients who really are embracing this idea of how do I go on offense to build in this highly complex environment and you know this very well, clients that do this literally are not just, don't just have a stronger talent force. They are performing substantially better. And in many respects, in almost four-to-one in terms of what it really means to create outcomes as it relates to wellness.

Technology obviously is a very fundamental piece of this. How do you operationalize the idea of embedding wellness across colleagues around the world and in so many aspects, this idea of going from resilience and retention and all the aspects that are built in that, into wellbeing, is absolutely fundamental.

Andy Weitz:

Greg, thanks. That's I think a lot for our listeners to digest in terms of talent strategy, underpinning, everything else you do and how it becomes a huge part of what you can accomplish as an organization. I know that at Aon we've, we've done our best to lead on this so often where we end up creating value for clients starts with what we learn within the four walls of our own firm.

And I know that our smart working approach is a great example, in my opinion, of that. I think there's something like 81 percent of our colleagues in our last colleague support survey said that smart working provides them the flexibility they need to balance work and personal commitments.

Does it start there when you think about a healthy workforce meeting them where they are creating conditions for them to be successful? To your point, using technology to underpin how they connect?

Greg Case:

Andy, exactly right. When you think about smart working and all that it means it really has to embed the flexibility you're describing. It has to create the opportunities and the possibilities for colleagues to operate more effectively in the current environment and in the environment as it evolves over time. So, for us, that's been fundamental.

Equally exciting has been the applications with clients around the world. It's been wonderful to sort of see them adopt and embrace the idea of smart working. It is very different by company. There is no one size fits all here. This is around how you tailor the approach to support your colleagues in the best way possible to drive strategy going forward. And the whole idea of the evolution of smart working is absolutely critical. I mean, if you think about it, we talk about sort of trying to come up with the idea of what smart working is thinking we're going to go back to something.

We've never had this environment, you go back pre-COVID, we all did different things. We didn't define it as crisply as we're trying to do now. Then you go COVID, everybody got exactly the same model, everybody's in the same model. Now we're evolving from it and trying to create definition and then we're trying to create compliance around that definition. These are complex things to do with our colleagues around the world, and we're seeing that evolve and that's why smart working, as you described, is so fundamental to this idea of generating real meaningful wellness with our colleagues in a way that really drives outcomes for our clients.

Andy Weitz:

Absolutely, Greg. And I think it's another example of why at Aon we're lucky to have the in-house expertise, the subject matter experts, resident, and our Human Capital team really guiding us through that process a lot. We're learning that we're then applying to how we lead and partner with clients. And a lot of wellbeing is about trust.

I would imagine that the trust is a currency that you exchange between a colleague and an employer. And a lot of that today we talk about in the context of other dimensions like inclusion and diversity and believing that you're part of an organization that values that and is creating pipelines and opportunity for all kinds of people to grow and flourish within an organization.

I can't help but think of what we've done on the apprenticeships front as another dimension of how you can lead and demonstrate to your colleague base that you're committed to a fuller definition of wellbeing. What do you think?

Greg Case:

Well, listen, the apprenticeship idea is really, starts with the perspective and thesis that if we open up opportunities for talent from broader sources, we're all going to be better off. And I must tell you our Aon colleagues, Andy, around the world have been absolutely spectacular in the context of apprenticeships. And you think about what we've done across Europe and now across the U.S. in creating opportunities for colleagues who are here to for never would've come into Aon, never would've seen Aon.

By the way it's been a great opportunity for them. But be clear, as you know well Andy, it's an opportunity for us. These colleagues have come in and done a magnificent job sort of adding to the texture, the content, the capability that exists at our firm. And this whole idea of what we've been able to do to help drive the apprenticeship effort around the U.S.. Not just within inside of Aon, but around the industry, has been incredibly rewarding and incredibly beneficial.

But it starts with the idea that we're opening the opportunities up more broadly than ever before, creating a very skill-based approach to how we bring in talent, how we develop talent, how we apprentice talent over time. And that outcome has been incredibly compelling, and as I said, is really, we think, going to make a difference, not just at Aon and our industry, but really across the entire economy.

Andy Weitz:

Well thanks for that additional detail, Greg. I mean, I think that ultimately diversity drives wellbeing. Broadening the aperture means more opportunity for everyone. It increased the trust and conviction of our colleague base about the future of the firm, the organization we're growing into, the potential for what we're building with Aon United.

So, thanks for that extra nuance and texture, that's great context for how we view opportunity for clients. Shifting to Aon for a second, how do we match up against that? What other priorities or areas of opportunity do you see for the firm against this backdrop we've discussed for the last few minutes?

Greg Case:

Well, appreciate the question, Andy. I guess you know, step back and think about it. Last year we were together last year, we talked about opportunity and how it's evolving and becoming more significant. Clarity, how we define a path that we can help clients succeed on it, and then how do we continue to align our firm, Aon United so we can deliver this in the most compelling way possible. And I have to tell you, that was relevant then, but if you think about what we've just discussed, it's become even more relevant now.

In some respects, you kind of have to love it when a plan comes together and now we've just got to execute it on behalf of clients in the best way we can, if you think about an opportunity has never become, never been more compelling. With the complexity and the risks that are out there, our ability to help clients with all their colleagues, people, retirement, risk - massive. Think about the clarity we have in the business of better decisions.

This is about a client definition of what they need to succeed. That is a different orientation than we've ever had before. And greater alignment really across the globe around that. And I would just say, listen, the piece we've always talked about together, Andy, is listen, when you think about relevance, you think about what we do as an industry and how we help the global economy, client by client, succeed. Our relevance has declined over the last 30 years where it had been increasing for the prior 20 years.

And we've talked about how you break that trend, and you break that trend by helping clients succeed in a challenging environment. And there's never been a bigger and more substantial opportunity than we have today to do that and to really change that curve and to change the relevance of what we do as Aon, but even equally important, what the industry does on behalf of clients and their employees around the world.

So, it's pretty exciting. We're going to continue to reinforce and drive that as best we can. But the purpose is clear, as you've said before, in the business of better decisions, helping clients succeed has never been more important and we've never been more excited about it.

Andy Weitz:

Well Greg, thank you for that. It is exciting and I think you've really tied it all together and it sure does sound like there's quite an opportunity ahead for the firm and our clients in 2023.

Before I let you go though, I know this is your favorite part of our discussion. We only do this once a year, but I want to probe a little bit, personally here for a moment. I had a lot of people suggest questions for you here, Greg, on the personal front, but I'm going to make this I think kind of easy. I know you're a student of history. I'm curious, what fictional or historical leader do you most admire?

Greg Case:

Okay, I knew we would end up there, Andy. So, at the risk of killing the momentum for all of our listeners, I'll offer a couple maybe one thought on this, maybe one thought.

Look, I go back to Teddy Roosevelt. I love the entire thesis around the idea of being in the arena and what it means to be in the arena. And to me it makes so much sense, based on today's conversation you and I have had, because it really is around taking initiative. It's really around going from defense to offense and having the courage to do that in your own organization on behalf of your clients, with your colleagues, whatever you're doing.

It's really taking a step forward because you have conviction, it's the right thing to do. So, I have to tell you, I love that. I love that passage. If you haven't heard it before, it's just tremendous. But if you really want to hear the right rendition of it, at least the one that makes my hair on the back of my neck stand up, it really is, John F. Kennedy in a speech in December of 1961, in New York City, which is Roosevelt's hometown, talked about what it means to be in the arena. And it was just, it's awesome.

So, if you want more than the written word, Andy, go to that. It's on YouTube. It's pretty cool. And I would highlight that.

Andy Weitz:

Greg, that's fantastic, and I think for those of us who get to work with you relatively closely, that's the way we feel at Aon in terms of the opportunity we're taking on and the value we want to create for all of our stakeholders. I got to imagine though that orientation had to come to you personally, right? Is there any reference point in your life or moment where you've seen that kind of mindset stick out most in terms of being in the arena, making the hard decisions, getting it done when it matters most?

Greg Case:

Wow, say formative, there are many formative times, I've learned so much working with my colleagues around Aon over these many years. But I decided I was going to pick one personal anecdote, Andy. In my prior life I worked with a partner, Joel Blakey, who was a phenomenal partner, and he was unique, and I was relatively early tenured at the time, but I worked with him seven or eight years, regrettably, and at a very early age, he left the earth way too early. But he had a mindset that was about opportunity creation. He was a net creator in everything he encountered. And I was always stunned around how you could face adversity in the client arena, in the personal arena and find opportunity against it. And Joel always found that, and he found that through his entire life. And I found that to be an incredible lesson watching him do what he did.

And you reflect back, and you realize, man, what a difference he made. Not only with the clients he served, not only with the colleagues he worked with, but really if you think about the evolution of thinking, the evolution of what it means to be successful and the ideas that it takes to accomplish that. Joel was just unique, and I had a great opportunity to watch someone in action who really, in many respects, accomplished in a short life, all that we just talked about over the course of the last bit of time together. So, maybe that's one example that added a real indelible impact on me.

Andy Weitz:

Well, thanks Greg. I really appreciate you sharing the personal anecdotes. And I think on behalf of our listeners, just a big thank you for everything we covered today, some really important themes that I think resonate on professional and personal levels for our colleagues and hopefully for all our listeners.

Everything from decision fatigue, the idea of going on offense in the face of challenges like this, what it means to make better decisions. And as I think you just wrapped it up, the idea of being a net creator, a phenomenal discussion, as always, Greg. Thanks so much for being here with us today, and listeners, that's our show. Thank you to everyone for listening and stay tuned for the next episode of On Aon.


This has been a conversation "On Aon" and CEO Greg Case’s thoughts on some critical themes for 2023. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this latest episode, tune in soon for our next edition. You can also check out past episodes on Simplecast. To learn more about Aon, its colleagues, solutions and news, check out our show notes and visit our website at Aon dot com