Thoughts On The Passing of A Great Man…Jack Callahan
Jack was my boss when I worked in the Commercial Home Office of Allstate. He had held virtually every other important job at Allstate prior to being asked to run our business. I had known him casually over the years, but quickly got to know him well in his new assignment.
This was in the 1990’s and things were different then…and Jack looked like he was the poster boy for CEO…tall, distinguished, male (in those days…most were male…some might say the same today), experienced, smart, personable and very well connected. His wife, Lucy, was the perfect corporate CEO wife…beautiful, smart, friendly…with one additional descriptor…really really successful in her own right as a clothing store owner.
Jack took over an organization and changed it in unimaginable ways. He did it by empowering people to do the right thing. He did it by educating all of us. He did it by careful attention to the numbers. And…something we were not use to at all…he did it by staying very well connected politically with the rest of the Allstate organization.
Jack brought women to the top of our organization and then helped them make their way into the bigger Allstate organization. One of them became the overall head of Human Resources for the entire company. Another took on major responsibilities within the overall Claim organization. Another within the IT area. Another helped transform the culture of the entire company. Minorities got opportunities and made the best of them. And the rest of us…we had opportunities, as well. Jack always said…he could not guarantee any of us long term jobs…but he could guarantee we would get the education, mindset and skill set to be long term employable anywhere. That really turned out right for me. I eventually left the Allstate organization, but ended up as Chief Underwriting Officer for another company and CEO/President of a sizable middle market and program business commercial insurance company.
Here is what I enjoyed the most about working for Jack…I was his speech writer. If he said something on video or in a presentation or wrote something for publication…I probably actually wrote it. To be fair, he had other people in Corporate and at Commercial who also wrote things for him…but I got the lions share. Bragging….no, and you will see why in a moment.
I took dictation in high school…dictation. I was the only guy in the all girl class. Why?….well, think about it. Best move I ever made…met a lot of ladies that way. And I got good at dictation…that turned out to be an asset throughout my career. We had a Zone VP once who took me under his wing and said to me “Son…always be the one who writes the minutes of the meeting. If you control the minutes, you control the outcome of the meeting.” So…I volunteered often to take the notes and write the minutes.
Now to get to the point about why I am not really bragging about my writing for Jack…and I will tell a quick story that tells the tale…
Jack was asked to give the commencement speech for the University of Illinois Circle Campus Business College…a large class of graduates at a university that we had connected with on several projects. I don’t think Jack ever figured out where the invitation to be the commencement speaker ever came from…but I know. My daughter, Stephanie, was the assistant to the Dean of the Business School…and she loved Jack Callahan. I think she pointed the Dean toward Jack. Jack accepted and asked the Dean to visit him to discuss the speech. He asked me to sit in on the meeting. I did…never said a word as the two discussed potential topics and what he might say. At the end, the two of them went to lunch. My dictation pad and I went to my office. When their lunch was done, I gave them both a draft of the possible speech. Their jaws dropped. Jack read it. He looked at the Dean and said “Don…this is brilliant…you are a genius.” Not a word was changed and that was the speech he gave.
Genius huh…every single word of that speech was EXACTLY as Jack had said it in his “off the top of my head” green lighting of potential thoughts and phrases…exactly. I added nothing. I don’t even recall having to put them in good order…just transferred them from my dictation pad to my computer, hit spell check and then printed it out. It was a brilliant speech…but I had absolutely nothing to do with it. That was Jack.
And one other thing about Jack…he was human. By that I mean, he lived with a painful injury from a fall. He had a major disappointment in his career. He had a divorce that was painful as heck. At the end of his life, he ran into the things that aging can do to all of us. He was a person…just like all of us. But…if you ask me…he was not just like all of us. Jack was one of a kind…and kind…and I am thankful til the day I die for the opportunity to learn from him and to be his friend. My best to Lucy and his family and to all of us who loved him. Aloha Jack.
Don, an awesome story about a great man. I never worked for him or in his organization but was copied by someone on the writings he shared regularly with his organization and they inspired me in my role on the P&C side. You are right, the perfect example of a truly great leader of people.
Thank you Don. Jack was a wonderful human being. He provided opportunities for so many people and instilled confidence. One of the best times of my career was working for the organization led by Jack.
Beautiful words for a wonderful man. I am so sad to hear of Jack’s passing. He was a wonderful leader as you so eloquently described. He was kind and friendly to everyone, there was no rank with Jack, I believe he cared for each and everyone of us. We were all proud to work for Jack!
Very sad to hear of Jack’s passing. As Don so eloquently stated, Jack was just a great human. I think Anna said there was no rank with Jack. One of my early experiences with jack was on Saturday when my toddler daughter and I would come in to change the backup tapes for the servers. We’d usually run into Jack as he was always energetic and dedicated. He knew my daughters name after the first meeting and would always say hello. He knew my name was John but didn’t connect my last name until Don Hurzeler “recruited” Jack into the Junior Achievment Program at SBP. When Jack and I met he exclaimed, “It’s you! You’re doing JA too?”. The JA program truly flourished under Don and Jack’s leadership. As did the entire Business Insurance. We were truly empowered.
Reminds me of one more story…Jack was asked to be the speaker at Gallaghers annual meeting of top producers. There were 350 people there. Jack stood at the front entrance and introduced himself to each person as they came in…asking each his or her name. After the speech, he and I went back to the exit and he stood there and greeted each person by their full name (no one was wearing a name tag and he had just met them for the first time). He thanked them and congratulated them…and it blew their minds. They gathered just outside the exit to watch him do it over and over until the last person was out of the room…and then they gave him another round of applause. I was astonished…he just smiled.
Miss you my friend.
Beautiful memory! Keep them coming!
Great story Don! Jack touched all of us in so many ways. Glad to see you’re enjoying retirement.
So sorry to hear that Jack has gone. He was an inspirational leader and all of us learned a great deal from him. BTW, I used my 18 imperatives portfolio at a meeting today. Have been using it since I got it, close to 25 years ago.
Cary…you used them before you met Jack.
Allstate is still reaping the benefits of Jacks leadership via those of us who are still working at Allstate. He taught all of us about empowerment and the importance of doing what is right. While it is sad to hear of Jack’s passing, his values and what he taught us still lives on. Just the other day I shared the Empowered Knowledge Worker wheel Jack and his leadership team introduced, and mentioned that Jack was ahead of his time.
I’ll never forget during Jack’s retirement party in South Barrington when, to a rousing round of applause, Jack stated he was just an ordinary man who was trying to do what was right.
Jack wowed us all in South Barrington ~ he was easily respected and we flourished under his leadership. He was the best of leaders and trusted us to be who we were and, of course, to do what was right!
Don, what a beautiful tribute you have written to Jack. I hope his widow and children can read these posts so they know how much he was loved, respected and admired. I wish I still had my Empowered Knowledge T-shirt, but I think I wore it out! I loved that he was a champion of education. The photo of him laughing is exactly how I remember him!
Thank you. He was a special man indeed. Aloha.