Charles Aris senior practice leader Ashlee Wagner recently sat down with Alfredo Sciascia to discuss his work as head of corporate strategy and research at Liberty Mutual Insurance. The CS&R team is Liberty Mutual's internal management consulting group that serves as trusted, strategic advisers to the organization’s CEO and executive leadership team. CS&R drives transformational change by taking an enterprise-wide, customer-centric perspective. Prior to Liberty Mutual, Alfredo served as the group head for the strategic planning group at American Express. Earlier in his career, he was a consultant at A.T. Kearney and Accenture. He attended Bocconi University and has an MBA degree from Columbia University.
What are the top three responsibilities occupying your time in your role today?
My No. 1 priority is to enable CS&R to transform Liberty Mutual. We strive to stay ahead of market trends and strive to be a thought leader in bettering the company and industry. My belief is that insurance is a socially responsible product, so the industry has a strong societal vocation. However, the overall insurance market is not truly customer centric. My mission is to change the industry by setting a new status quo at Liberty Mutual. This is the legacy I wish to leave behind.
My second priority is to hire Liberty Mutual’s next generation of leaders. I personally interview every candidate at every level within our team, and we hire from the top undergraduate schools, MBA programs, and external management consulting firms. We encourage CS&R consultants to roll into the business after a few years, and we have placed our talent in great roles across the company.
Lastly, I must honor the team’s name of Corporate Strategy & Research. A large part of my role involves influencing the strategic direction of the company, identifying key questions to answer and shape the strategy, and developing research to inform that strategy.
For people interested in a similar career path to yours, which skills and competencies are most important for success?
First and foremost is the ability to solve complex problems. CS&R solves enterprise-level problems, often involving business model transformation or growth strategy, so our talent is poised to innovate and create.
Secondly, collaborative skills are critical. The culture in CS&R and Liberty Mutual as a whole is innately team-oriented, so we look for those who can solve problems with a team in a collaborative setting. A fit with our culture and values is critical.
Finally, I personally look for people with a sense of purpose. Someone who desires to change the industry and society for the better is crucial because that is our team’s mission. We need people who aim for more than just finding their next job. Our best hires have a naturally inquisitive mindset, the upmost sense of integrity, and a passion for helping our customers.
What’s the best career development advice you’ve ever received?
I have been fortunate to receive career advice from several mentors. One piece of advice I particularly like came from an executive coach I worked with before joining Liberty Mutual. I shared some challenges I had with the financial services and insurance industry and, in response, he told me:
“Alfredo, perhaps you don’t realize that you can change that in your position. Think big and think bold. In your case, your big and bold idea is to change the industry for the better. You have the capability and insights to make that your next goal. The insurance industry should never be the same after you join this role as Head of CS&R for Liberty Mutual.”
He put me into action. Sometimes we have an idea in mind but we do not put forth any action because we believe it cannot be done. If I had this tall aspiration, then I needed to do something about it. For example, I think artificial intelligence is the technology that we can unlock to revolutionize the industry. We have intensively researched this technology and now have numerous A.I. projects we’re working on.
My leadership stems from my belief that I can effect change. Thinking big and bold isn’t just a mantra – I believe in putting it into practice. A lot of people sell themselves short; they think the constraints are too big or that the companies are too old. They too easily abandon the beauty of change, and from this advice I have learned to stick with my ideas. I work hard, keep positive and make them real.
What has been the most impactful life event that has driven success in your career?
The event that impacted my life and professional career the most was making the decision to study and then work in the United States. I am originally from a small town in Sicily, Italy. My grandfather was a fisherman who wanted to live the American Dream, and he thought that coming to the United States would make him successful. He used to tell me about his dreams, but unfortunately, he was never able to come. I told him I would find a way to fulfill his dream, which drove my decision to apply for an MBA program in the U.S. and begin my career here. It has been my single most impactful decision, which then originated the rest of my story.
What do you miss most from your time in external consulting?
The post-workday dinners while traveling were quite fun. I remember that we had a long project in Charlotte, North Carolina and at dinner we’d discuss the workday and have a few laughs. The camaraderie, fun and chemistry that you develop during projects is unique, and I miss that the most.
How do you keep yourself sane in a 24-hour work world?
My unfulfilled dream is to become a soccer player. Playing soccer with CS&R on a regular basis and after a productive workday keeps me motivated and focused.
I also look forward to family time – going home to my wife and two boys, 12 and 5 years old. Every day is a discovery for me. I’ll tell you one story that captures this quite nicely:
I was intensely prepping for an important executive leadership meeting. The meeting was with hundreds of senior executives, and we were tasked to discuss challenges the company is facing and brainstorm solutions for those challenges. I shared this task with my wife and kids. My older son, a seventh-grader, said: “That’s like a first-grade project. We did this five years ago in school, and it doesn’t sound that complex, Dad. Why do you get paid to do what I did five years ago?” He added that he wasn’t sure why I had any concerns. My family gives me perspective in life.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
I always share this with candidates I interview: Before I joined Liberty Mutual and CS&R, I always thought that the Sunday blues were inevitable. You always feel the blues around 6 p.m. when you feel the workweek starting again. I thought this feeling would never leave me, but since joining Liberty Mutual, I haven’t felt the blues anymore. To people who have the Sunday blues: I promise you can find a job where you don’t feel them. It’s possible!