To be successful in business, Craig Mense says that you must have the ability to act and set strategic directions. "And then business is a pretty simple process," commented the executive vice president and chief financial officer for CNA Insurance at his Department of Accountancy Lyceum presentation on October 6. Mense spoke to a group of over 200 accountancy students about popular myths, keys to success, corporate accounting priorities, the corporate accounting evolution, and some fundamentals of insurance.
Mense, who earned a bachelor’s from the University of Virginia in history, told the students that because of a lack of technical expertise, he elected to pursue an MS in accountancy at Georgetown University. Despite never having practiced accounting, Mense said he believes customers acknowledge and appreciate accountants as business advisors.
"Business people value accountants," said Mense. "Accountants are able to translate business impacts to earnings impact." Accountants are an essential component to any business because they are able to convey impact on earnings and how to generally run a business. Mense commented that some of the best companies he has encountered in his lifetime have been run by accountants.
"Why do I think accountants are important?" Mense asked the student audience. "They like to pay attention to detail." This detail is one of Mense’s keys to success. Focus, diversification, disciplined execution, and optimal use of capital are elementary components of business, he said.
Mense indicated just how prevalent insurance companies are today by citing a telling statistic: the US property and casualty industry generated approximately $630 billion of gross written premiums last year. "The industry is important for the US economy," he said. "It enables individuals to take risks they normally wouldn’t be able to do." Success of an insurance company is based on how good they are at predicting and pricing risk and outcome, said Mense.
Mense also discussed the work environment. "I believe sincerely that day to day execution is the key to business,” he said. Insurance, he said, is “a heavily quantitative science," making it critically important to focus on day to day staff and their preparation for their assignments. "You can’t succeed without having the right people," said Mense. "One of the fundamental priorities in business is to continually update staff." Although Mense acknowledged the unpleasantness involved, he insisted that people who are not able to perform on the job should be let go. Employees should be given the right business and educational opportunities to grow in an organization, but sometimes the organization will have to hire new talent, he said. Giving various anecdotes about his own history in business, Mense explained that ultimately "we’re all a product of our accumulated experiences."
Mense believes that, in business, accuracy is more important than having an immediate absolute answer. Taking five measures to determine if you’re headed in the right direction is better than only one measure that gives the answer. "You need to marry technical expertise with an understanding of business fundamentals for management information," Mense added. He compared college students to business professionals. Those in college almost have more experience with long-term projects than people in the business world, he said. Students know the critical links that must be made in order to accomplish a final project, where their performance is measured by that outcome.
About the Speaker
Craig Mense has overall responsibility for CNA’s corporate finance department, which provides asset and capital management, financial planning and analysis, investor relations, treasury services, corporate accounting, financial reporting, corporate tax, ceded reinsurance, financial regulation and internal audit services to the organization. Prior to joining CNA in 2004, Mensewas president and chief executive officer of Global Run-off Operations for St. Paul Travelers. He is a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU).