Lead By Example

by Phil Kalin

It’s time for Colorado CEOs to lead the state’s way out of COVID. 

I drafted this column in mid-August, before the FDA gave official approval (not just emergency authorization) to the Pfizer vaccine. I hope that by the time you read this, more of you will be requiring your staff and, in some cases, your customers to get the vaccine. But in the fast-moving world of COVID, we can’t take anything for granted. So I’m going to share my views, which have – if anything – only gotten stronger in these recent weeks.

We’ve watched infection and hospitalization rates rise in Colorado and across the country as the Delta variant surges, even in mostly vaccinated areas like metro Denver. As large numbers of unvaccinated people continue to circulate, it is only a matter of time before the next variant hits and the pandemic cycle will renew once again. 

I’m concerned that many of us have resigned ourselves to this cycle and I don’t believe we have to.  It’s my belief that if we muster the will, we can stop this insidious drag on our health, businesses and way of life. 

We can’t rely on elected officials to impose vaccine mandates on citizens. And while it’s been heartening to see Denver’s mayor, some school districts and many hospitals institute COVID vaccination requirements for their employees, most Colorado workers aren’t employed by those entities. As civic leaders and community stewards, the CEOs of businesses large and small must extend the example set by these other employers.

That’s exactly what I’ve done at Pinnacol Assurance. In early August, I worked with our executive team on a policy to require our employees who choose to or must work in our building or meet with customers to upload proof of vaccination into our HR system. And we’ve gone further. For events we host (golf tournament fundraiser for our foundation, suite at Broncos games, etc.), we're requiring guests to show us their own vaccination proof to register.

We aren’t yet at full crunch time, as most employees don’t have to come into the building.  Those who do (e.g., facilities and mail room) had, for the most part, already shown proof of vaccination, so the policy has not appeared to create an issue there.

The policy is perhaps most challenging for our employees whose jobs require them to meet with or host customers and other stakeholders in person. It’s forced some difficult conversations. Each and every one of our team members is an empathetic professional, and those who have chosen not to be vaccinated have reasons for that choice. But as an insurer whose business is managing risk, it would be irresponsible for us not to safeguard the health of our team members and our customers.

As a result of these policies, we’ve had to make some difficult decisions and deal with a few unhappy partners. We canceled an incentive trip for our agents, and a summer event for employees that would have taken place largely indoors. One sponsor pulled out of the golf tournament, and some players will not be participating. We respect their decisions but we must be firm in ours.

Again, I hope that by the time you read this, FDA approval for the Pfizer vaccine has quieted many fears and made it easier for many of you and your businesses to require vaccinations for your employees and, where feasible, customers. (I applaud business leaders like Frank Bonanno who announced this policy for his restaurant patrons weeks ago, and DCPA CEO Janice Sinden and other venue operators who have put patrons’ health first). Our business is managing risk, and “taking things for granted” isn’t an actuarially sound strategy. If a health and safety focused insurer like us does not lead the way in protecting the health of our employees, their families and our community, then shame on us. I hope you will consider joining in.

Phil Kalin

Phil Kalin joined Pinnacol Assurance as CEO in 2013. He has served as the chief executive of both public and privately-backed companies, including large hospital systems, as well as organizations focused on health care data, technology and education.

Related Articles

  • Leadership
Dec 8, 2021
by Phil Kalin

Lean into the soft stuff. It works. The importance of the “tone at the top” is business school 101. We all know how important the CEO’s example is for setting cultural norms, and the resulting impact on productivity and results. When the CEO’s behavior is integrous with the company’s stated values…

  • Leadership
Nov 3, 2021
by Phil Kalin

Last month, I announced I will be retiring as President and CEO of Pinnacol Assurance at the end of March. I love my job and my company, and this wasn’t a decision that came easily. Making such a decision has prompted a lot of reflection on what I’ve done and accomplished over nearly 50 years of…

  • Leadership
Oct 5, 2021
by Phil Kalin

At Pinnacol Assurance, the verdict is in: we will retain our current flexible working model for the foreseeable future. We came to this conclusion after extensive research and discussion with our teams. The process and findings were so rich, I think it’s valuable to share them. Beginning in June,…