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Passing the leadership baton

Acuity names new president, CEO to stay on for three-year transition period

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March 10, 2023

SHEBOYGAN – For the past 24 years, Acuity Insurance has been under the leadership of Ben Salzmann – serving as president and CEO.

“I’ve been in the industry for 43 years,” he said. “I’ve been with Acuity for 33 years and president and CEO for 24 years.”

Now, as part of the company’s long-range leadership perpetuation plan, a new leader sits in the president’s chair at the Sheboygan-headquartered insurance company.

Acuity’s board of directors chose tenured employee Melissa Winters to lead the company into the future.

“We are incredibly blessed to have such a strong, capable executive team that allows us to perpetuate our leadership internally,” Board Chairman Bob Willis said. “That continuity of leadership will enable Acuity to carry on our success.”

Salzmann will remain on as CEO and on the board for the next three years, to help ensure a successful transition.

However, though Salzmann will remain with the company through its succession plan, he said Winter is the president.

“Melissa is the president, with the full powers of the president,” he said. “I moved out of the president’s office, and Melissa moved into the president’s office. We executed all the documents needed so she can transact all business.”

He said the importance of a leadership transition is “mainly teamwork and shared culpability.”

Salzmann said he’s seen changes in leadership fail with other companies because there wasn’t a succession plan.

“With me staying (on for three years), I am mutually culpable,” he said. “There’s no separation. There’s only sponsorship, and that virtually guarantees successful perpetuation.”

Salzmann said when he took the reins as CEO more than two decades ago, he had a “terrible transition.”

He said he’s committed to not letting that repeat itself.

“One of the things I always hold myself accountable for is that I would run the most successful, smoothest transition possible – least disruptive, keep any politics out of it and don’t mention a word until it’s done,” he said.

Ben Salzmann

Winter said from her vantage point, a succession plan is “absolutely desired” by companies because of the “stability it provides to an organization.”

“Is it typical,” she said. “My assessment is no because there’s often a lot of ambiguity, uncertainty and disruption associated with these types of transitions. The plan we are executing and the manner in which we’re doing it gets us to the best outcome for all parties.”

Continued growth
Under Salzmann’s leadership, Acuity grew its revenue at nearly double the industry rate, as well as increased policyholders’ surplus at more than twice the industry rate.

During that time, he said Acuity has maintained A+ ratings from both AM Best and S&P and has been named to Ward’s 50 list of top-performing property-casualty companies for 23 straight years – one of only four insurers in the nation to do so.

As he steps back from the role of president, Salzmann said Winter is the “right person” to guide Acuity into the future.

“Melissa is an outstanding, proven leader who has earned the role, as well as the respect of everyone at Acuity,” he said. “She is incredibly kind – kindness is the most important thing. Melissa is also incredibly intelligent and amazingly innovative so she can be both kind and make Acuity successful. She is an extraordinary talent.”

Winter said she’s excited to continue the more than “two decades of incredible success.”

“We are poised in the market to repeat that success and to drive even further as an organization, both from our geographic expansion, as well as the way we provide innovative solutions for our customers and for our agents,” she said.

Winter said being able to help lead the organization into that “bright future is an amazing opportunity.”

“I’m excited about our future and our continued prosperity,” she said.

Years-long company knowledge
A Sheboygan native and Cardinal Stritch University graduate, Winter started her career with Acuity as a claims representative in 1998.

Winter gradually worked her way up through the leadership ranks, which she said provided her with a great foundation.

“I began my career as a claims adjuster – brand new learning the industry,” she said. “It’s an amazing way to learn the insurance operations, every line of business and the focus on the customer that is inherently part of keeping that claims promise – that’s why we’re here. Beginning with that strong foundation, that’s where you build a passion for the industry on those front lines.”

After three years in the claims department, Winter said she transitioned into a leadership role.

“I was managing my first team, which I handled for more than half a decade,” she said.

From there, she moved into a business consulting role.

Melissa Winter

“Still focused on claims, but taking that claims knowledge and taking it to a new innovative strategic place,” she said. “I got involved with training new employees, as well as working on corporate strategic initiatives focused on claims. That’s where I built the passion for the innovation side within the organization.”

In 2016, Winter stepped into an officer role leading Acuity’s consulting area – which she said includes leading corporate strategic planning.

“Which is all about ensuring Acuity’s future successes and looking ahead to being that thriving, dynamic organization of the future,” she said.

Winter said her progression of roles through the years and throughout the company has led to a natural transition into the president role, “because I have that day-to-day knowledge on each of those operational areas.”

“I was able to start with that firm foundation within the business and that strong operations knowledge and then take that pivot and apply that through a much more innovative strategic lens,” she said.

Winter said she is also “very aware” of the core functions and strategic needs of those areas. “And that allows me to best support our officer team as well from the president’s chair,” she said.

Culture-centric focus
Winter said the other piece that’s “really critical” to the president’s role is being closely involved in culture, “because culture is at the center of who we are at Acuity.”

“In the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a number of culture-centric strategies,” she said. “Helping to propel that forward and being a steward of Acuity’s culture is one of the most important responsibilities of the president. It’s a banner I’m proud to carry in the way Ben has.”

Winter said Acuity’s culture has undergone a transformation over the last two-and-a-half decades.

“Whether you look to accolades most recently with Forbes (naming Acuity) A Best Place to Work to being recognized by Glassdoor for the leadership we had during the COVID-19 pandemic for work-life balance, being able to maintain that level of culture in a dynamic talent environment in these recent years… and to provide that consistency and that sense of fun, enjoyment and engagement has continued to take on even greater importance,” she said.

That sense of fun and engagement, Winter said, starts with leadership.

“That drives some of the energy you build organizationally,” she said. “Our common purposes ‘We Dare to Care,’ and ‘We Stare Down Risk’ – those are two of the primary tenets of what our folks are living out each day. And you have to have a strong sense of culture if you’re going to ask folks to do that.”

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