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Aflac CEO shares importance of taking risks and giving back

Dan Amos tells audience at Georgia MBA Symposium the pathway to his company’s success
Tuesday, March 29, 2022 - 10:20am
Ed Morales
Dan Amos_MBA Symposium

It was September 2019 when Dan Amos participated in a Business Roundtable meeting — a quarterly gathering of CEOs from major U.S. companies — to share ideas about the evolution of business.

As the leaders would soon learn, business was about to change dramatically. But something said that day stuck with Amos, proving both pertinent and prescient in the years ahead.

“The statement was this: We are competing with everyone, every day, forever,” Amos said. “This is a truism for all of us. And everyone means all companies and avenues of distribution. Everyone in the world is trying to find a faster and better way to do things, and they’re not stopping while we’re having this meeting today.”

Chairman and CEO of Aflac Inc., Amos served as keynote for the Georgia MBA Alumni Symposium, held on March 25 at the Terry College of Business. The second-longest tenured CEO in the Fortune 200 behind Warren Buffet, Amos told an engaged audience of MBA students, Terry alumni and faculty about his history, his company’s history, and the importance of diversity and taking risks in keeping a business viable and thriving.

“The three principles of risk management insurance forever changed my life,” said Amos, who graduated from Georgia in 1973 with a degree in risk management and insurance. “And what are those three principles? Don’t risk a lot for a little, don’t risk more than you can afford to lose, and consider the odds. These principles seem mighty elementary, and you wonder why they work so well. Sometimes we in business try to make things complicated, and we make it complicated because we think it makes us look smart. The smartest people to me are the ones who bring me something on one piece of paper and narrow it down.”

Amos served as a catalyst for a day that included sessions about the future of automation and technology, workplace inclusion, sustainability and leading change. Discussing Aflac’s inspiration to first provide cancer insurance, its decision to move into the Japanese market, the ethical practice it employs and its marketing success with the duck advertising campaign, Amos set the stage for a company Fortune named as one of the World’s Most Admired Companies for 20 consecutive years. He told the room of the significance of transparency, culture, communication and letting people know about bad news right away.

When disasters recently affected Japan, a country where Aflac provides insurance for one in four households, Amos made a point to keep people informed of what was happening.

“People cannot take uncertainty, but they can take bad news,” Amos said. “Sometimes we don’t want to tell bad news to our bosses, our shareholders or whoever it might be. ... But there are times you have to take risks, and this was one of them. I’m going to go out there and explain exactly what’s going on. And we did have good news. Our employees were safe, and our buildings were going to be OK.

“You have to communicate, communicate, communicate, and be as transparent as you can,” Amos added. “Over time, it establishes credibility and consistency with investors, employees, customers and sales agents.”

His company’s investment in funding the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta and child care centers in Japan remain a priority. Amos was behind the creation of My Special Aflac Duck — a social robot with lifelike movement and emotions which help comfort kids during their cancer care. The animatronic duck was named one of the best inventions of 2018 by Time magazine and earned best of show honors at the Consumer Electronics Show.

“We want to concentrate on making a difference,” Amos said. “It’s something that we are very proud of and want to continue to build on. ... When you can give back and build the brand, it’s a one-two punch that never ends.”

Amos stressed the importance of diversity as a key to Aflac’s success. Appearing five times on Institutional Investor magazine’s list of America’s Best CEOs, Amos said his success as a leader stems from the people he has around him.

“Nobody is a bigger advocate for diversity than me,” he said. “For a company to accomplish its goals, it needs to surround itself with a group of people that are consistent with who you’re selling to.

“I want to hire young people, I want to hire women, I want to hire people of color, and I’m not doing it just to be good — although I like doing it —  I’m doing it because it’s also a good business decision,” he said. “I’ve got great people, and I’ll put my people up against anybody you got.”

Noting that profits and shareholder returns determine the success of a company — “if the stock doesn’t go well, it doesn’t matter anything else you say” — Amos added that companies can make money and also be ethically and socially responsible. With that in mind, he offered the audience questions to ponder and embrace as they move forward in their businesses.

“I would ask all of you how are you embracing your culture?” Amos said. “And how are you looking for future growth? And where are you going to be looking forward? And what are you going to do to make it even better?”