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Faces of the industry: a new multimedia gallery of the Insurance Hall of Fame honors insurance leaders from around the world. (Industry Strategies: Leadership).

Harry Truman once said, "Men make history; not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."

The new multimedia Joseph and Claire Smetana Gallery of the Insurance Hall of Fame, scheduled to open July 15 in New York, celebrates the leaders of the insurance industry, their historical influence on the progress of insurance in society and the risks they took to achieve success, sometimes against great odds.

The gallery, located at 101 Murray St., New York, is a joint venture of the International Insurance Society Inc. and the St. John's University School of Risk Management. It is the brainchild of Patrick Kenny, president and chief executive officer of the Society, and Dr. Ellen Thrower, executive director of the School of Risk Management. The new gallery will reside at St. John's Manhattan campus, also the home of the Society and the school. Ongoing administration will be the responsibility of the Society.

"This is all about leadership," said Thrower. "Leadership and history are so important for understanding the growth of the insurance industry." Thrower said the gallery will offer information that will be easily accessible to students, business leaders and visitors from around the world.

The New York gallery was created to complement the original Insurance Hall of Fame located at the University of Alabama's College of Business campus in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Insurance Hall of Fame in Alabama chronicles the history of insurance and honors leading figures in the industry, both living and deceased. American International Group Inc.'s Maurice Greenberg, Chubb Corp.'s Hendon Chubb and Nicholas Barbon, who established the world's first fire insurance company following the Great Fire of London in 1666, are among those voted into the Insurance Hall of Fame. These "captains of the insurance industry" hail from 17 countries and were selected by the Society's Board of Electors as contributing to the betterment of insurance and society. More than 106 honorees have been inducted into the Insurance Hall of Fame since its inception in 1957. Portraits of the laureates are displayed prominently in the Alabama facility along with memorabilia and biographical information.

According to Kenny, the state-of-the-art gallery in New York is not intended to replicate the Alabama collection, but to build on it and create a new high-technology facility in the financial center of the world. "Exposure means a lot," he said. "The creation of the gallery was a way to take advantage of what the School of Risk Management provides, coupled with giving greater exposure to an already wonderful facility at the University of Alabama."

High-Tech Experience

Visitors to the new gallery will be able to view digitized reproductions of the Hall of Fame portraits housed in the Alabama facility. Large plasma touch-control screens, measuring two feet by three feet, will dot the gallery, where visitors can view the reproductions and download historical and biographical information in English and other languages. Information can be accessed according to country, date of induction and name, among other criteria.

Most of all, Kenny said, the gallery will tell the story of triumph and achievement. The Hall of Fame members have taken risks, created ideas and made them work. Kenny and Thrower both believe that visitors from around the world will benefit from access to one central source of multimedia information about the pioneers of the insurance industry.

Additionally, selected original portraits from the Alabama facility will be featured in the gallery on a rotating basis. These portraits are original oil paintings specifically commissioned by the laureates upon their induction, said Dr. John S. Bickley, founder of the Insurance Hall of Fame.

A Memorable Beginning

Thrower and Kenny first discussed the idea of a hail of fame gallery on Sept. 10, 2001, at a business dinner just three blocks from the World Trade Center. "It was an inspired idea, and we were very excited about the possibilities of such a gallery," Thrower said.

Due to the events of Sept. 11, the School of Risk Management's campus was evacuated and subsequently set up as a Red Cross respite facility. Students, dorms and operations were relocated to the main campus in Queens, N.Y., until Jan. 15, 2002, when the school reopened in Manhattan. It was only after the school moved back to Manhattan that plans for the gallery were set into motion.

"Once we had thought it through as to how the gallery might work, we went to Thscaloosa and spoke with Dr. Bickley and the dean of the College of Business to get their agreement for a New York gallery," said Kenny.

"I thought it was a wonderful idea," said Dr. Bickley, who is also founder of the International Insurance Society and has worked to bring worldwide recognition to the ways in which insurance serves society and the leaders who have inspired others in the industry.

Joseph Smetana, retired vice president of AIG, donated the initial funding for the New York facility. An alumnus of the School of Risk Management, formerly the College of Insurance, Smetana wanted to give something back to the insurance industry upon his retirement from AIG, Thrower said.

"He thought that this Insurance Hall of Fame gallery was very important," Thrower said. "Having some way to show it here in New York, so people from around the world could have easier access, was something he thought had real value."

The International Insurance Society is a nonprofit educational organization of nearly 800 members from 90 countries, specifically senior industry executives and insurance academics. The Society sponsors research, confers awards and operates a yearly seminar featuring industry executives. Each year, laureates are chosen for the Insurance Hall of Fame by the Society's board of electors. Election is by a secret ballot audited by an independent auditing firm.

The School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science was founded in 1901 as the Insurance Society of New York and eventually became the College of Insurance. In 2001, The College of Insurance merged with St. John's University and became a school of the Peter J. Tobin College of Business. The school awards undergraduate, Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees in the insurance, risk management and actuarial science disciplines.

Plans for the Future

Kenny and Thrower envision many opportunities for building the gallery into a major worldwide resource and are already thinking about future enhancements to the facility. Kenny acknowledged the need for a Web site where all information can be accessed via the Internet. Additional audio-video installations are being planned. They also hope to add more languages to the biographic and historic information.

"We'd like to include more research on each laureate and the representative companies, so the gallery really becomes a source of history about the individuals and how they are woven into the fabric of the insurance industry," Thrower said.

While the Society will oversee the operation of the gallery, ongoing contributions are needed to keep the facility up to date. The Society will seek potential donors, including individuals, institutions and foundations, to help maintain the gallery on an ongoing basis.


The Insurance Hall of Fame at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Ala., is the original venue to honor the leaders of the insurance industry. Dr John S. Bickley, professor emeritus of insurance at the University of Alabama, founded the Hall of Fame in 1957, following an extensive study of 100 European insurers. The Hall of Fame includes portraits of 106 industry leaders, from Benjamin Franklin, who founded the first mutual fire insurance company, to presidents of present-day insurance companies. Bickley was inducted in 1986 upon his retirement from the Hall's broad of electors. Below is a sampling of important dates in the history of the Insurance Hall of Fame.

1956-57-The concept of the Hall of Fame was endorsed and implemented by the Griffith Foundation for Insurance Education and Ohio State University. The Foundation was the administrator of the Hall. A board of electors was created to select Hall of Fame laureates. Benjamin Franklin, Solomon S. Huebner, the founder of The American College and creator of the Chartered Life Underwriters certification and Elizur Wright, the first insurance commissioner in the United States, were inducted as the first laureates.

1960-The first non-U.S. nominees, Canadians, were included on the ballot.

1961-The first 11 portraits of laureates were displayed at Ohio State University.

1965-The ballot for nomination to the Hall of Fame was expanded worldwide.

1967-The first convocation of the Hall was held in conjunction with the International Insurance Society, which eventually assumed the financing and administration of the Hall of Fame (1984).

1987-The University of Alabama was named the permanent site of the Insurance Hall of Fame, which includes a museum and gallery displaying the laureates' portraits.

1992-The Hall of Fame was dedicated on March 22-23 at the University of Alabama. Attendees at the two-day event included 590 people from 16 countries.

2001-More than 163,000 people have visited the Insurance Hall of Fame in Alabama since 1992.
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Author:LaCorte, Suzanne
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
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