Tier One Interview: Pete Dziedzic
In our latest Tier One Interview, we change things up a little bit. Our CEO, Jay Judas, spoke to our COO & General Counsel, Pete Dziedzic. The pair, who not only run LISG together but are married to each other, discussed Pete's role in the Company, his unusual professional history and where the best food in Boston can be found right now. Read the interview in full below.
Jay: July marks the first anniversary of our company, Life Insurance Strategies Group, so it made sense to conduct this month’s Tier One Interview with my co-founder and spouse, Pete Dziedzic. Congratulations on having the first year behind you!
Pete: Thank you. I was surprised when you asked me to be your subject this month but then warmed up to the idea of giving our industry a behind-the-scenes look at our company and other aspects of our lives.
Jay: We have a lot to cover but let’s start with your role at Life Insurance Strategies Group, which we refer to as LISG. You are the General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer for the firm. Fill in our readers who may not know what what you do for the company.
Pete: My role really has two distinct parts, an internal one and an external one. Internally, I am in charge of all the behind the scenes aspects of running LISG – the accounting, IT, legal etc. I also run our marketing, including creating the visual aspects of our marketing collateral and running our social media and digital marketing.
Externally, I work with clients, mostly producers, on their marketing and branding efforts. This includes improving the “look and feel” of their branding and marketing pieces, creating marketing materials, advising on social media and even creating or rehabbing their websites.
Jay: I will come back to LISG in a moment, but I want to dig more into your background. Surprisingly, you do not come from the life insurance industry; though, you have been immersed in it via your personal life. Talk about your upbringing and career to this point.
Pete: [Laughing] Yes, prior to joining LISG, I referred to myself as a “life insurance spouse” and my exposure to the industry came through joining you at social and work events. I even participated in the “spouse program” at AALU back in 2005!
In terms of my background, I grew up in Southington, Connecticut and stayed close to home for college, getting a BA in Political Science at Yale. I then spent three years in glorious Charlottesville, VA attending the University of Virginia School of Law. JD in hand, I moved to Boston for my legal career, working in the corporate departments at two of the top law firms in the country, Ropes & Gray and then Weil Gotshal. My practice focused on representing private equity clients in their M&A transactions, either on the acquisition directly or on the financing for the transaction.
After eight years, my professional life took a drastic turn as I decided to leave the law and bring a Canadian retail concept, skoah, to the U.S. That’s how, in 2010, skoah Boston was born. At skoah, we perform facials and sell our own line of skin care products – we call it personal training for your skin. Not only have we built a solid client base over the past 10 years, we have also managed to receive a ton of amazing earned media, including multiple Best of Boston wins from Boston Magazine and national recognition in Vogue, Goop, Travel + Leisure, In Style, and Allure. I even got to write a regular blog for the Boston Herald on skin care and pop culture.
Now with LISG, I have the opportunity to combine the analytical approach I learned as a corporate lawyer with the marketing experience from running a retail business. Balancing between LISG and skoah is definitely an interesting combination, but it works for me!
Jay: When the idea of LISG came to me, I initially thought it would just be a one-person firm and did not imagine you enthusiastically jumping on-board from the beginning. I started the company because, throughout my career in distributing life insurance products to high-net worth and ultra, high-net worth individuals and families, I recognized these clients have a desire for unbiased and independent advice about their insurance needs. Also, that it was important this advice came from a firm not selling products or without any industry affiliations or loyalties. You thought it was a no-brainer and we would be successful. Why did you feel that way?
Pete: As someone who has been tangentially involved with the life insurance industry, one thing that struck me was how much of a black box it could be for clients. And while the folks we work with all have incredible integrity, not all the players in the industry share that commitment, creating a somewhat negative connotation around the concept of an “insurance salesman.”
Given that, and with your particular set of experience, it was clear that there was a gaping hole and you were uniquely positioned to fill it. The value of truly independent advice is useful across the industry, but high-net worth and ultra, high-net worth clients are acustomed to working with independent advisors in other aspects of their personal and professional lives, so it makes our services easier to understand and appreciate.
Jay: It is obvious to anyone who works with LISG that you wear a lot of different hats. This is because you have expanded what we do. Can you give a bit of an elevator speech on our different divisions and how we are working with end clients, advisors and top tier producers?
Pete: Sure! Our work really divides down into two distinct areas: consulting and marketing/content creation.
On the consulting side, we work in a bunch of different ways, but there are two that occur most frequently. In one, we are brought in - either by the end client, their advisor or the producer - to help a potential life insurance purchaser to understand the black box of life insurance so that they have the information and comfort to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, businesses, and other related parties.
As we charge an hourly fee, we have no “skin in the game” and can provide our services in an unbiased way that the purchaser trusts. Other times, a producer will retain us to help structure a case, especially if it involves premium financing, private placement or a foreign component. That’s your domain.
Our marketing and content creation work is where I have more of a role and is the part of the business I do not think we expected to take off the way it has. On the content side, we write articles - either co-author or ghost write - for our clients. If the goal is publication, we work to get these published in a relevant media outlet. If the goal is marketing, I take the piece and turn it into a sharp looking marketing asset that can be used by the client. We also offer traditional marketing and branding services, including the creation of marketing collateral, how to effectively use social media, and even the creation of new websites.
Obviously, you bring an unparalleled set of skills and experience on the life insurance side of things. I think my experience in running a consumer facing retail business, and the marketing of that business, really allows me to bring a unique perspective to the work we do for our clients. Most folks do not associate life insurance with fresh or modern in their heads, and my goal is to help our clients move in that direction to earn new business.
Jay: In my interviews, I tend to focus at least one question on the evolution of diversity in the life insurance industry. You were a leader in the fight for marriage equality in Massachusetts with your work at MassEquality – first, as the Treasurer of the PAC and then as the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Some folks think of diversity solely as a requirement that a company or organization attract talent with different backgrounds and experiences…sort of a ‘give everyone a chance’ condition. This is tremendously short-sighted and misses the point. Using the life insurance industry as an example, expand on how diversity initiatives are good for business.
Pete: Hiring a diverse set of employees is only the first step in a commitment to diversity in the workplace. There is so much more that is required to ensure that not only is your workplace diverse, but that your employees are all set up for success. This means creating an environment and providing the resources that allows employees to grow and thrive.
For example, people often talk about mentorship, but career success is usually more tied to having a patron that can promote you - both in terms of actual job advancement, but also in terms of burnishing your image with the top brass. Without diversity in the ranks of those who have that ability, you end up with various “ceilings” that prevent advancement. Recognizing that, and taking steps to rectify the issue, is one way to move towards a more diverse workplace.
It is important to talk about this not only as a moral issue, but as a business one as well. When you are talking to someone about life insurance, especially in the high-net worth and ultra, high-net worth world, you are really talking about their hopes, dreams, and fears. Talking about such personal, intimate issues and having someone across the proverbial table that you feel understands you can make a huge difference in determining whether a sale happens.
JAY: Anyone looking at your last name or trying to pronounce it will guess that you have some Polish heritage. Your mother came over from Poland when she was 19 and your hometown in Connecticut has a large Polish community. Here, in Boston, you and I discovered the Polish American Citizens Club of South Boston about seven years ago and fell in love with it. You and I have both served on the board and you are now in your third term as the Treasurer. What is so special about this 81-year old social club?
Pete: First, to give some perspective so folks know what we are talking about, the Polish Club is essentially like an American Legion Hall, except Polish. We have a downstairs bar that’s open seven days a week and then a hall upstairs available for rent to member and non-members. This short clip from the Netflix show, Friends from College, is the perfect summary.
What makes it special is how it creates a sense of community. Some of our members have literally been coming to the Club since it was built! We have members our age who talk about being a kid and going to the Club for every family event like weddings, baptisms, and birthdays and growing up attending Polish classes and dancing with the Krakowiak dancers.
And it is fun. Honestly, the one thing I look forward most to once Covid is in the rearview mirror is going to the Club with our friends, drinking vodka and Zywiec beer, and dancing to fun Euro Pop spun by DJ Kaz.
Jay: I have discovered when I ask people to be the subject of these interviews, they immediately start thinking about restaurants and dishes to mention in this question. I don’t think they prepare at all for the rest of the interview! You are no different in that I know you have been thinking about your favorite non-steakhouses and non-steak dishes for business meals. Where do you love to go and what cannot be missed on the menu?
Pete: My absolute favorite restaurant right now is Fox and the Knife here in Boston. Karen Akunowicz, who you may recognize from Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars fame and who has won a James Beard award, has taken her amazing pedigree and created a truly special gem of a restaurant. The food is regional Italian, from Torino to Napoli, and is beyond spectacular - but what sets the restaurant apart is the atmosphere and service. It’s so warm and inviting, you feel like a guest in someone’s home. We enjoy conducting LISG meetings there during their Aperitivo hours for drinks and light bites but for dinner, you must try their house-made pastas. It’s evident why Food and Wine named them one of the best new restaurants in the United States in 2019.
Going abroad, the 1609 Restaurant at the Hamilton Princess in Bermuda combines a great waterfront location with delicious cocktails. A great place for a late afternoon meeting in a more relaxed setting. But then again, I am a sucker for a partially outdoor restaurant with a great view and tasty drinks.
Read our companion Tier One blog by clicking here.
Since its inception, Life Insurance Strategies Group has solely focused on the individual high net worth life insurance market. We do not sell products. This allows us to offer unbiased, pragmatic advice. Visit us at www.lifeinsurancestrategiesgroup.com.