Steel Counselor

Interview with Christopher Greene Canal Insurance Co. Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary

Christopher Greene is a self-described “small town guy from Alabama” who got his college degree in political science from a “small university” outside Birmingham: the University of Montevallo. He knew he wanted to go to law school but didn’t have the money so he worked as an underwriter for a few years and kept at it while attending the University of Alabama School of Law. In his over 20 years of practice, his career has varied from practicing in an insurance defense firm, to stints as in house counsel with Progressive and AIG, followed by becoming Canal’s General Counsel in 2009.

Q. Canal is focused on providing insurance solutions to the transportation industry, insuring just about every type of truck from 18-wheelers to charter buses. You’ve got taxi, garbage, and tow-truck programs also. Is there anything you don’t do along those lines?

A. Hauling explosives or nuclear material is something we do not want to do, but we will look at any-sized risk otherwise, and almost any commodity.

Q. How has work as an underwriter translated to providing legal advice to an insurer?

A. My prior experience in underwriting and marketing helps me daily to assist the business units at Canal craft the right way to do things that are compliant and often more economically feasible, while accomplishing the ultimate business result.

You hear this common theme from the very good in house lawyers: If you’re just responding to your internal clients with a simple yes or no – especially if you are just going to always say no – you are not doing your job. Your job is to find solutions. The law is oftentimes not absolute. You need to look outside the box and understand what the business person is trying to accomplish. And if there is a hurdle, to come up with creative solutions to get to the ultimate business result.

Q. You note that you were at Progressive when they were doing “cool stuff ” with data.

A. The idea came up to provide competitor price quotes along with the Progressive quote. But we needed the hard data for comparison sake. This was accomplished in those early days by a complex phantom shopping program with people calling to agents to obtain insurance quotes based on various hypothetical client profiles. That was how some of the original data was collected. My tenure at Progressive taught me the importance of using/collecting/gathering data in effectively running an insurance company.

Q. What are some recent changes in the industry?

A. More heightened federal regulation of transportation companies, which I’m not suggesting is a bad thing. However, stricter regulations have pushed some smaller trucking companies, who already had to deal with tiny profit margins, out of business, or have caused them to lease on to drive for the bigger trucking companies. The regulations have also compressed the number of available and qualified drivers, so there continues to be a driver shortage. Now you have to be 21 years old with a commercial driver license to drive on interstate hauls. But one good thing that came out of recent regulations was a pilot program for those under 21 if they had advanced military training with essentially heavy/large vehicles, which will help to give vets greater employment opportunities following deployments.

Q. Have you ever driven an 18-wheeler yourself ?

A. No, but I’ve been on accident reconstructions, in a driver simulator, and have sat in enough trucks. Frankly, I can’t imagine a tougher job. To me, it’s perhaps tougher than an airline pilot because handling a truck in heavy traffic is not an easy thing.

Q. A lot of people at Magna may not have driven an 18-wheeler. But they know how to help defend them.

A. Magna is our preferred court reporting vendor because their service and ability to satisfy their customers is far and away better than I’ve seen in my career.

We have also used them in another really important way: for focus groups. You have people who may be sitting at home and are seen on screen as an avatar. But taken as a whole, you basically have a mock jury in the same venue as your case so you get that local flavor. Via cameras, you then have lawyers present portions of your case – whatever theories you are trying to test. The focus group is a fantastic way to do a gut check on how a jury is going to view evidence or arguments. And it’s going to give you a peek into how a jury would value the case. It’s tremendously more economical than a fullblown mock trial. We’ve learned something valuable every single time, and it’s always been a very good experience for us. Of course, I can’t say enough about the level of service and support we get from Jessica Gimbel, and if there is anyone reading this that does not yet know Peter Hecht, get to know that totally awesome guy in a hurry.

Q. You work out of an interesting office at Canal headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina.

A. Canal is family owned now going into the fourth generation. Our offices are in a former, 1950s Sears and Roebuck. South Carolina urban legend says we have the oldest working escalator in the state. People will come into the building and say, that’s the spot where they used to sell tools, or blue jeans.