Speakers: Nichole Pitts (Host) and Michael Blackshear (SVP – CCEO & Head of DEI at Ryan Specialty)


Nichole Pitts

Welcome to the Ethintegrity Podcast, Michael. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Michael Blackshear

Well, Nichole, thank you for allowing me to participate. This is, I think this hopefully will be an exciting discussion for all of your listeners.

Nichole Pitts

Well, I think it will be. You are always such a great discussion. You’ve had such an outstanding career and have done a lot of things in the insurance sector, and I wanted to know just how you got into insurance in the first place. What really got you interested into insurance?

Michael Blackshear

A job! I’ve been in the insurance industry now for over 31, 32 years. I was finishing my last year of college and I was a finance major. And I needed a job. Mm-hmm. Well, I was told by my father that he was literally cutting me off right outta college. And so I had to find a job that paid my bills, you know, put a roof over my head, food on the table, yada, yada, yada. And so in my senior year, there were two job opportunities. It was my first job opportunity as an underwriter for an insurance company, an underwriter, trainee, or, the other job would’ve been working for a trader as, and I think at the time, the company, which is no longer in existence was Bear Stearns.

And what I loved about, I always believe about developing a foundation and leveraging that foundation throughout your career. And with this job, it was a one-year training program where they took you through the entire process. So underwriting process from learning about the underwriter, loss control, and actuarial. I had examinations.

It created a great foundation of my understanding of the insurance industry. And after that, and I think I was there for close to a year and a half and I think I was living upstate New York. I left because I was tired of living in upstate New York. It was nothing to do. I eventually left that company name was Continental Insurance, which is now part of CNA.

I became an insurance broker. Which I find very exciting cuz I left upstate New York. Um, favorite pastime we were cow tipping. And I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna share that with the audience because, you know, they’ll think a little bit different than me after they hear what we did with these innocent cows.

But I left upstate New York and I went back home. I’m originally from New York City, born and raised in Brooklyn, and I had an opportunity to work for an insurance brokerage firm called Alexander & Alexander. And I was a casualty broker, so I stayed in the insurance industry. The interesting thing about the insurance industry many years later that I found out is that insurance impacts the world economy.

It makes things go, it helps individuals build wealth. It helps protect wealth, but it is involved in everything that we do. And it took me a while to truly understand that and to make my career in insurance. And so I was a casualty broker for a few years. I went to get my MBA in insurance.

Nichole Pitts

You were committed.

Michael Blackshear

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or sadistic. Um, and so I got my MBA in insurance, and I was greatly influenced by my father. Although I never practiced. He said, having that law degree with your business background coupled together would make you a very dynamic business professional with those sort of skill sets.

So when I was done with my business degree, I actually went to law school. I started at night, No, actually I started during the day my first year and I hated it. And I really contemplated whether or not I was gonna continue mm-hmm. . And after the first year, I got a call from the company I left, It was the same brokerage firm that I left and I said, “Hey, look guys, I’m, I want to try this out. I wanna see if I can do it full-time for a year.” And they called me back and I said, “Well, you know, I’m not that really interested in coming back as a broker.” And they said, “Well, this will be an exciting role.” And I said, “Oh, okay, well, tell me about it.” And the role was serving as Chief of Staff of the Chairman.

I said, Wow. Well, who is the chairman? And the time of Frank Zarb. Frank Zarb was the chairman, I think Smith Barneys, Travelers and he was the Energy Czar for the Ford administration. Mm-hmm. Gerald Ford, former president. So I interviewed for the role, got the job, tripled my income from the year prior and it was a great experience.

And one thing that I did, which I’m glad I did, is that I got a guarantee that they would be supportive, not necessarily financially, but supportive of me continuing with my law degree at night. And so I transferred from the day to the evening. I did that and after a year and everything was going great, I was working with Frank, understanding the business of a retail broker.

I was understanding the process of sales, the understanding of distribution, understanding how the business works. I remember Frank calling me into his office saying, “Mike, I got bad news.” I said, “What was the bad news?” “We’ve been bought.” And I tell this story because it’s an interesting story.

And I said, “Okay, well, who bought us?” And it was Aon. At the time, the chairman of Aon was Pat Ryan. This was almost 20 years ago. And I say that because that’s who I work for today. So I helped in the transition of Alexander & Alexander being acquired by Aon Corporation.

After the integration, they had a couple of potential roles for me internally, and I said, Yeah, I wanna do something different. So I left after the acquisition. I was almost finished with law school, finished up law school, and I decided to become a management consultant and I worked for PWC, KPMG.

And in those roles, most of my clients were financial service companies, whether or not they were insurers, re-insurers, brokers, and most of these entities had global distribution, which was great. I spent a lot of time traveling overseas, understanding the insurance marketplace from different perspectives, most of what I did were risk assessments, but looking at ways that they could improve their operations.

It was exciting. I had a ball. Did that for close to a decade, both companies. I remember this meeting. I was a director if I recall at KPMG. And so I was on the verge of becoming a principal partner. And all I needed was one more assignment to put me over to make the business case to be let into the partnership or becoming a principal.

If you didn’t have a CPA, you were a principal. And I had this engagement. And I remember I was dealing with the General Counsel / Chief Compliance Officer, and I put together this plan of action.

I love solving problems. That’s another thing that I realized as a compliance officer, ethics officer, you look at problems and you find ways to solve them. And she said, “Michael, this is great, and, but I have a question for you.” And I was always prepared for any questions that was thrown at me.

She said, “Have you ever been in my shoes? Where you are on the receiving end and a consultant comes in and they give you this proposal and they leave and suppose it doesn’t work out. What do you do?” I answered the question honestly. I’ve never been a Compliance Officer. Never been a Chief Compliance Officer. Never had the role and responsibility of trying to solve problems internally. Never had the responsibilities of, if it didn’t work out, finding a creative way to make it work out. And I said, “No”. I didn’t get the gig, but it told me that I had to leave, meaning that I had to pursue something else to develop broader skill sets.

So I left KPMG, went into Marsh McLennan Companies, which is a large retail broker as the Regional Compliance Officer of Marsh McLennan’s southern region. And through that time I did government affairs. And government affairs was just building a better relationship with our regulators. Insurance is regulated on a state level, particularly in the US because of the nature of the product, and how it’s distributed and sold.

Then there was an opportunity that was presented to me to become the Chief ComplianceOfficer for the North America operations for ACE insurance company. I took it. Within two years of being the North American Chief Compliance Officer, we acquired Chubb and we had one year to integrate the functionalities. And I was responsible of integrating ACE’s compliance function for North America along with Chubb’s compliance function for North America. That was challenging. There were things that I think I did well.

There were things that I know I didn’t do well. After that integration. I was reappointed as the Chief Compliance Officer for Chubb, and the reason why I was surprised, was because ACE was a small property casualty company, and Chubb was this big company. Chubb had this brand name globally, and you had this small company acquiring this large organization and absorbing the name.

And so Chubb for those listeners, not familiar with Chubb, Chubb is considered the largest property casualty insurance company in the world. And their North America operation is their largest operations. And it was great. Had a great time. And then someone knocked on my door.

It was Ryan Specialty. I said, What’s Ryan Specialty? And I was curious. Because in my research I found out that Ryan Specialty’s chairman was Pat Ryan.

Pat Ryan is the same person I met 20 years ago when Aon was acquiring A&A. And I always respected and admired who Pat Ryan is. His understanding of the insurance industry, his compassion when it comes to people. And so it was something that I knew I had to have a dialogue and discussion with him.

We had that discussion and at the time I was living in the New Jersey, New York area and I decided to leave Chubb after six years, and it was always six years. I don’t know why six years. I have like this bug every six years I’m probably gonna do something. I’m comfortable now and I’m hoping that I, you know, this is the last step of my career because ultimately there’s so many different things that I’m allowed to do.

One of the things I always think is important, and I realize as part of my career journey is that none of us are one dimensional. We have different skill sets of different things that we do. There’s certain things that we have passion for. Yeah. So I ran with the opportunity to become Ryan Specialty Chief Compliance Officer.

But then within two years, we went public. It was a privately held organization. We went public. Been with the company now for three years, four months, I’m not counting. And I know we’re gonna probably talk about DNI because now I have a dual role. I have two responsibilities.

Three months ago, not only am I responsible as a senior compliance officer for Ryan Specialty, but I lead Ryan Specialty when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion. And the vision is a newly creative function that I have oversight for. Reporting to Pat, but also having reporting obligations to the board of directors.

And the vision is how do we develop a more inclusive environment. Not only at Ryan Specialty, but also partner with different industry and trading partners that we work with on a regular basis. But how do we impact the communities that we live and work in? And when I decided to lean forward because that’s what I did I realized that this is going to be a huge task.

I realize that there will be times where we’ll have successes, but I also realize there will be times where we will stumble and fall. And I’m okay with that, and I believe my leadership is okay with that. And we’re taking baby steps to try to improve the lives of all.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah. What’s interesting is that I’ve always felt like ethics and compliance and DEI pair so well. There’s so much overlap, especially in how you approach it. How did you end up bringing DEI into your function?

Michael Blackshear

I consider myself a unicorn and I think that there’s very few people, there are some, cuz I did some research that serve as compliance officers, but also have oversight for DNI.

I don’t think that there are that many people that are out there. Typically what I have seen is that you may have individuals that may come from the HR track and have taken over DNI and it’s, it’s part of the HR track. I’m a black man in this industry and I’ve been in this industry for 30 years.

I chuckled because it took me a journey to realize that if I don’t do it, who will? But let me lemme give some data in our industry. Been in this industry for close to 31 years, and when you look at the national labor statistics, we have 3 million people in this industry. And out of the 3 million people, in different functions, different roles, middle management, leadership, board directors, our industry is 80% That data, those statistics at least for the last three decades, that number percentage-wise has fluctuated from 78, 79, 80 mm-hmm. and as anyone to do their homework. And they’ll see the data. When it comes to gender diversity that has evolved and that has improved where there has been equality that has grown through the decades.

And so within the insurance industry, there has been an improvement when it comes to gender diversity, but when it comes to ethnicity, where you know of participants in this industry and different levels, we have anywhere between, say, 10 to 12% African American, maybe eight, 9% Hispanic, then you have a lower percentage when it comes to Asian Americans.

Um, that has been my world, That has been my industry. There are times when I walk into different rooms and different meetings and different conferences, and sometimes, um, I don’t see my reflection. I’ve gotten used to that. I’ve gotten used to that. And through my career, I try to do things behind the scenes where I pay it forward.

I try to influence, I try to make an impact. And although it wasn’t my job description, it was who I was. Yeah. I have a servant-leader mentality and understanding the dynamics of my industry. If there was a way, if I was in the room, I tried to influence that. Just who I am, that’s who I am.

Nichole Pitts

You’re pretty passionate about giving back and opening up doors for others. Especially youth. And I wanted to see if you could share with us some of the initiatives that you have participated in, like with Fisk.

Michael Blackshear

Yes. So after George Floyd, our organization got together and created a council.

And this council really looked at different things, the ways that we can evolve and engage and one of the discussions that we had with Pat is, how can we do something that’s not checking the box? How can we do something where we are impacting other lives? How can we do something, where we are developing a diverse pipeline for our industry because we, wanna change the data and statistics?

And so what we looked around, and I think if you look at some of the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) schools, I don’t think any of ’em had an accredited program when it comes to insurance. Howard University used to but that was integrated into the business program. And so we started looking at HBCUs. Looked at Fisk.

Built a great relationship with their leadership. And we are funding an insurance institute where we are educating, teaching, developing awareness of students of color about insurance. We started two years ago. We had the first class, we got some of interns. The goal is to develop a pipeline to bring in diverse talent into this industry. The other goal is that once they get here, how do we grow them? How do we mentor them? How do we make sure that they hopefully stay to become leaders? It has always been my passion and desire that hopefully when I, retire, that I look around and I see different people that are C-suite executives.

I look at the board of directors. I see a sea of diversity of different colors, of different ethnicities, having diversity across the board, leadership, and management. But you gotta start somewhere. Yeah. And one of the issues is that there are times that in the insurance industry it’s sometimes the friends and family where they are brought into the industry but if we have very few people of color that are in the industry to bring them their friends and family, then those dynamics are not gonna change. You have to be deliberate. You have to be focused. And so what I’m hoping to do and what we’re hoping to do, because you can’t do this alone, you know, this is a community effort, is looking at building what we’re doing at Fisk and hopefully scaling that up so that you develop different pipelines of interest coming in this industry.

And hopefully, in the next decade, we’ve gotten people that understand insurance, understand that there are opportunities in insurance and that you can be successful in this industry.

Nichole Pitts

And hopefully that the next generation, when they walk into the room, they are able to see more people that are like them in leadership roles. Are you planning to expand outside of Fisk and partner with other schools or do you know if there’s other organizations that are looking to do the same thing?

Michael Blackshear

Um, you know, I would love to. I wanna give a shout-out to my brother-in-arms, Patrick Phillips. He is the CEO of the Rise Foundation.

I call him my brother from another mother. When I first met him, I realized I was looking at my twin. He is leading the efforts doing this foundation to help develop and impact not only college students, but through the Rise Foundation, they are impacting high school students in Chicago.

We’ve actually targeted a high school in Detroit. I’m a big-picture person and I believe Pat is too, Patrick Phillips. And the vision is how do you scale this? How do you develop a mechanism where you can tap those sort of students throughout the country that will get interested in insurance? But then develop relationships with different organizations that will help develop and pull in these students.

Creating these pipelines is one thing, but then finding ways to include them in the fabric and the culture of the organization is another. And so we’re still working on that, but answer your question. Yes. I believe this is all scalable. And, I’m excited that, um, what Rise is doing, I’m excited about Rise’s leadership.

Nichole Pitts

Well, that sounds really inspiring and amazing so I’m gonna have to look up Mr. Patrick Phillips. Getting more into DEI, what do you feel are the key challenges around DEI in the insurance industry?

Michael Blackshear

Um, change. When I look at DNI it’s changing everyone’s mindset of can we do this differently but still do it better? And when you think of mostly the insurance industry and some of the organizations, there are for-profit entities and it’s trying to infuse and operationalize DNI within the culture of the organization.

It’s changing mindsets that maybe there might be talent out there that might be different from what you’re used to, but giving them the opportunity to see that talent, to tap that talent. To incorporate it within the organization. And so I think with DNI, and once again, I’m not an expert, I just happen to fall into this because I saw an opportunity where I felt that I can push not only for our company but for the industry.

But it goes back to your question when you’re coupling DNI and ethics, I’m taking the same strategies that I took in developing the three lines of defense when it comes to compliance. Mm-hmm. Operationalizing key compliance standards and KPIs. I’m taking the same approach. Um, the same approach of what are those key standards and key performance indicators when it comes to DNI and how do I take those baby steps to operationalize and subtly change the culture?

And I’ll give an example. Let’s talk about interviewing candidates that are in management or senior-level roles. Have you identified a diverse slate? And if you haven’t, why not? When you’re looking at vendors that can provide services, have you identified a diverse slate of organizations that can provide those services?

If not, why not? And so there’s small things that could be done that can help change the organization. And also let’s talk about the board of directors, the governance structure, particularly for publicly traded companies. There’s guidance out there that requires in certain jurisdictions to make sure that you have a diverse board of directors.

But let’s say that that doesn’t govern you. And so the question is, do you have a diverse board of directors? That will give you different ideas, different experiences that will challenge it. If not, why not? It’s changing the mindset. It’s changing the thought process, and data reflects with diverse organization, diverse boards most organizations are much more profitable, much more successful, and it creates an environment that people want to work for. And so it’s a journey. But to answer your question, I truly believe is changing the mindsets. That is gonna be the biggest challenge and slowly changing the culture. Most people are resistant to change.

Nichole Pitts

That is so true. But you are right. The data shows that when people feel included and that they belong, they show up for work, there’s less time off, so the company is not paying extra on sick days, there’s less attrition.

And then you also just get better diversity of thought because people want to actually share and feel like their ideas are actually being heard. Now you talked about these challenges. From a high level, just generally, what are some of the initiatives that you feel like an insurance company needs to focus on with implementing DEI into their organization?

Michael Blackshear

Good question. That’s a very good question. I can’t speak of other organizations. I can kind of probably tell you what I’m thinking about. The first thing I realized was that I needed help and I sought out someone to join my team that has over 20 years of experience when it comes to primarily talent management, DNI, but developing the various parts of a DNI program.was 

Because there are things that I don’t know and I realize I don’t know them, and I need someone that I think I can partner with me so that we can develop that strategic plan. One of the things I learned as a management consultant is 80% of your time is developing that strategy, and 20% is the execution.

Um, and so the first step was identifying those individuals that I can partner with that will heighten my game, Ryan’s game, so that we can better understand and develop of what are those areas that we did to focus on. And what are those key performance indicators? Let me take one step back about a challenge.

The one thing and challenge that I’ve seen based on data and what I’ve seen doing an internal focus is inclusion. And what I mean by inclusion is that once you get the talent in, how do you keep ’em? How do you make them feel that they’re included? There’s this saying that I learned and I thought it was great, and I’m gonna repeat it.

I don’t know who said it, but it’s like being invited to the dance, invited to the party, and ask you to dance. You’re standing around, Hey, look, I’m here, but no one comes up and ask you to dance. And. What we’re finding is that if we don’t find mechanism and controls to deal with the inclusion piece, we may be able to get the talent in, but they eventually leave because they don’t feel like they’re part, they’re not part of the journey, part of the growth of the organization.

Yeah. So as part of my vision board on what I’m trying to create at Ryan, it starts with one of the components of the employee life cycle, the hiring, the promotion, the growth, the training, the education, the mentoring, the sponsoring. That’s a huge component when it comes to DNI. And my assumption is that that’s across the board and the idea is how do you develop critical metrics to measure success.

We’re still in the process of doing that, but that will probably be one of the huge focus is the employee life cycle and all the components of the employee’s journey throughout the organization. We also have to have a mechanism of operationalized once we develop those key standards so that those standards are applied consistently throughout the organization.

We’ve looked at business resource groups. We currently have one. The ideas is there a need for others? And then also looking at how we can develop relationships in our communities in which we’re working and living. But also more importantly the industry. We can’t do this alone.

There are other organizations, whether or not they’re insurance carriers, retail brokers that we could partner with, where we can align our time, our resources, our energy to hopefully create something that is not singular focused. It’s not internal facing, but it’s something that can impact the entire industry.

There’s a saying that I like sharing is that, a rising tide lifts all ships, and I truly believe that’s with DNI, particularly within the insurance industry.

Nichole Pitts

Those are all really good points. And even with business resource groups, I love business resource groups in the fact that I feel like they give you such rich data, but also that that’s where people feel like they can actually be asked to dance.

I love using business resource groups with risk assessments when you’re trying to get feedback on new policies or initiatives or messaging. Just getting feedback across all demographics in your organization I think is just so key. And it also helps with your KPIs and understanding how do you measure what success is.

And there’s so much translation between ethics and DEI as far as KPIs that it really pairs well, so there’s so much synergy there. Now, speaking of ethics and DEI. How would you define ethics and DEI together? What does that mean to you?

Michael Blackshear

Oh, I…that’s a… You give me so many good questions. Um, well, let me tackle the definition in a different way. Let me, when I think of ethics when I think of DNI, I think of an organization’s culture. I think of an organization’s value statement. I think about what this organization stands for. Mm-hmm. . And I think at the end of the day, when you are building and enhancing and improving a person’s culture, you are improving the lives of all employees within an organization.

And if you have a very strong and positive ethics, you have a very strong and positive understanding that you want to improve the impact of diversifying your organization, developing equality for all within the fabric of your institution. But you’re ensuring that those organizations that may come from diverse backgrounds are included.

They feel included. They feel that their voices are being heard and they are valued. And so, if I had to couple ethics in DNI and try to define it, it goes back to an organization’s culture. It goes back to their value statement. Who are they, what’s important to them, and what’s important to their employees, their shareholders, and the various stakeholders? So I would couple them and define it as their value or values.

Nichole Pitts

That’s a great answer, and looking at how most organizations have a set of core values and then you look at your ethics program and you look at DEI and they’re all so intertwined that it really does get down to culture and values, I think, to really embed into the company’s DNA.

So thinking about ethics and compliance, what do you feel like are some of the key lessons learned with ethics and compliance in the insurance industry?

Michael Blackshear

What are some of the, Repeat the question again. I’m sorry.

Nichole Pitts

What are some of the key lessons learned for ethics and compliance in the insurance industry?

Michael Blackshear

Oh, ethics and compliance, um, within the insurance industry. Mm-hmm. That you can always improve. Just because it was successful today doesn’t mean that it’s gonna be successful tomorrow. When I talk about the compliance function, when I talk about DNI, is that everything is an evergreen process.

You’re always trying to improve controls. The controls that worked last year may have shifted or changed because the organization has changed. And so some of the key lessons is that you always have to be vigilant to ensure that you’re not being complacent and thinking that I’ve created a program, now I can walk away from it.

You always have to constantly improve. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah, that’s a good one. So, building on that, what are some of the innovative ways that you use to engage with your workforce from both an ethics and compliance and also a DEI stance?

Michael Blackshear

You know, that’s a great question because I’ve seen so many people in this space that let’s, I’m putting my DNI hat on the side cuz I just started it. I’m new, but I’m applying the same concepts as a compliance officer. And what I find is that you have to be able to listen critically, listen to everyone, whether or not it is the employees, whether or not it’s your regulators.

You have to listen, you have to engage. You can’t sit back and not understand who your people are that you’re trying to operationalize ethics and compliance, best standards or best practices. So you have to listen. You have to engage. But you have to understand your business. You have to understand your industry.

You have to understand what are the pressures and the challenges. And it’s building relationships. I think of the role of the compliance officer in four buckets. They are a business partner because at the end of the day, you’re working with the business to hopefully make them successful, but do it in an ethical and compliant way. You’re a marketer because at times you have to educate.

Whether or not it’s regulators, whether or not it’s internal staff, but market them on the importance of actually having compliant infrastructure. They’re also in an influencer. Um, and you are influencing people because they’re nine outta 10 times the weakness in controls are not necessarily weakness in controls in the second line of defense is always in the first line. And so you have to find ways to improve and influence people to do the right thing. And the fourth bucket is your behavior psychologist. Understanding people. I look at people as the greatest assets of an organization, but also their greatest risk.

So you have to understand people, you have to engage them, you have to talk to them. You can’t be standoffish. And so when I look at those four buckets, I applied to probably DNI as well because we’re talking about people. And we talk about why people do certain things and why they don’t do different things.

And so it is probably those four buckets that I use even to this day. That you gotta be engaged. You have to listen, you have to interact. This is a hands-on approach or hands-on role where you’re rolling up your sleeve and you’re engaging, you’re engaging all of your stakeholders. and it’s exciting because, you know, you get to, you get to meet so many different people.

Nichole Pitts

Yeah, that’s a good answer. Yeah, and I completely agree about engaging. You do such a great job with that. And I think the more people that know you, it puts a face to the program so it’s not just some policies that are out there, but people feel like they can at least come up and ask for clarification or even challenge some of the processes if they feel like it doesn’t really work for what their role is. So it’s always good to have that dialogue, exchange of communication.

Michael Blackshear

This is what I’ve always felt is that as a compliance officer, people are fearful of coming to you because they say, Well, I’m gonna get beat up by the compliance officer. So I gotta create an environment. I have to create a culture that there’s not a fear of coming to me.

I’ve developed that partnership that, you know, that if you come to me, we’ll work together to resolve this problem. I’m also a problem solver. The risk that occurs is that the fear of someone not raising a hand, and I’ve made a mistake, or I’ve done something I shouldn’t have done, and I need help. And what I’ve seen in my career are those people who are fearful of approaching the compliance officer and rather, you know, cover it up and that’s when it gets worse.

And so I gotta develop a culture, I gotta build that rapport that an individual is willing and able to come to me, connect with me so that we can work together to solve this problem together. Yeah, so that goes back to being a business partner and realizing that we’re one team. We gotta do this right. Yeah. But if we don’t do it right, we gotta solve the problem together collectively.

Nichole Pitts

That is so true. So rapid-fire questions. If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

Michael Blackshear

That I made a person’s life a little bit better than it was the day before.

Nichole Pitts

Love that. If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would that be?

Michael Blackshear

All right. This is being recorded, so I’ll say something kosher. Um, I would say to my 18-year-old self, do not be fearful of failing because it’s your failures that you learn the most from.

Nichole Pitts

And if you look over your career, what is the key lesson that you feel like you’ve learned?

Michael Blackshear

Empathy and being kind. You don’t know what the person is going through. We all make assumptions, and if we show a little bit of kindness and empathy, it goes a long way.

Nichole Pitts

I like that. If you could have coffee with anyone living or deceased, who would that be?

Michael Blackshear

My father. My father was my biggest role model. My father was my best friend. He was actually the best man in my wedding. My right-hand man. I miss him every day. And if I can have the opportunity to bring him back, I would love to bring him back and we could talk about the things and joke about the things and maybe have a glass of Johnny Walker Blue, which was his favorite.

Nichole Pitts

Oh, I love that. What’s an insult that you received that you’re proud of?

Michael Blackshear

I don’t know if I’m proud of it, but it’s who I am. Man. That’s a good one. I actually, I had one in my mind what insult that I am proud of. I want to use the word micromanager, but that wasn’t the word that was used but I interpreted as a little bit being overbearing, and I’ve heard that constantly. And I’m okay with the insult because of who I am and how I tackle problems.

Sometimes I could be too intense for certain people, and I’ve realized that in personal relationships and professional relationships. I’m the type of person when there’s a problem, I don’t run away. I run towards it and I tackle it, and I don’t stop. I’m intense. And I realize sometimes that intensity pushes people away. I don’t wanna stop who I am because that’s what may me successful, but I also have to couple that with empathy and understanding who I’m dealing with and maybe manage who I am to help the situation doesn’t stop and change who I am.

I think we all grow. But I think the insult was that I was too much. I don’t know what it was, but it was interesting. But I realized, I’m comfortable in my skin. I know who I am, and either you accept me or don’t. I have to really understand who I’m dealing with and manage the approach that I take. But I would say probably overbearing and intense.

Nichole Pitts

Well, that’s great insight though, as far as understanding who you’re dealing with and then managing to that particular person. So that makes a lot of sense. Um, what’s your biggest failure and how did that experience shape who you are today?

Michael Blackshear

Yeah. You know, you come up with these very tough questions. My biggest failure, it goes back to a lesson that I learned and it’s having more empathy. Sometimes we all make assumptions. Probably it’s more of a personal relationship. And I probably could have had better empathy. And so every situation and I go in, um, no matter how the person reacts towards me I pause and I listen.

I listen to what the person is saying, but I also listen to what the person is not saying. And so I would say not having empathy for an individual when I should have had more empathy, but that lesson taught me to manage my emotional intelligence no matter how challenging situation is.

Pause, stop, listen, and don’t react. Take it all in. Mm-hmm. it’s like a breeze. Take it all in. There might be a tidal wave. Just stand still. Let it pass you, but understand what’s happening. And so it’s the ability to have better empathy for all those that are in your life. I think it’s critically important.

Nichole Pitts

I love that. Now, an easy question.