You don’t usually expect to be rocked at an insurance industry event but that is what happened to me, and I believe many others, at NAILBA’s opening day event being held at the JW Marriott in steamy Orlando.
With the humidity outside spiraling somewhere between 99 and 100 percent, I wilted into a chair expecting a rousing talk about insurance premiums and actuarial tables.
I was slumped in the back of a very large meeting room, still staggering from the heat, when the NAILBA chairman, Dexter Umekubo, strutted onstage, channeling his inner B. B. King. Umekubo held an electric guitar in his hands and made the guitar sing.
For a moment, I figured the instrument had to be a prop and Umekubo was merely pulling a sleight of hand trick, only pretending to play. I was certain the real guitarist would step out from behind the curtain at any moment and everyone would share a big laugh.
But that moment never came. Umekubo continued to play. Both rocking and plaintive guitar licks vibrated throughout the auditorium. Umekubo was good, really good. The audience got into it. I can’t be certain, but I believe a few people held their iPhones aloft, swaying along to the music the way groupies used to do with their flickering lighters.
When Umekubo finally set down his guitar, he couldn’t speak, overcome with emotions.
Emotions are a funny thing. They’re unpredictable. They’ve rocked us recently. From presidential elections to natural disasters to military sex scandals, we’ve seen our emotions tugged and pulled in various directions.
For Umekubo the emotions were on full display. He was onstage in front of a roomful of industry veterans. The words wouldn’t come but the tears would. He had a script to follow, people to thank and introduce, but the raw emotions that welled up and out were pure improvisation.
They were real. And he was real. And it was fitting that Bill Taylor, one of the cofounders of Fast Company, followed Umekubo onstage. My colleague, Bill Coffin, has written in greater detail about Taylor’s inspiring keynote address, but I wanted to harp on one emotional chord from that talk.
Taylor said, “The (best) companies of the future will be intensely human. In a world reshaped by technology, people crave humanity.”
Too often, when we talk about insurance, we talk about the goals, the numbers, the rates, the returns. For a moment onstage, in front of his peers, Dexter Umekubo set aside discussions of data and dollars and spoke to us on a level we could all connect with—the human heart.
And in doing so he rocked us harder than he ever could have with his guitar.
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