Modern times require a fluid leadership to contemplate the changing times, and it becomes essential to a leader’s methods and behaviors when directing, motivating, and managing others. Akin to such fluid leadership is Marc Zinsmeister, an experienced individual skilled in databases, servers, data centers, management, and networking.
As the Vice President of Ullico Inc., Marc has implied the best practices in the company to provide its clients financial services that protect their families, employees, businesses, and investments.
For more than 90 years, Ullico Inc. has served the union workplace. From insurance products for union members and innovative risk management solutions for contractors and employers to investments in commercial real estate projects that have created thousands of union jobs, Ullico is a proud partner of the American worker.
Marc’s journey started with DOS: one “delete” command combined with the thought, “what would happen if I said yes?” The resulting work to restore his parents’ computer ultimately led Marc into the realm of information technology, specifically troubleshooting. While the idea of building things was fun, the satisfaction of debugging and fixing an issue was the real draw and led to the beginning of his career path: support desk technician. The issues grew more complex, and with it, the responsibilities. Over a 14-year career with Ullico Inc., Zinsmeister developed into a project manager, then Director of IT Operations, then AVP, and finally Chief Information Officer for Ullico.
The Compendium of Ullico
Ullico is a unique company with a complex set of challenges. It was started in 1927 as the life insurance company for organized labor and grew to offer a myriad of insurance and investment products benefitting unions and their members. Ullico’s customers include labor organizations, union employers, institutional investors, and the working men and women of America, and it embodies the values and culture they represent. Ullico fosters a work environment that promotes loyalty, integrity, quality, innovation, teamwork, and accountability and has many long-tenured employees to attest to those principles. During new hire orientations, CEO Ed Smith has said: “We hope Ullico is the last company you will ever join.”
Between investments, group life, health, property, and casualty businesses, information technology must be up to the task of meeting the organization’s diverse needs. Ullico has also needed to anticipate the needs of the labor movement and be adaptable enough to create and service the unique products it requires. Its flagship since UIF is equal in size product, Separate Account J (also known as “J for Jobs”), receives funds from union pension and annuity plans. It then invests those assets to fund commercial construction projects, with the caveat that all construction is done using 100% union labor as a condition of the lending agreement. Medical stop-loss insurance is offered to help health and welfare plans avoid catastrophic financial liability. Fiduciary and union liability insurance products were created to protect those who represent and serve labor organizations.
Taking a company with a storied history and wide variety of solutions from a traditional, paper-driven organization to a modern, dynamic one was no simple task, but Zinsmeister was up to the challenge. By shifting the enterprise into electronic forms, cloud-based solutions, and remote connectivity, information technology allowed the business to focus on the American worker’s principal base.
Virtualization was the first step: Ullico no longer needed to rely on large, power-hungry machines prone to mechanical failure. Ullico then realized it no longer needed to run its own data center and moved its operations to a hosted private cloud and colocation vendor. This move not only eliminated a critical point of failure for the company but also allowed it to take advantage of additional managed service offerings, like disaster recovery and backup. The time to implement a new application was reduced to hours instead of days. Shifting other core services, like voice, to hosted solutions allowed Ullico to become less reliant on office space. As a result, the impact of COVID-19 on the organization was minimal: employees were used to being able to access systems and services wherever they were.
Zinsmeister also focused on cyber security, implementing solutions such as email security and threat protection, web security, data loss prevention, identity management, and multi-factor authentication to ensure the employees and customer information was as secure as possible. He also implemented a new cyber awareness training platform and phishing awareness campaigns to update employees on the cyber threat landscape.
As technology constantly evolves, Zinsmeister wants Ullico to evolve with it. The emergence of SD-WAN technology would free Ullico from reliance on a single network carrier. Zero-trust architecture would eliminate the need for VPN and add a new layer of security to employees and any device they work from. Endpoint security is constantly changing to keep up with the latest threats, especially ransomware. Reliance on legacy systems prevents the company from quickly implementing new initiatives and products for its clients. But as cloud and SaaS offerings become more and more common, they come risks: ensuring vendors comply and maintaining data security and confidentiality. Increased reliance on those vendors to innovate their products and the difficulty to change vendors if the need arises.
Envisioning the Future
Zinsmeister is happy to embrace every challenge, just like rebuilding his parents’ PC. Senior management at Ullico is in sync with all of the business needs and understands that information technology is the mechanism that keeps it all running. That support is critical in getting any IT initiative in motion and getting acceptance from the user base. A successful system is not just one that gets implemented and runs without any errors; it’s one that people want to use. And for a company like Ullico, all of these systems continue to drive the mission it has maintained for nearly 95 years: supporting the American worker.