Dan Folkes is used to hearing people say he comes across as intimidating, but he just doesn’t see it.
“That is so far from my nature, but I’ve heard it many times,” said Colony Specialty’s assistant vice president and Inland Marine team lead. “My wife and kids will tell you I am more like Homer Simpson than anyone would care to admit.”
Perhaps, but Homer Simpson never built a 34-year career as has Folkes, who joined Colony Specialty in March 2018. Born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Folkes considers himself lucky to have been able to go far in his career while remaining close to home in the Greater Philadelphia area. He discovered risk management and insurance as an undergraduate business major at Temple University in Philadelphia, where one of his professors helped him envision a career in the field.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m kind of a practical guy. Can you get jobs in the insurance business?’”
The answer was yes. In 1984, Folkes took his first insurance job.
Personal relationships make all the difference.
As Folkes got further into his career, he gravitated toward property and inland marine.
“Inland marine is not as rules-based,” he said. “Each risk is different and unique. You have to figure out a solution and a way to price it to make it work. To me, it’s a lot more interesting than some other lines of insurance.”
Building personal relationships with producers, agents and reinsurers is one of the best and most challenging parts of the job, according to Folkes.
“For all of the technology and all of the systems we build, the human element never seems to leave this business,” he said. “We are out there competing against other insurance carriers, and we are all focused on this distribution system that agents have. It can be a challenge to win in that environment.”
Find a mentor and don’t let opportunities pass by.
Folkes has two pieces of advice to those just launching their careers. The first is to have the courage to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
“I’ve watched people miss opportunities because of hesitation,” he said. “If something comes your way, if your gut tells you it makes sense to do it, [then] do it.”
His second piece of advice is to identify a mentor – immediately.
“The most important thing an underwriter can do today is find a mentor,” he said.
“Someone you are simpatico with from a personal relationship standpoint, someone who knows what they are doing and has been around the block.”
Folkes credits his own mentors for helping him find his way and believes a solid corporate mentorship program “lends a ton of value.”
“The most important thing in the business is experience, but you can’t teach experience – you have to do it for a while. If you have someone helping, they can share their experience with you.”
Time outside of work lets him make memories with his family.
A devoted fan of the Philadelphia Eagles and other local teams, Folkes lives three miles from where he grew up. He loves spending time with his family at the Jersey Shore, where there is no shortage of company: Folkes is one of six siblings, his wife is one of eight and the couple have four grown children.
To relax, Folkes takes a bike ride or indulges in jam-band guitar sessions with his two sons, nieces and nephews. When asked what inspires him, Folkes returns to home base.
“I’m a simple person,” Folkes said. “The basic stuff in life, I get a kick out of. I like music. I like family stuff. I like to laugh. I like to play my guitar.”