Kami L. Holmes – Grinnell Mutual
It’s far from a pleasant memory, but as Kami L. Holmes acknowledges, much about litigation is not pleasant.
The parents across the table had just lost a young son, and this would be Holmes’ first mediation involving a fatality as a member of the Grinnell Mutual legal team. The grief-stricken parents displayed photos of him and understandably didn’t have kind feelings toward the person they held responsible—or the insurance carrier. But Holmes had learned early that empathy is always in order, even when looked upon as an adversary.
“This was their day to tell me about how the incident at hand had affected their lives and who their child was,” Holmes recalls.
After the mother was done speaking, the mediator asked if she had anything further to say. She did and looking directly at Holmes, asked if she too was a mother.
“That still makes me tear up today,” Holmes goes on to say. “I replied ‘yes’ and she replied that was all she wanted to ask.”
The case was resolved that day and afterward the mother asked to speak privately with Holmes. The two women apparently able to put themselves in each other’s shoes, they hugged. In the years that have since passed, Holmes says she’s made it a point to attend every mediation when a fatality is involved. The only exceptions have occurred during the pandemic when it was not an option.
“Insurance companies may not be humans but there are humans running the company and humanizing insurance is something that needs to be seen,” she says. “And I will never forget that child’s name.”
Growing Grinnell Mutual
She remembers the other names as well, it all part of committing one’s career to an insurance company as Holmes has done with Grinnell Mutual since September 2012.
This past March she celebrated her second anniversary as assistant general counsel and can share credit for this company’s growth. Headquartered in the city where she was born, Grinnell, Iowa, farm insurance will likely always be the company’s niche and it’s the largest primary reinsurer of farm mutuals in North America.
The company having been around since 1909, it’s stood the test of time. Grinnell Mutual also has two sister companies for auto coverage—Grinnell Compass and Grinnell Select—and Grinnell Specialty Agency to place special or excess risks which Grinnell Mutual does not write. It provides direct lines of coverage and reinsurance through more than 240 local mutuals and 1,900 local independent agencies in 17 states.
With this growth comes more need for legal oversight, with that department having increased from seven to nine since Holmes joined, and her role including litigation management with internal and outside counsel. There’s always something pending in the courts, and while Holmes doesn’t discuss litigation, she sums up the company’s approach for disputes: “We aim to pay on the claims we owe, but sometimes there becomes a point in a case where the parties can only agree to disagree on value and those cases need to be tried.”
Though litigation is one of her most challenging roles, she’s helped ensure positive outcomes by tapping into her experience, knowledge and passion, all of which she transfers directly to her team.
Of course, it’s all the better if litigation can be avoided, and she emphasizes the need for transparency. Technologically as well as legally astute, Holmes represented the legal department as Guidewire Software Inc., fashioned a platform in which authorized personnel as well as policyholders can access all critical information in one location.
That took some doing, Holmes explaining how she and colleagues from other divisions initially discussed their needs with a Guidewire technician who, over the course of several months, “began moving us into the 21st century.” The entire process has spanned years, Grinnell Mutual now able to promptly respond to policies, billings and claims, Holmes says the company is becoming among the user-friendliest.
Corporate culture priceless
Then there’s her contribution to a positive corporate culture, Holmes assisting in keeping passionate employees engaged, in turn creating a better client experience. Grinnell’s CEO holding biweekly town hall meetings and sending weekly messages to keep all hands informed, Holmes notes it’s such transparency and communication that sets the company apart.
And there can be no price on corporate culture. Maybe especially so in the Heartland where Grinnell Mutual is most active. According to Holmes, the company’s values were impressed on her from the start.
Early on she was chosen for Grinnell Mutual’s emerging leaders’ program, and beckoned to identify community betterments that the company could help satisfy and how she shouldn’t limit her scope to legal.
Holmes having a friendly chat with an aging World War II soldier at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, became determined to help raise money for a monument to honor his sacrifice and that of so many others. Subsequent conversations with the commandant and a couple other vets garnered similar sentiment, and Grinnell Mutual undertook a fundraising effort. At the home’s entrance, there’s now a handsome marble slab adorned by the seals of the five military branches.
Holmes and her legal colleagues have undertaken other goodwill causes, including a campaign to secure backpacks of necessities and activities for children in foster care as well as participating in a local Angel Tree program to provide gifts of new winter clothing and toys to families for Christmas. How easy it is to overlook such basic needs, she reminds, and how she’s intent on helping Grinnell Mutual set an example.
But there’s some irony in her getting here and ascending the legal ladder. A University of Iowa College of Law graduate, Class of 2006, Holmes wasn’t really looking to go in-house and seemed to enjoy her role at Swisher & Cohrt in Waterloo. Family law and insurance defense—“two different animals”—were her strengths, but …
“Private practice is 24/7,” she says. “I got to thinking it would be nice to have a life outside work.”
How that feeling set in while attending her sister-in-law’s wedding in Grand Lake, Colorado and the fun in the mountains, an exasperated Holmes gave in-house more thought. But even after learning about the Grinnell Mutual position from the Iowa State Bar magazine and applying for it, she still wasn’t certain the role was for her.
Turned out it has been. As a bonus, the job brought her closer to her home, children’s school and daycare. Not only is it closer to her home, Grinnell’s also 70 miles closer than Waterloo is to St. Louis. Though Grinnell’s still 320 miles to the north, the drives aren’t quite as long for Cardinals games.
And they’re all fans of the perennial National League contender: Holmes, her husband and their daughters ages 7 and 12.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better place to land,” she says. “Grinnell Mutual has been a life-changer.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2023 Edition here.
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