Former Erie exec to head digitally influenced university risk-management program

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Gary Sullivan, VP of Erie Insurance’s Property and Subrogation Claims, is moving out of his corporate office and into academia. Known for leading the carrier's drone program, Sullivan now heads up the F. W. Hirt-Erie Insurance Risk Management program, consisting of a Bachelor of Arts program in risk management offered through the Walker College of Business, and the online Master of Science program in Cyber Risk Management offered through the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies and Applied Sciences at Mercyhurst University. He spoke with Digital Insurance about the new programs and why the move was a natural progression for him.

Digital Insurance: How did your experience at Erie Insurance prepare you for your new role at Mercyhurst?

Gary Sullivan: The experience I’ve gained in my 23-year career will allow me to share real-world examples with students. While I’d been in claims at Erie Insurance Group, in my most recent position as vice president, property and subrogation claims, I interacted with the underwriting division, actuary, marketing, law, risk management, reinsurance and vendor management. All of those areas have an element of risk assessment, whether operationally for the company or providing insurance to customers. In addition, I have insurance industry contacts and connections to tap into. As a matter of fact, several firms have shown interest in partnering with us for this program. I’ve been an adjunct professor at Mercyhurst teaching risk management courses for the past four years and this is an exciting opportunity for me to jump out of the corporate world and go into academia full-time.

Digital Insurance: You’re known for exploring new technologies that improve customer experience. How will you leverage your customer experience background in your new role?

Sullivan: In the curriculum, we’ll cover all of the new technologies that are developing like Internet of Things, connected homes and devices, and we’ll explore how they’re all intertwined and the importance of maintaining security. I bring current events into the classroom. Last semester, we talked about the autonomous Uber car collision with a bicyclist and the real-world examples lead to great discussions. The students are very interested in learning how insurance and risk all play a role in the liability decisions that would be taking place down the road and all the unfortunate things we deal with in the insurance industry were brought to bear using just that one example.

Digital Insurance: How will you discuss the impact of digital on insurance with students? Is there a dedicated course just to address digital technologies and transformation?

Sullivan: The curriculum will cover the impacts that the insurance companies have, perfecting protecting their own data and protecting customer information, and how to assess the risks of policyholders and provide cybersecurity-type coverages in the marketplace. It’s a new coverage and there are new threats to businesses so it will be vitally important for insurance companies to understand the sort of data breach response plans they’ll have in place. The students will learn about these concepts which are important if they want to go into insurance, or they want to go into risk management with other employers.

Digital Insurance: The new undergraduate risk management degree combines cyber intelligence, risk control, underwriting and claims. How did you develop the program?

Sullivan: We first had the vision for this program when we heard from leaders from both Mercyhurst and Erie Insurance who saw a need for this course of study. They identified that cyberthreats continue to grow. While at Erie Insurance, I was recruited to assist with curriculum development along with some other colleagues because of my insurance and teaching experience so we had experienced folks at the table to help shape the curriculum. Then we had the benefit of expertise from folks at Mercyhurst University who helped identify what the industry, in general, needed. This program has a great partner with Erie Insurance and we were fortunate to have received a $1.25 million donation to start the F. W. Hirt-Erie Insurance Risk Management program from an Erie Insurance board member and Mercyhurst graduate, Betsy Hirt Vorsheck. We’re looking forward to having a very successful program in a short period of time.

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