Limitless Possibilities Podcast, Episode 6: “Evolving Access to Opportunities” with Dr. Leroy Nunery II

June 30, 2022

In this episode, your host, John Pelle, Director of Communications at Acrisure, is joined by Dr. Leroy ("Lee") Nunery II, President of Evolution Advisors, a joint venture whose Founding Partners include Acrisure, Russell Wilson, Ciara and Russell Westbrook. Lee brings us back to 1969 where his personal journey as an advocate for racial and economic justice begins. He explains what led him to his role at the forefront of Evolution Advisors, and why this mission of providing access for minority communities is so important in our world today.

 

Listen to Lee's powerful message and be a part of the change.

 

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Further Reading:

Acrisure.com

Acrisure on LinkedIn

Evolution Advisors

 


 

TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

John Pelle:

Welcome to the Limitless Possibilities Podcast. I’m your host, John Pelle and joining me today is Dr. Lee Nunery, President of Evolution Advisors, an Acrisure joint venture, who’s founding partners include Russell Wilson, Ciara and Russell Westbrook. Dr. Lee Nunery is a notable figure in the world of diversity, equity and inclusion and heads up our joint venture, which is focused on increasing access to financial services products for minorities and diverse communities. In this episode, Lee, we’re going to hear your extraordinary journey to where you are today. The different industries you’ve impacted and really what you see in the power of Evolution Advisors and what it could do to make an impact for those communities. So, again, welcome to the program, Lee.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

John, thank you. It’s great to be with you.

 

John Pelle:

Lee, you’re bringing some star power to the podcast, so I just appreciate you taking the time out of your day. So, Lee, we’re going to just jump right in.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Mmm-hmm.

 

John Pelle:

So, you recently wrote a series of some of the most candid articles I’ve ever read from a business leader. Those are on acrisure.com and you talk about it. You start the series talking about October 9th, 1969 as a day in your life that has shaped you from that point forward. And almost everything that you’ve done as a professional, as a person. So, for those of us not familiar with that day, and that story Lee, would love for you to just have a chance to tell everyone.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Sure. That Saturday morning at around 4:00, 5:00 in the morning, we got a phone call. I was living in Englewood, New Jersey, and my father used to work as an electrician and a troubleshooter at a printing press out in Long Island City. So, about an hour, or so away from where we lived. And this phone call came and said that, my father had been in an accident. What turned out to be essentially fumes from cleaning solvent, ignited with an unextinguished pilot on a boiler and the thing blew up. There were five men on this crew. Two of them instantaneously died. My father and one other fellow saved one guy, who eventually was consumed by his burns. And my father’s body, about 40% of it was burned. Head, face, side, legs. I mean, it was incredible. And the reason why John, something I didn’t write about, but I want to bring out. That very day, that very Saturday, I was supposed to start on the defensive line for my freshman football team at Bergen Catholic High School.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Now, why I bring that up, is because my freshman, year I was one of four black kids out of 1,000, going to a school miles away from home and immersed… In 1969-

 

John Pelle:

Mm.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

You got to remember the time in history, when black kids going to an all white school, an all boys Catholic, all white school was… We were at the pinnacle, the point of that spear of “Integration and fairness and assimilation.” And I was then denied that day to start in that game, to go out to Long Island, to see my dad. And I’ll never forget, because that Monday, when I showed up for school, our coach, Brother Howe said, “Where were you? We were counting on you to be there.” And I said, “My dad was in an accident.” He didn’t believe me, until my mother wrote a letter-

 

John Pelle:

Got you.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Months after recuperation and pain and suffering, my father finally came home. Around the same time though, my mother also went into the hospital with some very severe intestinal problems. So, for a period of time in my life as a freshman, I’m going to this academically rigorous school-

 

John Pelle:

Mmm-hmm.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

With a younger brother, helping him get through… I think, he was in fifth grade trying to help raise him and take care of my stuff. And then, worrying about my parents and their livelihood. He used though, my father, the proceeds from the workers comp settlement, to start LEROY NUNERY & SONS, the electrical contracting business. And as you can tell by the autonomous name, LEROY NUNERY & SONS, I had no choice, but to be in that business. I learned how to work. I always knew how, but that’s when you realize what it was like. And for a black man to build a business in the late ’60s, early ’70s, a trade that requires you to go in peoples’ homes, into their businesses.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

“Do we trust you? Are you bonded?” It was just this colossal collage of experiences, fortitude. Anyway, all of that has shaped me day in and day out. There’s probably not a day I don’t think about it. When the business unfortunately, struggled and went Chapter 11, I bought the business out of bankruptcy, took money out of my retirement plan to fund it, because I had to save my parents’ name. So, all of that is motivation for me. I don’t want to see anybody struggle when they have the good and they’re willing to work hard. But, I also think it’s important for everyone to realize you’ve got talent that you leave untapped, if you don’t provide access. So, I view Evolution Advisors as a point of access and a way for everybody to do well. Now, maybe I’m pollyannish, but I’ll stick with that, that’s my ideal.

 

John Pelle:

That’s unbelievable Lee. So, before we get to the Evolution Advisors piece-

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Mm.

 

John Pelle:

I mean, it’s unbelievable, what you’ve done from that story, right? So, take us through, when did you know, “I want to actually, go from being in my father’s business, to now, “I’m going to author one of the still cited works in the industry”? When did you make the shift to think about academia and how to share that influence broadly.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

So, John, I mean, I had no idea that I would be on this track, on this journey, not to be cute about it. I was always inspired to do well academically. My mother was a teacher. My father never got a chance to go to college, so I had no choice, but to learn. And so, from that high school, Bergen Catholic to Lafayette College, to Washington University in St. Louis, and then on into banking at Northern Trust, that’s where I started my career. I just knew I had to succeed. It’s not that I didn’t have any choice, but the choices were fairly limited. And I remember telling people, I was in B-School with it. You guys have opportunities to fail and somebody will pick you up. I have no idea what will happen if I don’t make it.

 

John Pelle:

Mm.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

And I know that sounds like it’s maybe looking for either being a martyr, or artificial boost, but it was real.

 

John Pelle:

Mmm-hmm.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

I mean, I was living the fact that so many people were betting on a cadre of us, to get through. Because, this was the ebb, or flow of civil rights, 1970s.

 

John Pelle:

Yeah.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Anyway, I spent 16 years total in commercial banking, corporate finance. I worked for four years for the National Basketball Association, as its first Vice President of HR and IT. Boy, I’ve worked in higher education. I ran all of University of Pennsylvania’s business services. So, 21 different operations from housing and dining for tens of thousands of people, to parking and mail and bookstores and hotels. I’ve run charter schools all over the country. At one point for Edison Schools, a for-profit charter management organization, I ran 25 schools around the country, about 25,000 students.

 

John Pelle:

Wow.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

I decided to go out on my own, largely because I knew I was at the end of that trek, with Edison. Started my consulting practice and my largest client became the School District of Philadelphia.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

They convinced me in 2010, to come inside. And yeah, I started a job in strategic partnerships. Three months later, I was deputy superintendent.

 

John Pelle:

Wow.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

And then, about a year later, I was acting superintendent. So, I’ve run a school district. About 200,000 students in one of the most politicized, heartbreaking, yet rewarding jobs I’ve ever been in. I went back to consulting, and then Marsh and the National African American Insurance Association contacted me to say, “Would you consider authoring this study?” That was literally about five years ago today, close to that time. I had no insurance background, I could hardly read an insurance policy. But, a year later after publishing it, I’ve presented now close to, by the time March is over, about 120 times.

 

John Pelle:

Wow.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Carriers, brokers, trade associations, and all settings where people are interested in this confluence of diversity, equity, inclusion, talent development, corporate culture, business strategy, all of it. And I just happen to be maybe, right place, or right time. But, I don’t believe in coincidences. So, I would guess I was destined to do this.

 

John Pelle:

And Lee, one of those presentations, I’m sure you’re counting recently, so early 2022, Capitol Hill-

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Yes, sir.

 

John Pelle:

Presenting research that you did for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. A lot folks know that as the APCIA.You’re an inaugural DENI catalog. And how was that experience? Just, the pinnacle of a platform to tell that story, to share your research, how was that experience on Capitol Hill?

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Well, John, it was fascinating, because that’s actually the first of what will be several conversations with… And at first, it was senior staff and now we’ll be climbing that ladder, if you will. Eventually, I suppose we may get to the actual congressional leaders. This is Maxine Waters, Emanuel Cleaver, Joyce Beatty from Ohio, the House Financial Services Committee. What they are interested in, is how in one slice of the business property and casualty, how is the industry faring, when it comes to the issues of fairness and hiring?

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

They’re also interested in another conversation that’s going in parallel, about pricing, about access. There have been articles recently, about how folks in minority communities cannot get their claims adjusted fairly. That they don’t get the right type of insurance coverage, or that there is coverage and adequacy. And so, these conversations and that particular conversation, John, was interesting, because they were penetrating questions about even though the members of the APCIA compete against each other, in one way, shape, or form. Many folks perceive that as almost like a collusive effect-

 

John Pelle:

Mmm-hmm.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Wait a minute, “Why are the numbers so low?”

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

In other words, you see any number of women and/ or minorities, underrepresented groups at the bottom rungs, administrative, operational, IT, HR. But, as you climb that ladder to middle ranks and senior ranks, it is not diverse at all. It’s changing, but very, very slowly. So, part of what we are trying to say, is that there is a pathway forward, but the gaps are huge. And in some ways you need congressional and external audiences to weigh in and say, “You need to do better. You need to change.”

 

John Pelle:

So, Lee, I want to go under the hood now of Evolution Advisors-

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Okay.

 

John Pelle:

Obviously, we have the star power. We’ve talked about the Russells and Ciara, yourself. There’s also the underlying factor that there must have been good-intentioned companies before Evolution Advisors.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Absolutely. Mmm-hmm.

 

John Pelle:

What makes Evolution Advisors different in your view? And most importantly, what makes you think Evolution Advisors going to is going to succeed in your vision?

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Man, that’s a great question. What makes it different is in… Remember this formed last year, just a year, or so ago. So, this is after COVID and after George Floyd’s murder. And so many companies reacted by making broad statements, or changing the banners of their websites to reflect whatever month it is, International Women’s Month, or Pride Month, whatever it may be. What is different about this, is this is about moving capital, making investments in the businesses themselves. Now, there are other entities, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo and others have made some substantial moves. But, this is the only one that I know of in insurance, where we are essentially saying, “We want to partner with… Take our model at Acrisure, this phenomenal model and bring it to communities that otherwise would escape our view and our perspective.” And the reaction from agency partners, from outside organizations, from folks, even within my network, remember, we’re really just getting started, John. It’s been phenomenal. We’re seeing some really interesting opportunities.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

I think, though, part of it is the vision of somebody like a Greg Williams, saying, look, “This is something that needs to be done. It’s good business, if you do it this way.” And then, of course, you’ve got the Wilsons and Westbrook, who are invested in this, not just economically, but they see this as a way to, if this organization does what it’s supposed to do, deploy those profits, those streams into their own foundations, so that they can keep generating money. The velocity of money becomes faster. So, I look at my job as not only a partner to every agency partner, that’s out there, a partner to you and everyone else at Acrisure bringing what I can to the table. But, also as a platform, an integrator, an aggregator, a convener, and start to say, “How do we get the best information? That access, that my father couldn’t get? How do you break that code, so that people can get to the right opportunities and maximize their time?” And it’s still early stages-

 

John Pelle:

Yeah.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

But, we’re making great progress.

 

John Pelle:

What are some things that you want people to watch for, coming out of Evolution Advisors, in the next call a few weeks, or so?

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Yeah. We’ll be actually, working with Grahame Millwater and reporting into Soz and to Greg. And so, we’re starting to send out scripts, or messages to say, “Look, if you know of an agency, or a business that we ought to be talking to, send them our way.” If you think of an opportunity where for example, a municipality, an airport, others with, that have particularly, MBE certification, or qualifications, we want to know about it. Because, that way, we can gather resources. If you think of some ideas that make sense. And this is where the agency partner network is so powerful, man. Because-

 

John Pelle:

Mmm-hmm.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

I won’t give out names, but I’ve got eight, or nine of them already, who have reached in and said, “Hey, look, we think there may be something in our respective geographic, or professional markets, keep us in mind.”

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

And then, their carriers, several of them have stepped forward, because they want to get product into the marketplace. And it’s hard if you don’t have the same retail distribution that some other carriers do. So, as I said, I think of us as being, no pun intended, a quarterback and/ or a point guard, right? We’re going to distribute. We’re going to make sure that we deploy resources, we’ll connect people, we’ll call those plays. I think, that’s where the Acrisure network can benefit. And by the way, my consulting practice being folded in will help. We’re already talking to a few agency partners about their DEI strategies.

 

John Pelle:

Mmm-hmm.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

So, how do they become more, not only diverse, but inclusive. And then, they have clients who will often be exposed to risks around diversity, around inclusion, where we can apply our own expertise. So, there’s ways for us to win together.

 

John Pelle:

And Lee, I love that you brought back in the sports analogy, you almost had to. I was reading an article today that said, our universe may have a twin, a reverse twin.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Mm.

 

John Pelle:

So, in this alternate universe, I think, Russell Wilson just became the CEO of Evolution Advisors and defensive tackle, Lee Nunery.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

There you go-

 

John Pelle:

You just signed on as a founding partner.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

There you go.

 

John Pelle:

Can you give us a football story?

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Yeah, I can actually. It was that same freshman team, where later in the season I got to play, it was late in the fourth quarter, I think we were already losing. Coach Howe puts me in and I’ll never forget, I dream about this. Whatever team it was, they ran a running play right at me and they buried me. And so, I finally get up off the ground and the tackles already made, but I pile on to the pile and the ref is like, “Get out. You can’t do that.” So, it’s an embarrassing story, but it makes me think about how prepared you have to be. Whenever that number’s called, you’re ready to jump in. That you need to follow the play, you need to have your head in it. And geez, that was 1969, John.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

So, a long time ago, way before you were born. But, those life lessons, all kidding aside, stick with me. What is it that I can bring out of my own experience, into this experience? And so, that we can get more of you’ll see Evolution Advisors be a very diverse team. It’s going to reflect the markets that we serve, with a purpose, with intention, so that we do not only great business, but we show that this can be done. So, that football lesson being run over by, it felt like a Mack Truck at the time, was probably the best thing for me. I got my shots in later, but that took something out of me.

 

John Pelle:

So, Lee, what is, what does limitless possibilities mean to you?

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

And it’s so interesting, John, because there’s a line of reading that I’ve been taking on about superior thought and being unlimited. And so, when I saw this tagline, Limited Possibilities, that of course I belong here. It means that if we free ourselves up, to think creatively, even about the hardest of problems, you see somebody whose life is on the line, and yet he bounces back to start a business. That very personal story means that you have to have faith in the fact that something will work out. And that’s what a limitless possibility means. And I think, just because we’ve got to talk about this diversity issue, particularly, if we strive in a way that is coherent and cohesive, and we really try to do something different, like we’re talking about with Evolution, in concert with every other agency partner, we’ll show the world that it’s possible. I’ve got to believe that, or else this doesn’t make any sense. So, all of this is good stuff and it keeps me going. It really inspires me to move forward.

 

John Pelle:

Folks. This was a Limitless Possibilities Podcast. I’m John Pelle. And I’ll just leave you with this, after Lee’s outro. Just, how could you be limitless today? Lee, thank you.

 

Dr. Leroy Nunery:

Thank you, sir. I appreciate you. Bye-bye.


 

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