American Family names successor to CEO Jack Salzwedel

Bill Westrate will take role in 2022

American Family Insurance chairman and CEO Jack Salzwedel (left) and American Family Insurance president Bill Westrate (right).

Last updated on August 12th, 2020 at 09:54 pm

Bill Westrate, who has served as president of Madison-based American Family Insurance since 2017, will succeed Jack Salzwedel as chief executive officer on Jan.1 of 2022, the company announced today.

Starting on January of 2021, Westrate will serve as CEO-elect before becoming CEO the following year while Salzwedel will continue in his role of board chair.

“Bill is a strategic, driven and authentic leader,” Salzwedel said in announcing the move. “He has incredible knowledge of our company and industry, combined with a forward-looking vision and interest in new opportunities, that will serve him well not only as CEO of a Fortune 300 company but also as a strong community partner.”

Westrate joined American Family in 1996 as an actuary and rose through the ranks to include stints as vice president of the actuarial and personal lines divisions. After serving as executive vice president of the personal lines and commercial farm/ranch divisions, he was elected chief operating officer in 2014, a role he filled until becoming enterprise president.

“I am humbled, honored and prepared to serve the customers, employees and agency owners of American Family as their CEO,” Westrate said. “I’ve been fortunate to partner with Jack, our board and executives in leading the company’s growth and transformation, which will continue.”

Salzwedel’s time with American Family Insurance spans back to his childhood, helping out his father Tom Salzwedel, an American Family agency owner, at his office.

After graduating from Wartburg college, Salzwedel joined American Family in 1983 as a claim adjuster. Two years later, he became an American Family agency owner until advancing into sales management.

After serving a variety of executive positions, Salzwedel became CEO and chair in 2011, succeeding former CEO David Anderson.

During Salzwedel’s tenure as CEO, American Family increased its investment in its exclusive agency owners through product and technology development. Salzwedel also oversaw the insurers’ expansion into new geographic markets and distribution channels through the acquisition of The General, Homesite, and Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance as well as a merger with Main Street America.

Since Salzwedel became CEO, the insurer expanded its operating states from 19 to 50 and has seen its policies grow to more than 12 million and employees to approximately 13,500. Salzwedel also led the insurers’ corporate restructuring from a mutual insurance company to a mutual holding company in 2017.

In 2019, Salzwedel and American Family Insurance agreed to purchase the naming rights for Miller Park, electing to rename the Brewers’ stadium American Family Field.

In Salzwedel’s time with American Family, the insurer has also enhanced its employee program and benefits to include a $20 minimum wage and significantly ramped up its philanthropy and community involvement by establishing the American Family Dreams Foundation and American Family Institute for Corporate and Social Impact.

The insurer also established The American Family Insurance Championship, which is a PGA tour champions golf tournament that has raised millions for the American Family Children’s Hospital and other charities.

“American Family believes in our people and our communities. It is impossible to be successful without them, and they deserve and need our support,” Salzwedel said.

Paul Shain, the presiding director of American Family’s board, praised Salzwedel for leaving an indelible mark on American Family.

“Jack embraced a digital transformation with a focus on customer benefit,” Shain said. “He embraced the importance of social engagement and the value of a diverse and engaged workforce. And he embraced change to address the evolving marketplace and the desire of customers to engage across many different channels. The result is a stronger company that is the envy of the industry.”

Salzwedel was a featured speaker and panelist at BizTimes Media’s 2020 Economic Trends Breakfast in January (see video below). He also participated in BizTimes Media’s 2020 Economic Trends 2.0 webcast in May.

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