There is an old adage: Success has many parents, while failure is an orphan. It’s an expression that John Leonard has often cited, and it personifies his remarkable career in Maine.

As we celebrate and recognize his impending retirement after nearly 25 years as CEO of Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Co., it is more than appropriate that we pause to consider the panoply of achievements and accomplishments that have taken place under John’s sure and steady leadership.

In fact, John’s successes are equally the successes of the entire state of Maine. John Leonard proved to be the ingredient to the elixir that saved this state with its worst-in-the-nation workers’ compensation crisis of the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s.

The political battles fought during those years were epic, and everybody suffered: the business community, labor, elements within the medical community and many others. The state government shut down in 1991, and the economy suffered while the national reputation of Maine was brutally characterized in Wall Street Journal editorials.

Workers’ compensation crisis

Ultimately, the state workers’ comp morass hit rock bottom in 1991 and 1992, and in a last-ditch Hail Mary pass, a blue-ribbon commission of literally wise men produced some radical recommendations whose success would be dependent on the creation of the nation’s very first employers mutual insurance company. Without it, there would not be any way for the employers of Maine to buy the legally required workers’ compensation insurance coverage, as the last two workers’ comp insurance carriers had filed the requisite six-month notice to cease business in Maine effective Dec. 31, 1992.

A law was passed in October 1992 during a special legislative session to establish this untried experiment of an employers mutual. The creation of MEMIC was an act of sheer desperation with few in government or business truly believing it could succeed. After many years of workers’ comp wars with many battles, most Maine citizens perceived this mutual company idea as just the latest “kicking the can down the road.”

A board of directors of Maine business leaders agreed to serve, and the search for a CEO was launched. John Leonard in Connecticut was available only because he was already celebrating the completion of a very successful first career in insurance. At the time, neither he nor anyone else could know that his second career would lead to his national and international renown in the insurance and business world for his remarkable achievements in Maine and as an industry leader.

John arrived shortly after the launch of MEMIC. (Interestingly, that acronym was originally detested by John and most people with the company, but over time they grew to accept and eventually adopt it.)

When John arrived in Maine, the Sienna College graduate set to work getting to know almost each and every businessperson in the state in order to hear their views and concerns – and then he would explain to them his plan and vision to pull off one of the biggest marketplace turnarounds in the country.

John brought a deep knowledge of how insurance works, and a passionate zeal for spreading the mission of risk management and workplace safety throughout the state.

Not only surviving, but thriving

Certain industries, such as forestry and fishing, have long been considered inherently dangerous. Most people believed there was no changing that narrative. But John understood the opportunities for improvement through education, training and the use of technology to reach people. And he seemed to be everywhere. For a short while, John was even a bit of a local TV star as he used every chance to share his message and enthusiasm with the people of Maine.

Within a few years, it looked like MEMIC just might make it. MEMIC paid back all of the initial loan with interest and attained the requisite regulatory capital level well ahead of schedule.

Through the years, the company has continued to lead the market in Maine and, during the past decade through an affiliate, extend its reach to provide workers’ compensation insurance throughout the United States. In his spare time, John has been involved with countless causes and charities and also served as the chair of the board of directors of ACORD, an international insurance organization with significant marketplace responsibilities.

In John’s early years in Maine, he was much like the orphan in the old adage. But after nearly 25 years of hard and innovative work, John deserves a major “thank you” from everyone in the Maine family.