Aflac CEO On Leadership: Take Care of Your People. They’ll Take Care of Business

October 10, 2019, 10:00 AM UTC

Dan Amos has been CEO of Aflac for almost 30 years. That’s pretty remarkable in the universe of Fortune 500 companies. So, what did Amos do to last that long?

“Well my family started the company,” Amos says in his slow Southern drawl. “There’s a pride of that element that I know makes a difference.”

He also stays true to a leadership lesson he learned from his father, Paul, and his uncles John and Bill Amos who founded Aflac.

“They had a saying that I really like,” he says. “If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of the business.”

Amos is proud when he says Aflac practiced so-called “corporate social responsibility” long before it became a fashionable term. So it’s no wonder that he was one of the early signers recently of a new statement from the powerful business group, the Business Roundtable, on what is the purpose of American corporations. The Roundtable now says investing in employees, customers and caring for communities are as important as delivering a good return for shareholders. It has stirred up a big debate on the virtues of doing good versus delivering profits.

“I see it as a good business decision,” says Amos. “If all you’re talking about is making money, then I don’t think long-term you’ll succeed as a company.”

But Amos can certainly take credit for making a lot of money for Aflac shareholders.

Under his leadership, the Columbus, Georgia insurance company’s financial performance has been phenomenal. Revenues have surged from $2 billion when Amos took over as CEO in 1990 to $22 billion today–a 10-fold increase. The stock has also powered higher, from less than one dollar a share when Amos took charge to more than $50 today.

And then, of course, there’s the duck. The popularity of that wing-flapping Aflac duck has been a big reason behind the company’s success. Amos says he took a chance on the duck idea even though the $1 million television commercial cost twice as much as any other ad campaign in the company’s history. Most of all, he feared that “we were kinda making fun of our name.”  But the ad campaign was an immediate hit.

“We only had 5 percent name recognition,” says Amos about the Aflac duck launch nearly 20 years ago. “We jumped all the way to 90 (percent) in three years and our sales doubled. So taking risks is worth it.”

Watch the video above for more from my interview with Amos.