David Keenan Leads with Compassion

Nationwide’s David Keenan is a steady hand at a critical moment, leading his organization with compassion amid a worldwide pandemic

It is an unprecedented time. David Keenan calls an hour before his scheduled interview asking to push it back a day because he’s helping Nationwide Insurance transition its resources under stay-at-home orders. The next day, he details how a significant percentage of Nationwide’s workforce of more than 28,000 people is now working remotely. He and his wife are also taking care of their children, who are home due to school closures. It’s March 2020, the entire world is closing down to combat the COVID-19 virus, and now, maybe more than ever, David Keenan is leading with care, concern, and compassion.

The father of two says he tries to behave at home the same way he tries to lead his team as assistant vice president and associate general counsel at Nationwide. “I don’t handle anger very well,” Keenan says, laugh. “The slower I am to it, the better off I think everyone tends to be, so I try to lead with compassion.”

That’s evident in the way Keenan speaks of his team (“possibly the career accomplishment that I’m most proud of here”), his wife (“she is the coordinator, to whom I will always defer and just try to help however I can”), and his two daughters, who the lawyer says are demonstrating their exceptional character even in a forced lockdown.

David Keenan, Assistant Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Nationwide Insurance Photo by Joseph Nowak

Extraordinary Care

The way Keenan chooses to lead just happens to be in line with Nationwide’s recent redefining of its own mission: to protect people, businesses, and futures with extraordinary care. It’s a phrase Keenan comes back to a lot.

“I want to be able to provide extraordinary care in everything that I do,” he says. “We’re challenged as individuals because ‘extraordinary care’ is so context specific. Every different group has the opportunity to define it, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Keenan’s team is responsible for supporting the entirety of Nationwide’s procurement contract needs. “We have a property and casualty business, a financial services business, innovative business lines, and a core corporate function, among others,” the AGC explains. “Where we sit, we’re doing the service agreements, vendor contracts, and data-related agreements for all of them. It’s so much fun to see the entire organization from this vantage point.”

Keenan says the collaborative behavior on his team is absolutely vital for the sheer amount of work that they do. “We make sure we can learn from each other’s experiences to share knowledge and help everyone on the team understand how to tackle a problem,” Keenan says. “The answer may not always be the same, but it helps establish an effective framework that will help minimize duplication of effort and forum shopping within the department—and will ultimately help you build credibility not only among your team members but to the entire business.”

It’s common for the legal department to fight tooth and nail to establish credibility and trust with the business organization, but Keenan says that in his experience, it’s the exact opposite. “We sometimes have to extricate ourselves from matters because after having built so much credibility, that can bring to bear some reliance,” he explains. “Demand management is a huge component of what we do.”

Keenan’s team spends a significant portion of their time building support tools and educating business counterparts as to how they can attend to matters that don’t require legal involvement. This model widens the contract team’s bandwidth for more complex and higher-risk legal work.

Tech Put to the Test

Having come to Nationwide in 2005, Keenan has watched technology reimagine exactly what it means to be an insurance and financial services company a couple of times over. Keenan and his team provide legal support for many of the key technology initiatives that have reinvented how Nationwide establishes, supports, and services its policy holders and product owners; stores and processes data; and expedites and improves internal connectedness and transaction flow.

He also appreciates his team’s good fortune to be a key resource in the planning and execution of innovative product offerings coming out of Nationwide, such as the SmartRide program, which allows Nationwide customers to drive with an onboard device that monitors their driving and provides potential discounts on their premiums based on their safe driving practices.

“Technology has impacted everything from our distribution channels to customer support to the way we work,” Keenan says. “Working from home at this moment [the COVID-19 pandemic] wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago, but now we have 98 percent of our workforce working remotely.” Nationwide’s executive leadership team, including its legal leaders, are forward-thinking, innovative, and hugely supportive of the associates helping to drive value for the organization, its customers and members, and its associates.

Keenan says the service delivery his team has worked to perfect is an example of how to optimize good people and use technology to elevate the nature of work. “When I first got here, you didn’t really feel that embracing of the lawyers and having them involved,” Keenan says. “We’ve really built an efficient way of supporting a large-volume, fast-paced in-house legal team that supports the procurement organization.” And legal is always at the table, though at the moment, it may be a virtual one.

***

Tsibouris & Associates LLC:

“Dave Keenan is smart, strategic, and works effectively with his legal team, outside counsel, and business clients. He does a great job of effectively communicating with his business clients about legal risks and creatively mitigating them. His vision empowers his team and his legal peers to succeed. He is pragmatic and a pleasure to work with. All of this has helped him earn the trust of his business clients and helped his business clients thrive in an ever-changing business environment with numerous risks.”

–Mehmet Munur, Partner