By Chris Cox
Dan Lebish had more than three decades of experience in the hospital and insurance industries, an illustrious career that carried him to an executive vice president role at Pittsburgh, Pa.’s Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Time appeared to be winding down on an impressive career. Or was it?
“I’m at a point where some people might say, ‘Hey Dan, it’s time to start the glide path down to retirement,’” he recalled. “Or, I could do something completely different. I could venture out to my wife’s chagrin, and pull her from Pittsburgh to Columbia. Which she loves. We decided to do that.”
Now, Lebish serves as executive vice president and COO of Aflac Group Insurance, based in Columbia. His position, created and filled in August 2013, in a way perfectly described the company’s presence in Columbia. It was born out of necessity as the company, headquartered in Columbus, Ga., flourished in its Midlands home.
“The community has embraced us,” Lebish said during a recent EngenuitySC event. “The numbers speak for themselves. We’ve more than doubled our revenue, more than doubled the number of employees.”
Aflac took root in Columbia in 2009 when it acquired Columbia-based Continental American Insurance Co., which had 160 employees at its 2801 Devine St. headquarters. Now Aflac has 1,000 employees and expanded its footprint by moving into 41,000 square feet of office space at 400 Laurel St. in downtown Columbia.
Aflac’s steady, organic growth is easy to understand, Lebish said. It’s also what drew the longtime health insurance veteran to his latest role. Aflac’s dedication to three criteria – philanthropy, meeting needs and not wants, and sticking to commitments – are at the basis of its success, he said.
“It’s easy to think about Aflac the brand with the duck,” Lebish said. “Everybody loves the duck. But actually, what’s more important is the culture that’s behind the duck.”
As he mulled the job offer, Lebish got to work researching the quirky mascot and its company. The Ethisphere Institute put the provider on its list of most ethical companies for a ninth straight year, and its agents nationwide had raised more than $100 million from commissions to give toward the Aflac Cancer Center. In addition, its Duck Prints program spotlighted people making an impact in providing care and addressing issues with pediatric cancer.
Not to be outdone, Aflac employees volunteered about 14,600 hours, and 70 workers recently built a house for Habitat for Humanity. It all embodies the culture Aflac wants to permeate throughout the organization.
“When you do good, and you do well, you engage your employees,” Lebish said. “You make them proud to be part of the company. You get them involved in the community.”
Aflac wants its employees to meet the needs of that community, too. Lebish wants his company to get customers engaged up front, and it attempts to do so through value-added services, he said. Aflac gives from day one before consumers even use the purchase.
Aflac’s commitment to Columbia is essential to its continued growth, and the two parties are in a partnership that, in many ways, relies on the other one, Lebish said.
“Aflac is not like many companies that buy a company, break it apart and walk out of the community,” he said. “Aflac has stayed committed. We’re glad to be here. Go Columbia, grow Columbia.”
Published in Feb. 15, 2016, print issue of Columbia Regional Business Report