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At Zurich Insurance, Jack Howell, ’98, is leading a movement toward the future. As CEO of Zurich Global Ventures, he runs a business that encourages innovation in providing global services and products that go beyond traditional insurance—in areas such as digital health, cybersecurity, travel, employee benefits, and consumer electronics.

Howell also sits on the board of Z Zurich Foundation, which marshals the Swiss insurer’s capital to tackle society’s most pressing issues, whether it’s climate change, mental well-being, or social equity.

Chicago Booth Magazine spoke with Howell about where Zurich Global Ventures is headed, and he shares how Zurich Group hopes to inspire more change through the Zurich Forest Project.

What are your goals for Zurich Global Ventures?

We’re focused on providing digital products and services to meet evolving customer needs. Our goal is to make insurance a product that protects customers and prevents risk, rather than one that simply pays out claims.

Smarter technology has empowered us to understand risk, from floods to cyberattacks, much better. That, in turn, helps reduce and even prevent risk. This will not only lower claims but also result in a better customer experience. So we’re doubling down on prevention, offering customers a wider package of services alongside their insurance coverage.

How did an MBA at Chicago Booth seed your career?  

When I was at Booth, I forged lifelong friendships. That’s given me an invaluable network of people I trust and respect. I still leverage that network, reaching out to former classmates for advice when I encounter problems at work.

Having come out of Booth, I also have an ability to quickly decipher numbers and read a balance sheet. That has given me a competitive advantage, because it helps me pick out the metrics that are most important and drive value.

How did the Zurich Forest Project come about?

It builds on the work of Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife, Lélia, who in 1998 founded their nonprofit, Instituto Terra, to regrow part of the Atlantic Forest that once dominated Brazil’s eastern coast but was nearly destroyed. The Salgados started on a former cattle farm that Sebastião inherited from his father. In 2020, Zurich came on board, and partnered with them to create the Zurich Forest Project.

What impact has the Zurich Forest Project had?  

We’ve planted close to 450,000 seedlings to date, but we’ve learned that the method of reforestation—what and where you plant—is just as important as the number of trees. To restore nature and create a self-sustaining, biodiverse forest, the project is planting trees in an area big enough for them to reach their full height and potential. They’re also using up to 120 varieties of seedlings that are native to the area.

As of 2020, 172 species of birds, 15 species of amphibians, 16 species of reptiles, and 33 species of mammals have been identified as living in or having returned to the forest, many of them at risk of extinction. This is a great project that has participation from our employees, business partners, and the community at different levels, and Zurich is proud to play an active part in it.