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Debbie Lambert Is Our Captive Insurance Leader of the Month

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February 16, 2017

Debbie Lambert is a founding partner of Johnson Lambert LLP. She served as the firm’s managing partner from 2006 to 2015 and continues to serve clients of Johnson Lambert’s Illinois and North Carolina offices. In addition to being a certified public accountant (CPA), Ms. Lambert has attained the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation.

Throughout her career, Ms. Lambert has been extremely active in the public accounting profession. She is currently chair of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Uniform Accountancy Act Committee and is also a member of the AICPA Joint Trial Board. Her other professional activities have included serving on the Board of Directors of the AICPA, as a member of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Advisory Committee on Smaller Public Companies, as chair of the Auditing Standards Board of the AICPA, and as chair of the North Carolina Association of CPAs.

The Captive.com editors recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Lambert about her career and the captive industry. Below are excerpts from the conversation.

How did you come to choose your current profession? Where did you go to school?

I always liked math, and I was interested in business. So an accounting career was a perfect choice for me. I received my accounting degree from Wake Forest University.

Where did you work prior to Johnson Lambert? 

I began my career at what was then Ernst & Ernst, followed by Ernst & Whinney. I started my career in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and transferred to Washington, DC. I spent a total of 8 years with Ernst. 

How did you decide to form Johnson Lambert, and what were the drivers that led you in this direction?

From a business perspective, when Larry Johnson and I founded Johnson Lambert in 1986, we believed there was a real opportunity with respect to the insurance industry for an alternative to the then “Big 8” CPA firms. Our vision was to create a firm that had the technical expertise of the large national CPA firms and the personal service of fine local CPA firms. Personally, the opportunity to do something entrepreneurial, starting a CPA firm from scratch, was very appealing. I like to be in charge of things, and I like to be accountable.

How did you become interested in the captive insurance space? Tell us a little bit about your early days in the captive markets.

Early in my career with Ernst, I specialized in the insurance industry. Prior to forming Johnson Lambert, I served several Vermont-domiciled captive insurance company clients, which were associated with Washington, DC-based trade or professional organizations. Around the same time we started Johnson Lambert (1986), the captive market in Vermont was beginning to take off. We thought our best chance to take advantage of the emerging captive opportunity was to open a local office in a captive domicile, so we opened our Burlington, Vermont, office in 1987. The captive insurance industry, in multiple domiciles, has been an important segment of Johnson Lambert’s client base since our inception.

What’s been your biggest surprise working with captives?

I continue to be amazed and heartened by the collegiality and camaraderie of the captive insurance community.

Would you care to share your long-term outlook for captive insurers and any prognostications on where the industry evolves?

In the mid-1980s, captive insurance really did fit the description of “alternative” risk.  Today, captive insurance is an integral tool in commercial risk management. In our future, where the pace of change and innovation is extreme, the captive culture is well positioned to respond timely to risk management/risk financing needs of a new generation of innovators. The “can do” spirit of the captive insurance community will serve it well.

Thinking about the captive insurance industry, are there any unsung heroes you think are worthy of mention? We are particularly interested in people who might not be known or perhaps shun the spotlight.

I value team play much more than personal contribution. My shout out goes to every person who has volunteered in one or more of the myriad of valuable nonprofit organizations that support the captive insurance community. The organizations in which I have actively volunteered and always benefited more than I contributed include the National Risk Retention Association, Vermont Captive Insurance Association (VCIA), South Carolina Captive Insurance Association, International Center for Captive Insurance Education, Friendly Society Restored, and Captive Insurance Companies Association. 

Any personal insights on captives or the accounting profession you would care to share with our readers?

Working at Johnson Lambert, I have had the opportunity to recruit and mentor many talented individuals who joined Johnson Lambert’s captive practice at the beginning of their careers. Their success is my greatest source of pride! Several of these individuals have stayed to become Johnson Lambert partners, leading our firm and our captive insurance practice. They include John Prescott, Magali Welch, Josh Partlow, Adam Dubuque, and Carrie Rice. Many more have gone on to become regulators, captive managers, and members of senior management at insurance companies. 

Looking forward, are there any professional or personal goals on your list that you’d like to accomplish?

Effective January 1, 2016, I completed a 10-year term as managing partner of Johnson Lambert, thus beginning a transition to the next phase of my career and life. Personally, my husband (of 36 years) and I are dividing our time between Park City, Utah, for skiing and Pinehurst, North Carolina, for golf. My husband and I learned to ski at Johnson Lambert’s epic holiday parties at Stowe and Sugarbush in Vermont. We both are totally hooked on skiing. Our other passion is golf, and there is no better place for golf than Pinehurst.

Professionally, I expect to remain active as long as my health allows and as long as I am still able to add value. I am now part of Johnson Lambert’s Chicago office. My mission there is to grow and serve Johnson Lambert’s commercial insurance practice in the Midwest. I am working a reduced schedule, which gives me nice flexibility for skiing, golfing, and spending time with friends. I also serve on three boards—a small commercial P&C company; a large commercial life insurer; and my alma mater, Wake Forest University. Participating in governance roles is providing a nice capstone to my career.

For any old-timers who are reading this, my one son, who was almost born at the VCIA Conference in 1990, the year I moderated a tax panel in a fire-engine-red dress at 8 months and 3 weeks pregnant, is now 26 and will be getting married in Boston this summer. 

Finally, what are your thoughts on how the captive industry should seek to attract new talent into the industry?

It is incumbent on each of us individually to recruit talented young people to the captive insurance industry and to mentor and support them as they pursue their careers. The collegiality, camaraderie, and opportunities within our captive insurance industry are remarkable. I wish I was 25 again!

Thank you, Debbie Lambert, for sharing your thoughts and for everything you have done on behalf of the captive insurance community.

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