Each month, we highlight a 4-H alumnus with an amazing story to share — from their personal experience in 4-H to how they have given back to the program. This month we are featuring Kirt Walker, CEO of Nationwide, a Columbus, Ohio-based Fortune 100 insurance and financial services company.
Kirt grew up in Iowa on his family’s Century Farm and, like so many 4-H alums, he says he was able to bring many valuable lessons to his career from his time in 4-H.
“My brother and I were officers in 4-H and FFA, and my dad was a 4-H leader for more than 20 years,” Walker shared. “Those experiences helped me understand that leadership is ultimately about serving others.”
Walker may not have realized just how quickly he would rely on the lessons he learned in 4-H. After taking the reins as CEO of Nationwide in the fall of 2019, it would be just a few months before the start of the first global pandemic in 100 years.
By late March 2020, safety concerns resulting from the pandemic meant almost all of Nationwide’s 24,000 associates had to be sent home over three days. Leaning on his farming background and remembering the lessons learned from 4-H, Walker made sure all associates understood that the company’s first value, “We value people,” would be front and center.
“We’re a protection company,” Walker said. “And that protection extends not only to our customers, but to our associates and the communities where we live and work.” He knew the company’s customers would need their support now more than ever, and that Nationwide associates would be up to the task.
“Our people didn’t just go home; they went home to work. They took our mission — to protect people, businesses, and futures with extraordinary care — to heart,” he said. And it worked. By 2021, Nationwide had its best year ever, both in terms of financial results and associate engagement.
The connections between Nationwide and farming run deep. In fact, many people don’t realize the company, now one of the largest insurance and financial services organizations in America, was formed by Ohio farmers who were looking for fair prices for auto insurance.
“We were started by farmers to support rural communities, and we’ll always honor that heritage,” Walker said recently. Nationwide’s first salespeople and customers were farmers, who believed in the cooperative spirit that more could be accomplished together than alone.
And the protection company’s leader credits his farming background and positive experiences with 4-H with helping him develop his leadership philosophy. “Leading in business — just like in 4-H — is about helping people reach their full potential,” he said.