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IB Icons: Trunzo, CUNA Mutual offer mutually insured production

From the state Capitol, to Miller Park, to CUNA Mutual Group, Bob Trunzo has done it all. He will share his leadership lessons at the next Icons in Business event on Oct. 4.

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Credit union leaders who were seeking an insurance partner founded CUNA Mutual Group more than 80 years ago. Today, from right here in Madison, the organization works with 95% of credit unions in the United States, and offers commercial and personal insurance products; lending and payment security solutions; and risk management, retirement, investment, and marketing services.

The key to the organization’s success, however, isn’t limited to the breadth of services offered. It’s due in part to corporate culture and the steps CUNA Mutual Group has made to be a leader in philanthropy, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability efforts. At the next IB Icons in Business event on Oct. 4, CUNA Mutual President and CEO Bob Trunzo shares his lessons learned at the helm of this iconic Madison organization.

While proud to call Madison home today, Trunzo spent his early years in Louisville, Kentucky and was a University of Kentucky Wildcats fan at an early age. His father was an executive with General Electric and the family moved around during Trunzo’s youth, eventually relocating to Wisconsin where his father was a manufacturing executive at Hotpoint, a GE subsidiary.

Trunzo lived in Brookfield, Wisconsin and graduated from Brookfield Central High School, before returning to Kentucky where he graduated from UK in 1978. Trunzo attended law school at Marquette University Law School and graduated in 1981, but he elected not to practice law and began running a state Senate campaign in the Fox River Valley. “That successful campaign allowed me to come to Madison as a legislative aide working for two members of the legislature,” says Trunzo. “I also did several projects for the Assembly Minority Leader at the time — his name was Tommy Thompson.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the young Trunzo would work with Thompson. But first, Trunzo was recruited out of the legislature and offered a regulatory and governmental affairs job with The St. Paul Companies in 1984.

“At the time, St. Paul was a large multiline insurance company, a New York Stock Exchange-traded insurer, with over $2 billion in revenue,” Trunzo notes. “Once Rep. Thompson was elected governor, he offered me a number of opportunities to return to Wisconsin. I finally accepted one of his offers and was named deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Development. Within a year I was named secretary of the agency and at the time (1986) was one of the youngest cabinet officials in the state’s history.”

After working in the Thompson Administration, Trunzo returned to the private sector and eventually back to the insurance industry, this time working on the agency side at Frank Haack and Associates in Milwaukee, which is now part of the Towers-Willis Co.

In 2005, then CUNA Mutual CEO Jeff Post recruited Trunzo to CUNA Mutual. “Jeff and I worked closely together at The St Paul Companies,” Trunzo says. “In fact, we were in the same new employee training programs together.” He held a number of roles with CUNA Mutual before becoming its eighth president and CEO in 2014.

Foundational experiences

Trunzo says he absolutely loved every minute of working for Gov. Thompson, whom he calls a great leader, motivator, and salesman for the state. “We expanded our foreign trade offices with him, attracted a number of new businesses to the state, and made great changes to our laws and regulations so that we were again viewed as a great state to do business in. I had the unique opportunity to travel around the world representing Wisconsin, as well as presented many proposals to attract businesses to our state.”

While not commenting directly on the current state of political affairs at the Capitol, Trunzo says he did deal with some partisan politics during his tenure in state government, but “we always managed to come together and get the business of the state completed. Our dialogues, while different in perhaps political views, were always cordial and measured. At times, we simply agreed to disagree. I was very fortunate to accomplish much during my time working for Gov. Thompson. The team at the Department was terrific and committed to growing the state’s economy.”

Trunzo also served as chairman of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park Board of Directors, which oversaw the design, financing, and construction of Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers.

“I can remember Gov. Thompson calling me while I was at St. Mary’s Hospital for the birth of our third child,” Trunzo recalls. “I had returned to the private sector and he wanted me to chair the Board. It was the most challenging time in my career, balancing my full-time job and this enormous all-encompassing civic responsibility.”

Trunzo says the Miller Park project was a labor of love, one that had many peaks and valleys. “We had issues with getting the right financial structure in place, communication problems between the state and the Brewers, cost issues with the design of the ballpark, and a challenging time schedule. [Former Major League Baseball] Commissioner Bud Selig and his family deserve the lion’s share of the credit, as they were totally committed to the project and keeping baseball in Milwaukee for generations to come. We are still gratified to see Miller Park over 15 years later still being rated as one of the top venues in Major League Baseball.”

Trunzo notes he took away two great lessons from his time with the Miller Park project. “First, in times of turmoil those you lead want a leader who is calm and thinking ahead, anticipating issues down the road. Second, be direct and have clear transparency around all your key decisions. While not everyone may like your decisions, at least they will know why you made those decisions.”


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