Monday, May 13, 2024

When he was a student at the University of Iowa, Jim Lewis (BBA83) didn’t want to pursue a career in insurance. “My father was encouraging me to get into insurance, so I did the exact opposite,” he recalls.

Lewis, the new executive director of the Emmett J. Vaughan Institute of Risk Management and Insurance at Tippie, majored in finance and wanted to become a stockbroker, but a down market changed that plan. “Shortly before I graduated, the market tanked, and they were laying off brokers. The job that I had lined up went ‘bye-bye.’”

Jim Lewis

Instead, Lewis spent much of his career as an entrepreneur in—you guessed it—the insurance industry, most recently as the founder and CEO of insurance claims analysis platform Benjamin.

In the fall of 2023, Lewis came back to his alma mater to lead the institute. “I’m used to being in a startup/entrepreneur kind of mode,” he says, and he’s brought that attitude to his new position. He’s already tapped into his alumni and industry connections to mentor and provide opportunities for current students.

Lewis has also enlisted help from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication for a social media marketing campaign to engage students and address the preconceptions of insurance and risk management that he’d held as a student.

“Students want to make a difference or an impact. It’s really strong in this particular generation. It aligns very nicely with our external stakeholders, helping students find their path in risk management, so they can become a part of creating a safer, smarter, more secure world,” he says.

The recruitment efforts are paying off. According to Lewis, Tippie’s Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) major that launched last fall has fully surpassed enrollment expectations of around 100 students, and already has 192 undergraduate majors enrolled, along with 51 certificate students, 16 MBA concentrations, and one Ph.D. candidate.

Lewis doesn’t regret his career in an industry he once snubbed. In fact, he now embraces the creativity he’s found there. “The world’s risky out there. It’s interesting. It’s complex,” he says. “And it’s fun to solve problems.”


About the Vaughan Institute 

The Emmett J. Vaughan Institute of Risk Management and Insurance was founded in 2002 and in 2004 was named in honor of industry luminary and longtime Tippie professor and administrator Emmett Vaughan. His daughter, Terri Vaughan, also became an insurance industry leader and served as director of the institute
before Lewis.

All students pursuing the RMI major or certificate at Tippie can benefit from Vaughan Institute offerings, including networking events, RMI-exclusive scholarships, mentorship from industry professionals, and experiential learning opportunities like training for case competitions and company-sponsored research projects.



This article appeared in the 2024 issue of Exchange magazine