An Interview with Dan Glaser

Dan Glaser, President and CEO, Marsh & McLennan Companies

Published October 31st, 2018

What is the greatest Halloween costume you’ve ever seen or worn?

I actually own a pirate costume with a feathered hat and a little fake sword. So I go as a pirate when pressed, but I will say, last year, I was walking through the lobby of our building and I had to do a double take because the perfect Khaleesi from Game of Thrones walked by me. She could’ve walked right out of the show.


What book have you read recently that you’d recommend and why?

I read a lot, but the book that had a big impact on me recently was “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. It’s a novel filled with so many issues with technology I see today and cause me concern. Think about a big company almost like Google and Facebook merged and that was the organization this book was centered around. They did good work but at a very large cost to humanity in terms of privacy, etc. I’d really recommend it.


What gives you the most hope about the future of this country and the world at large?

Human beings. In the end, the human condition is striving, creating, innovating, improving- That’s what humans do. There was a guy who passed away last year, Hans Rosling, who made the point that, “It’s bad but getting better.” The reality is so many aspects of the world and society are improving. Extreme poverty is far more reduced than even fifty years ago. People are living longer, healthier lives than any time in history. So, human beings have just proven to be tremendously resilient. In every culture, people want their children to do better than they did. It’s remarkable. So, I bet on humans.


If you had to teach a class of your own design to high schoolers that would help them the most in their lives, no matter what their profession ended up being, what would it be?

The same thing I said to my three daughters: you are the owner of your life. Nobody else is the owner of your life. I addressed a group of university students recently and I said, “How many of you want to be a doctor?” And some hands went up. “How many of you want to be a lawyer?” And some more went up. And then I said, to the horror of some of the administrators present, “No you don’t. You are dutiful sons and daughters. How could you know, at 19 years old, you want to be a lawyer? You want to be a lawyer because either your mom or dad are lawyers, or they thought you’d be good at it and so now you’re saying that’s what you want to do. All I would say is, it doesn’t really matter what you do, but it has to be yours. The secret to happiness is earning your own success: making your own choices and accepting the choices you make and earning your own success… however you define it.” The other thing I’d say is read the obits for a week. One thing you learn from the obits is: everybody dies. You’ve got one shot at this thing. Take it. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Most of us go to our graves with the music still inside of us: unplayed.” So, I’d say, don’t let that be you. Make your calls, your choices. Good or bad, they’re your calls.


What trend have you seen or been a part of in your life that you wish would come back?

Letters. My dad passed away more than twenty years ago and I recently discovered a box of letters that I wrote him when I was in college. I had completely forgotten about those letters and the closeness that we had and what I was able to express. It can’t come across in an email or a text or even a phone call. There was a time when people would write a letter and then two weeks would go by and they would receive a response. There was great correspondence between individuals in literature, art, and families that I would love to come back.


Is there anything you’ve been trying to get better at (or get better about) for a while now? How’s that going?

For a long time, patience and listening skills have been my go-to New Year’s resolutions and I would say I’ve made some mild progress over many years but both are not natural to me. I’m an interrupter. I have all the answers. I want to tell people what to do and what I think and so I’m just not great in these areas.

So how do you work at that?

You work at it by literally just trying to pause. I recently was sick and lost my voice and I didn’t realize how terrible that would be. [laughs] It was probably good for other people and terrible for me.


What does the ultimate day off look like for you?

I would say going to a really cool museum then a long, leisurely lunch with a nice bottle of wine followed by a nap.