Celebrating a Special Person, Place at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans
April 27, 2012
By Chris Smith/PGA TOUR
UPDATE (9/4/12): "Miss Jane" Silva, longtime Principal of St. Michael Special School in New Orleans, passed away on the evening of Sunday, September 2, 2012. She continued to fight a valiant battle with cancer until her death at home surrounded by family and friends. Of course, in true Jane fashion, she lived through one more hurricane ensuring everyone was safe before departing for Heaven's VIP section.
In June, Archbishop Gregory Aymond presided at Jane's retirement Mass and reception. In July, Jane's successor, Susan Munster, was named Principal. Everything was now in place to provide a smooth transition.
Our celebration last April with the planting of the orange tree proved to be the Zurich family's farewell to Jane. We will continue to honor Jane's memory by supporting St Michael's and returning every year to watch that orange tree grow and to reflect on how much Jane taught us in our time together. --Dick Kearns
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April 27, 2012
NEW ORLEANS-- The symbolic check was greatly appreciated, as always. But it was the young Louisiana orange tree, freshly planted in the year-old playground that Zurich had funded, that touched an emotional chord with Jane Silva, longtime Principal of St. Michael Special School.
Those at Zurich had said it would be a particularly poignant day. Ever since Zurich Insurance Group became title sponsor of New Orleans’ PGA TOUR tournament eight years ago, this visit to the small Catholic school for special needs students has become a highlight of the week. But with “Miss Jane” retiring this year, Wednesday’s visit held special meaning.
In dedicating the tree, Zurich CEO Martin Senn spoke of how good soil yields good seeds, and good seeds yield good fruit, and that the tree both symbolized the growth of the relationship between Zurich and St. Michael over eight years and the nurturing work “Miss Jane” has done over 35 years at the school. “You feel the love, the care and the joy of this place and think of all the wonderful things that are done for these kids,” Senn said.
It was later, after a high-spirited show presented by the students and the presentation of a $100,000 check by Senn, that Silva spoke emotionally of the “beautiful treasures’ at the school and how the orange tree would represent a tree of life for everyone. “There is no way to express what Zurich has done for us,” she said. “The money is one thing, but Zurich has truly been a friend to us.”
It was a feeling that was palpable throughout the visit and expressed in a plaque that Senn presented to Silva, which read: Miss Jane Silva, You have taught us much about life, love and giving back as our principal these past 8 years. Thank you for making us better people and a better organization. With love and admiration – Your Zurich family.”
It’s representative of how Zurich has approached its sponsorship in general. The financial impact has been significant: since 2005, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans has generated nearly $8 million for youth-focused charities identified by host organization Fore!Kids Foundation, including St. Michael. The school has received donations of $800,000, helping to fund a Vocational Training Center that bears Zurich’s name and the state-of-the-art playground.
But it’s more than the financial commitment. As Darrah Schaefer, Chairman of the Fore!Kids Foundation Board said, “I’ve seen a lot of sponsorships over my 20 years in golf, and this is much more than a title sponsorship, it’s a true collaboration. It’s a special relationship between Zurich and the city of New Orleans. They get it.”
One just has to look at what has transpired since becoming title sponsor one moment and dealing with Hurricane Katrina the next.
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Was it good fortune or fate that aligned this global insurance giant with a cause-based corporate philosophy with the New Orleans golf tournament?
What is certain is that the wheels were set in motion when former CEO Jim Schiro, interested in exploring golf as the company’s first foray into U.S. sports sponsorship, assigned then-Chief Marketing Officer Craig Fundum to the task. Fundum happened to be visiting a client in Jacksonville, near PGA TOUR Headquarters, when Schiro called with the directive. The client knew someone at the TOUR and the connection was made.
What Fundum initially learned was several potential sponsorship opportunities existed, one being New Orleans. Zurich already was insuring two significant properties in the city: the Convention Center and Tulane University. But more so for a sports sponsorship, Fundum reasoned that this unique city and its culture, with strong European roots, would be particularly appealing to a Swiss company.
And then he made the trip. He met with members of the Fore!Kids Foundation, and was immediately taken by the genuine passion and dedication to their charitable cause of helping kids through golf. Then he was introduced to one of the Foundation’s main benefactors, St. Michael.
“I was mesmerized by what was going on there,” said Fundum, now Zurich’s President of Programs & Direct Markets. “I told Jim that I needed to get him down to New Orleans as soon as possible.”
The trip was arranged to meet with Fore!Kids, which included a visit to St. Michael. When Schiro and Fundum arrived at the school, it happened to be the first communion service for some of the students. “I could tell Jim was genuinely touched,” Fundum said. “He wanted to know how many charities were being helped by Fore!Kids and asked how more could be directed to St. Michael.”
The sponsorship was finalized and through Zurich’s support, an additional $100,000 would go to St. Michael. The man assigned to oversee Zurich’s tournament relationship was Dick Kearns, who at the time was Zurich’s Chief Administrative Officer. “Jim said if we are going to do this, we’re going to do it the right way,” Kearns recalled.
Little did he realize exactly what that commitment would entail.
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Zurich was announced as the tournament’s new title sponsor in October 2004. The first “Zurich Classic of New Orleans” was held the following April at TPC Louisiana.
Four months later, Hurricane Katrina hit.
The Convention Center, of course, became an epicenter of crisis. Within three weeks of the storm, Schiro and two other Zurich executives helicoptered in to see the damage for themselves and to meet with the general manager of the Convention Center. “Jim was clearly shaken by the breadth of devastation,” said Francis Bouchard, Zurich’s Group Head of Government and Industry Affairs. They were given a tour of the Convention Center. It was hard to comprehend. “One thing I’ll never forget was a stairwell that was full of crates of milk that had been brought in before the storm,” Bouchard recalled. “The stench was unbearable.”
Following the tour, the executives met with the general manager and about a dozen others and listened to harrowing stories from the past several weeks. “For Jim and us, it was an emotional and physical reminder of what our business is about and what insurance brings to the customers,” Bouchard said. At the end of the meeting, Schiro spoke briefly about the value of customers and then presented the general manager with a significant insurance check. “He broke down and wept in Jim’s arms,” Bouchard recalled.
That visit had an immediate and lasting impact on the Zurich executives. From a business standpoint, they strategized on the flight back to New York on developing a more efficient procedure for settling claims in the city and implemented it soon afterward.
Even when it came to the tournament, their philosophy changed. Zurich’s commitment to the tournament and Fore!Kids Foundation, the charitable beneficiaries and the city itself became very personal. “This had gone from a sponsorship to a relationship,” Bouchard said. “It became an emotional investment.”
The Zurich Classic became the first major sporting event to commit its return to New Orleans for 2006, even though the storm had badly damaged TPC Louisiana and forced a temporary change of venue. In a way, it represented a psychological boost to the area, an attempt to return to some sense of normalcy. And there was the importance of continuing the charitable mission.
While St. Michael remained at the forefront of Zurich’s focus, the company actively embraced a new initiative in 2008: the St. Bernard Project, established after Katrina to rebuild homes in the storm-ravaged areas of the city.
“We wanted to do activities as part of our community service program and it became very special for us,” Kearns said of St. Bernard Project, for which he spends eight to nine weeks per year as an executive in residence.
What began under Schiro’s leadership has continued under Senn’s. There are now two can’t-miss dates during tournament week for Zurich: the St. Michael visit and the Zurich executive build with St. Bernard Project.
“It was important for us to become part of the city, to go well beyond the one-off week of sponsoring the tournament,” Bouchard said. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we become part of the city?’ First we incorporated St. Michael, and then St. Bernard Project. Now, when we come back, it’s like a family reunion. We love it here.”
So was it by good fortune or fate?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Perhaps a bit of both.”
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