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Damon Hart’s training prepares him for C-suite job at Liberty Mutual

Hospital CEOs still worried about COVID; Connelly Partners heading back to Ireland; Hasbro swaps Elsa for Indy; Epicenter’s ‘People Platform’ is taking off

Damon Hart, chief legal officer at Liberty Mutual.Chris Morris

Like any good athlete, Damon Hart took a hard look at the skills and experiences he needed to make it to the top.

The former Holy Cross basketball player approached Jim Kelleher, then Liberty Mutual’s chief legal officer and Hart’s boss, three years ago with an eye toward figuring out what he needed to do to be the top lawyer at a major company — Liberty Mutual or somewhere else. That discussion, it turned out, set Hart on a path toward his newest job: He took over for Kelleher on Jan. 1 after Kelleher’s retirement.

For the previous 15 months, Hart had been shadowing Kelleher and gradually accepting more responsibilities at the insurance company.


“It was an extremely thoughtful way of doing a transition like this,” Hart said. “I feel like it has set me up for success, and it set the organization up for success.”

Now, Hart is one of the most prominent Black executives in corporate Boston, leading a legal team with 2,100-plus people. It’s a position he does not take lightly: Consider his work helping to launch the New Commonwealth Fund, an initiative that has raised millions to support Black- and Hispanic-led nonprofits, or the brief but heartfelt essay he posted last week on LinkedIn in recognition of Black History Month.

In it, he wrote how he has several black-and-white images from the civil rights movement hanging in his office: “They look over me, they inspire me to keep moving forward, they keep me humble and grateful for the men and women who literally sacrificed their lives, so I could have the opportunities I enjoy today.”

As part of helping members of his leadership team get to know him better, Hart shared stories about his grandfather and father during a virtual gathering. His grandfather fought in France during World War I in a segregated unit of the US Army, he said, while his father made it clear that America had treated Black people poorly but also recognized the opportunities the country provided.


“Being Black in America, you have these two truths,” Hart said. “We’ve come a long way. We have a long way to go.”

Hart knows he has to lean on his teammates as he navigates the seemingly never-ending series of technical nuances and details that make up insurance law, particularly for a company whose footprint spans nearly 30 countries.

“We insure satellites that are orbiting the earth, and we insure rickshaws in India, and everything in between,” Hart said. “There’s so much diversity from intellectual, legal, and regulatory perspectives. It’s exciting but it’s impossible to pretend you know everything.”

Hospital executives don’t see a rush back to the office

Greater Boston Chamber chief executive Jim Rooney might have been hoping for an all-clear to resume business as usual. But that’s not what he got from hospital chief executives who spoke last week on a chamber panel entitled “Moving Forward: Is It Too Early to Talk about Post-Pandemic Life?”

It’s not too early to talk about it. But it might be too early to actually live it.

“People are done with it [and] ready to move on,” said Kevin Tabb, of Beth Israel Lahey Health. “But the virus is not done with us.”

Kevin Churchwell at Boston Children’s Hospital emphasized the still-deadly nature of the virus. “I do not accept the fact that we learn to live with it,” he said.


And Anne Klibanski at Mass General Brigham chimed in with, “We have to get around the mythology [of] when will life get around to the way it was before?”

Tabb tried to sound a hopeful note, saying people should be more comfortable soon about traveling and going out to eat.

“This constant assessment of risk . . . I think is going to be with us for a period of time,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean we’re going to be locked up in our homes.

Pretty grim stuff. But that didn’t prevent a little humor.

“What we’re facing is something we didn’t go to school for, I’ll tell you that,” Churchwell said. “At some point, Anne’s going to write the book and I’m going to buy 10 copies of it.”

The rocky road — or smooth flight — to Dublin

Steve Connelly swears he isn’t buying another ad agency in Dublin just for more reasons to fly there. But his travel bills are probably going up regardless.

The Boston firm he leads, Connelly Partners, just acquired Zoo Digital, which, as you might imagine, focuses on digital marketing. That deal comes about four years after Connelly acquired Strategem, and later renamed it Connelly Partners Dublin. Zoo’s client list includes some global brands such as Burger King and Red Bull along with a number of Irish ones. With the addition of Zoo’s team, Connelly will have 45 employees in Dublin.


And yes, it does mean he’ll be a more frequent flyer on Aer Lingus. He said he used to go to Ireland for three days, every six weeks. Now that this deal is done, he’ll pick up the pace.

“It puts us in the driver’s seat in a way that allows us to compete for bigger things,” Connelly said. “When [the deal] happened to present itself in a city where we already had a presence, and it was in a leading technology city, it was a no-brainer.”

Hasbro saying farewell to Frozen

Chris Cocks might want to start singing “Let It Go” when he takes over Hasbro as its new chief executive later this month. He’ll help guide the Pawtucket, R.I., company as it prepares to lose the Disney Princess and Frozen line to rival Mattel at the end of the year.

Judging from comments on Hasbro’s latest earnings call last week, Cocks and his team don’t seem too worried about bidding adieu to Elsa, Anna, and their compatriots. They know love is an open door, even though, in this case, roughly $250 million of annual revenue, on average, is walking out that door.

Deb Thomas, Hasbro’s chief financial officer, said company executives remain excited about Hasbro’s ongoing Walt Disney partnerships for Marvel and Star Wars items, and a first-time-in-forever launch of toys tied to the Indiana Jones franchise, with a fifth movie set to come out in 2023. “I’ve had the opportunity to look at some of the products we’re bringing out,” Thomas said of the Indy line, “and it’s just fantastic.”


The end result: profit margins in Hasbro’s “partner brand portfolio” should actually grow in the coming year, perhaps into low double digits from midsingle digit margins. Or as Elsa might say, it’s time to test the limits and break through.

Off the bus and into the big-time

When Paul Krasinski launched Epicenter Experience six years ago with Lynne Lipinsky, the two ran the startup out of a retrofitted tour bus, often parked in the Seaport.

The software firm has long since graduated to a “physical” office, in Quincy. Companies such as Best Buy and Walmart use Epicenter’s software, dubbed the People Platform, to gauge customer satisfaction. Consumers can opt into the program, and are rewarded with digital gift cards for participating. When they shop in a certain location, they get asked about their experience through a smart-phone app, which in turn provides the survey response to the client.

Investors include Microsoft board member John Thompson, former Viacom executive Sean Moran, State Street executive-turned-consultant Madge Meyer, and Migration Capital, a Needham investment firm.

Epicenter just publicly launched a new version of the People Platform, one that analyzes data gathered by Epicenter to help clients strategize and engage with consumers.

But what happened to that bus? Krasinski said he sold it, and it eventually was used to support a Jay-Z/Justin Timberlake tour. He added: “At least it went to good use.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at Follow him @jonchesto.