When Tim Leman, ’97, was a student at Indiana State University, he had no idea he would one day be the commencement speaker. “Not a chance!” he said. “In fact, I just hope the attendees stay awake for mine.”
For his special May 7 speaking engagement, Leman plans to talk about “being unconditional” in his message to graduates. “It has to do with not setting limits for yourself,” he said. “We all have a tendency to place glass ceilings on what we’re doing. Being unconditional is about not having any limits — not just better or higher ones.”
Leman definitely knows from experience how important it is to live unconditionally. Born in Fort Wayne, Leman aimed high even as a youngster. “In fifth grade, I wrote a story that culminated in me becoming president. Of the United States.”
Originally deciding to break with family tradition (both his father and older brother had attended Indiana State), Leman wanted “to do my own thing” and go to Indiana University instead. However, an academic scholarship from State made Leman change his mind.
“My dad had promised to pay for a four-year state college education,” Leman recalled. “He had a deal with me that any scholarships I got, he would refund half the value back to me in cash since it meant his commitment was reduced, too … I decided that ‘revenue share’ with Dad was a pretty good idea.”
Once he became a Sycamore, Leman knew he had made the right choice. He enjoyed being active in campus organizations and getting to know fellow students and faculty.
“I liked that I knew everyone. ISU is small enough that you can have a personal relationship with your professor, with the dean of your college and with many, many students,” he said. “I got to know lots of the other fraternity guys and sorority girls.”
Some of his campus activities included Lambda Chi Alpha (social fraternity treasurer), Gamma Iota Sigma (business fraternity president), Alpha Omicron Pi (social sorority “Sweetheart Guy”), intramurals, math lab tutor and much more. “I got to be involved and active on campus,” he said. “I feel like I got the full college experience.”
His first Indiana State mentor, Leman said, was Larry Coleman. “He helped start the insurance and risk management program. He really helped me mature and focus. He’s still a mentor and still sends me encouraging letters.”
Leman said he has fond memories of other State professors and values their help and friendship. “My insurance professors — Dr. Mikolaj and Dr. Warfel. I also really enjoyed my relationship with the McLarens — Bruce and Connie. In particular, I’ve probably gotten to know Bruce even better since graduation through my work on the dean’s executive council.”
Graduating Magna Cum Laude in May 1997 with a Bachelor’s of Science in insurance and risk management from the Scott College of Business, Leman entered the insurance brokerage business.
“Right out of school, I worked for a company now known as Aon Hewitt in Indianapolis for a few years, then out to Phoenix, Ariz., for a leadership role with Willis Towers Watson for six years, and then back to Indiana to become an owner in Gibson a little over 10 years ago,” he said.
It was through an industry advisory council in the Scott College of Business while he was living in Arizona that Leman met Dave Gibson. “His father founded Gibson,” Leman said. “He talked me into moving back to Indiana. Dave’s a pretty good salesman.”
Family owned for the first half of its existence, Gibson is today 100 percent owned by company employees. Now chairman and CEO of Gibson, Leman makes it a point to hire Indiana State graduates.
“We have 15 now, and No. 16 starts in June,” he said. “We’ve experienced tremendous growth and can’t find enough experienced people, so we’ve focused on hiring directly out of college and training them… That’s where ISU comes in. The IRM grads are fantastic: smart, energetic and hard workers.”
In fact, Leman says, he would recommend Indiana State to prospective students. “If they’re looking for a hands-on education with internships and relationships with professors, it’s a great place.”
It was also at Indiana State that Leman re-met someone who changed the course of his life. “My wife (Kimra Crossgrove Leman) is a 1998 grad with a degree in interior design. She and I dated some in high school then reconnected for good at ISU. We got married two weeks after my graduation from ISU.”
Today, the couple with their three children — Jack, Will and Grace — live north of South Bend on a 400-acre lake. “The boat is back in the water and seems like the good weather is here to stay, too” Leman rejoiced.
As for his strong belief in living unconditionally, Leman recently wrote a book named “rEvolution: Turn Crisis Into Clarity And Ignite Growth” that demonstrates how, in times of their greatest challenges, the greatest leaders step forward and lead their organizations to their greatest days. Published in March 2015, the book has been reviewed by Indiana State President Dan Bradley and other business leaders.
“It’s a leadership story,” Leman said. “I wanted to share my story and especially my mistakes and lessons learned with others.”