Young Talent Pushing Forward
Many insurance professionals say they “fell into” the industry. Our Power Broker® winners and finalists under age 40 are no different, crediting their introduction to the business largely to family members who got them an “in.” Their experiences entering and working their way up through the ranks demonstrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the industry, and paint a picture of what the future may hold.
2014 Under-40 rankings sponsored by:
Denton Christner, 36, a Power Broker® in the Gaming and Hospitality category, started working as a file clerk in his father’s Allstate agency as a high school student. He stayed with Allstate through college and eventually became an agent at the age of 21.
After agency consolidation left him and other brokers with smaller books looking for other options, he took a tip from another family member and went the independent route, joining BayRisk Insurance Brokers at 24.
Eleven years later, Christner is vice president and has helped BayRisk build its biggest new business source: a program for food truck insurance. Taking advantage of social media and online marketing, he has used the Internet as a primary sales driver, bringing InsureMyFoodTruck.com to the top of search engine results lists.
“Trying to sell commercial insurance to business owners who are oftentimes 10, 20 or 30 years my senior was very difficult. That was a big obstacle as a young agent, trying to prove my professionalism.”
— Denton Christner, vice president, Bay Risk Insurance Brokers
“It was an amazing experience; totally life-changing,” Christner said. “I pretty much ate, slept and breathed food trucks for 18 months getting it launched.”
Lindsay Roos, 30, and a Power Broker® in the Pharmaceutical category, secured an internship with Marsh as a college junior with the help of a family member. In fact, internships and early training programs are a common thread among our young success stories.
“I interned in our Morristown, N.J., office for two years,” said Roos, a vice president and excess casualty placement broker at Bowring Marsh. “It was my first real work experience, and I really liked the work and the company. Most importantly, I really liked the people.” Marsh hired Roos into a graduate training program that gave her a well-rounded and formalized immersion in the industry alongside her peers.
Kate Simons, a 28-year-old Power Broker® finalist in the Retail category, took a summer internship with Aon as a college student “without really knowing what it was at first.” But the program drew her in, opening up the world of learning opportunities that the insurance industry has to offer.
“In this job, the thing I like is that you ultimately get to learn about all the industries your clients are in, whether it’s retail, real estate, manufacturing, food, and the list goes on and on,” she said.
Like Roos, Simons participated in an early career development program at the company. The 18-month training helped her home in on what aspects of insurance most appealed to her and exposed her to key mentors, leading her to her current position as senior broker.
“I also felt that the industry had a really good focus on developing young talent and investing in the future,” Simons said.
Indeed, internships and intensive training programs continue to be key tools in bringing new grads into the fold.
Big brokers like Aon, Marsh and Beecher Carlson reach out to colleges to find prospective talent and introduce them to the industry. If all goes according to plan, those interns become full-time hires.
A year or two of initial training for new employees gets their feet wet in every aspect of the business. Those onboarding programs help young brokers find what niche appeals to them, and in what function they can excel.
For many, that process helps young professionals move on from simply “falling into” insurance to really embracing it as a rewarding and exciting career.
As evidence of these programs’ successes, notice that this year’s “Under 40” class of winners and finalists includes 60 brokers, as opposed to last year’s 40. More young brokers are thriving in the business.
“The best experience comes from clinging onto some good people who are willing to teach you.”
— Lindsay Roos, vice president, Bowring Marsh
Yet, for an industry that invests considerable time and resources in developing new talent, the concern remains that not enough young people realize the benefits of working in insurance. In spite of a wealth of opportunity, the influx of new grads remains troublingly low.
“There are not enough young people getting into insurance, unfortunately,” Christner said. “It takes a lot of convincing and hand-holding and mentorship to get new producers settled into their career.”
Roos echoed that thought, noting that most college students aren’t necessarily looking for a professional career in insurance, but end up there via a tangential skill or interest.
That’s how a career in insurance brokering developed for Blythe O’Brien Hogan, a director in the Global Fine Arts Practice at Aon. O’Brien Hogan majored in art history as an undergraduate, then pursued a master’s degree in art business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. That got her interested in art protection, both for personal collections as well as in transit or on display in a gallery or museum. She eventually wrote her master’s thesis on the development of insurance and risk management for fine art.
“From there I segued into the very dynamic, but a little bit niche, risk management insurance industry for fine art collections,” she said.
Aon’s Global Fine Arts Practice, launched in 2005, allowed O’Brien Hogan, a Power Broker® in the Fine Arts category, to work more closely with all players in the art industry, from handlers, shippers, storage facilities, and conservators to appraisers and tax attorneys.
Despite being given opportunities and responsibilities early in their careers, many young brokers have had to overcome ageism in order to move ahead.
“Trying to sell commercial insurance to business owners who are oftentimes 10, 20 or 30 years my senior was very difficult,” Christner said. “That was a big obstacle as a young agent, trying to prove my professionalism.”
“It is challenging at times to get people to look past your age,” Simons said. “Being younger and still successful; sometimes, people tend to look for a little gray hair.”
Ultimately, though, a sound working knowledge of clients’ industries wins out, gaining their trust and building a positive reputation.
Seth Cohen, 30, and an Entertainment Power Broker®, worked around the challenges of youth and inexperience by focusing on educational opportunities and industry training.
“I realized I could really accelerate my experience beyond my years,” said Cohen, an entertainment area vice president with Arthur J. Gallagher. “I got my ARM and CPCU as quickly as I could. I took a UCLA filmmaking and production course that was very intensive. I continue to attend media law conferences. Staying on top of current affairs helps to stay ahead of your inexperience.”
A little persistence never hurt either.
“Hard work and perseverance, being creative and asking questions has been the way to work through all that,” Simons said.
Younger brokers also have the advantage of greater familiarity with changing technologies, which shape industry best practices in a number of ways. Social media and online marketing are becoming increasingly common and important ways to reach clients, as Christner proved with the success of his food truck program. Sophisticated data analysis and modeling are now equally invaluable items in the broker’s toolbox.
“The younger generation probably embraces it more and adapts better,” Simons said. “They have more innovative thoughts as far as asking, ‘What else can I do with this technology and data to look at things a different way?’ ”
Tips for Success
So what can entry-level brokers learn from our Under 40 winners and finalists? First and foremost: Pounce on every new venture.
“I would say take advantage of every single opportunity, meaning every chance to be involved with other professionals [in the industry],” O’Brien Hogan said.
Simons echoed that advice. “Jump on every opportunity, and there are many in the industry, but you have to make the most of them,” she said. “Work hard. Be confident.”
And that uncle, sister or cousin with experience in the field? Tap into their knowledge base, and pick mentors’ brains as often as possible.
“The best experience comes from clinging onto some good people who are willing to teach you,” Roos said.
Finally, the best brokers — no matter what their age — always have an in-depth knowledge of their customers’ industries. Specializing in areas of interest helps develop expertise that clients covet.
“Knowing the industry is key,” O’Brien Hogan said. “From all different angles — not just insurance, but all the little components that go into risk management.”
While challenges remain for the industry’s stability and growth potential, the growing number of Under 40 Power Broker® winners and finalists offers hope that the industry will remain dynamic for the future.
Listing of Power Broker Winners and Finalists Under 40:
Driving Success for GM
Al Gier, GM’s director of Global Risk Management & Insurance, felt so strongly about Elisa Black’s work in 2013 that he nominated her personally as a Power Broker®. That’s quite an endorsement. In fact, Gier and Frida Berry, GM’s manager of Liability Risk Financing, agree that not only did Black manage that critical global juggling act, but she did it with her professional, focused style.
“Elisa was instrumental in helping reduce collateral requirements and improving the efficiency of the global claims handling process,” Gier said. “Her client philosophy focuses on being prepared and setting the marketing standard at the forefront of the negotiation.”
Gier explained that any broker can negotiate with a carrier post-quote. More impressive is doing the legwork so you come to the table prepared to negotiate ahead of time, a Black trademark. Also, for a large global enterprise, he said, timing is everything. So finalizing financial negotiations early allows the time to fulfill the administrative and contractual obligations of an insured — the lifeline of most international programs.
Gier said Black is great at articulating obligations and time constraints.
Bermuda Excess Market Wizardry
With the automotive market continuing to recover, the Bermuda excess market is looking to boost premiums come renewal time. To help alleviate that pricing stress, Chris Heinicke and his Aon team do their best to negotiate with markets to keep premiums from climbing.
In 2013, Heinicke faced a specific challenge for a client that was in the midst of a claims issue with one market that had a sizable amount of capacity on the excess casualty program. The issue was on a completely separate line of business, but was enough of a problem that the client had made the decision to cut this market from all of their lines of business. That decision was made after the entire program had already been quoted at the expiring premium and there was little to no capacity left in Bermuda. Heinicke and his team worked quickly by increasing capacity with the only market in Bermuda that had something available, and then worked with the U.S. and London teams to get the terms, pricing and capacity needed to replace the market. In the end, the client was pleased with the results and impressed at the quick response.
“Chris’ knowledge of the Bermuda markets helped us structure a program with the broadest coverage,” said the liability risk financing manager from another large automaker. “We have a very good risk profile, and Chris ensures we aren’t being charged improperly.”
A risk manager from a third automaker credited Heinicke with doing a “fantastic job” in helping the company identify critical areas the Bermuda markets focus on, as well as what is needed to communicate those key areas to underwriters.
Marshalling the Marsh Resources
In this case, the product over-shipment would create a much larger balance sheet exposure than the client would normally face. Also, the client’s treasury department wanted to use the large shipment to enhance cash flow as well as its borrowing base. Kowalski found a solution involving both private insurance and governmental support to manuscript a program that not only provided vital risk mitigation, but also enhanced this client’s cash flow management needs.
To make things happen, Kowalski often collaborates with Marsh brokerage teams on a global scale — from Detroit, New York, and Chicago to Bermuda, London, Zurich and various offices throughout Asia. Along the way, he has successfully placed complex risk finance programs involving more than 73 global markets and billions of dollars of capacity for a single line of coverage.
“Michael is our client executive and we have worked together for a number of years,” said Al Gier, director, Global Risk Management & Insurance at General Motors. “He has the skills we like to see in a broker — mainly, responsiveness and delivering the proper resources quickly.”
A Wake up Call for Any Company That Touches Food
It’s not easy to be in the food industry these days.
First, there is tougher regulation. On August 30, 2015, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) required companies to file planning paperwork for Preventive Controls for Human Food. The final FSMA rules take effect on August 30, 2016.
Next, increases in food recalls, some deadly, are on the rise. In early September, 9,000 cases of frozen corn were pulled from shelves after a listeria scare. A few days later, a salmonella outbreak in cucumbers imported from Mexico resulted in one death, while sickening hundreds of consumers nationwide.
Courts are getting tougher, too, as owners/executives in particularly egregious cases involving consumer deaths have been prosecuted criminally, with one receiving a recommendation for a life sentence.
Finally, advances in science – including whole-genome sequencing technology, which maps DNA of microbes to more easily pinpoint precisely where contamination occurs – can expose every player in the supply chain to potential losses and lawsuits.
“Few companies have the balance sheet or brand loyalty to survive a serious recall. Outbreaks, new regulations, prosecutions and science have made purchasing product recall and contamination insurance literally an act of survival for companies of all ages and sizes,” said Jane McCarthy, Senior Vice President of Global Crisis Management at Liberty International Underwriters (LIU), who has over 30 years of industry experience.
Working with growers, processors, manufacturers, importers, shippers, packagers, distributors, wholesalers or retailers, LIU’s policy provides indemnity to pay for losses a company might incur from a recall, including logistic expenses, lost income and access to crisis management and public relations consultants.
Legislation tightens on food-related companies
Passed in 2011, the FSMA gives the Food and Drug Administration a far more proactive weapon in the war on tainted food, as the focus shifts to prevention combined with the FDA’s newfound authority to close businesses that aren’t complying with FSMA rules and regulations.
In addition to the August 30, 2015 deadline for filing paperwork for preventive controls, as part of the law, all companies need to be registered if they do anything with food in the United States, or a company is a foreign entity bringing food into the U.S.
“It’s the law and every regulation and benchmark has to be met,” McCarthy said. “The FDA will shut someone down if they don’t think a company is handling a food product properly. With these new rules and regulations, the whole industry has to change.”
With LIU’s product contamination policy, companies have 24/7 access to pre-loss consultancy through red24, one of the world’s leading security consultants and global crisis management consultancies. For example, they’ll work with clients to best prepare them to meet the FDA’s 48-hour response deadline should a food contamination or product recall incident occur.
Costly outbreaks on the rise
According to a Wall Street Journal article, food recalls from 2012 to 2014 increased more than five times compared to the total number of recalls from the prior eight years combined. The Journal also reported that foodborne illness is often never formally reported, so about 48 million Americans, or one in six, get sick each year from food. The CDC estimates 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths from tainted food.
Food contaminations happen in two main categories: allergens (peanuts, etc.) and pathogens (bacteria). There were four listeria outbreaks in 2014 alone, compared with one in each year from 2011 to 2013. Listeria is a particularly tricky and virulent pathogen that continues to survive and blossom, even in refrigerated environments. Listeria does not impact the appearance, taste or smell of food it invades, so a company in the food industry can only confirm contamination through testing or, unfortunately, once a customer becomes ill.
“Listeria is one of the worst nightmares. Not only is it deadly, but once it gets into a plant, it’s very difficult to eradicate,” said industry veteran Meg Sutton, LIU’s Senior Claim Officer. “It sneaks into drains and crevices that you thought were clean. Attempts to clean those drains and crevices, if done improperly, can result in aerosolizing the listeria and spreading it throughout the facility. In some cases, companies are forced to shut down the plant for extended periods of time, resulting in significant business interruption and loss of revenue.”
Courts get tough on deadly cases
With the increase and severity of food contamination recalls rising, the courts are getting tougher too. The food industry was rocked last month by a recommended life sentence for the ex-CEO of a peanut manufacturing company following a multiple-felony conviction for knowingly selling tainted peanut butter that ended up killing nine people.
“The judge ended up sentencing him to 28 years in federal prison, still the harshest penalty ever in a case of food contamination. While our policy won’t cover your defense if you’ve committed a crime, the penalty is another wake up call for the food industry that executives at the highest levels will be held accountable,” McCarthy said.
Science boosts detection, transparency
By using today’s scientific methods to trace back to the source (grocery store, restaurant, wholesaler, etc.), experts can determine the production facility or farm that originated the food or food additive. They can swab the facility for DNA matches and pinpoint the contamination.
Considering those four prime drivers, it’s not surprising that interest in food product recall and contamination coverage from companies of all sizes is gaining momentum.
“We don’t want them to just buy our insurance,” McCarthy said. “We want them to be better for it with us as their partner by making sure they have the right coverage in place and improving their business from a health, safety and compliance standpoint.”
Liberty International Underwriters is the marketing name for the broker-distributed specialty lines business operations of Liberty Mutual Insurance. Certain coverage may be provided by a surplus lines insurer. Surplus lines insurers do not generally participate in state guaranty funds and insureds are therefore not protected by such funds. This literature is a summary only and does not include all terms, conditions, or exclusions of the coverage described. Please refer to the actual policy issued for complete details of coverage and exclusions.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.