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.”
From Coast to Coast
The 3,920-ton Left Coast Lifter, originally built by Fluor Construction to help build the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco, will be integral in rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge by 2018.
The Lifter and the Statue of Liberty
When he got the news, Scot Burford could see it as clearly as if somebody handed him an 8 by 11 color photograph.
On January 30, the Left Coast Lifter, a massive crane originally built by Fluor Construction to help build the new Bay Bridge in San Francisco, steamed past the Statue of Liberty. Excited observers, who saw the crane entering New York Harbor, dubbed it the “The Hudson River Hoister,” honoring its new role in rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River.
Powered by two stout-hearted tug boats, the Lauren Foss and the Iver Foss, it took more than five weeks for the huge crane to complete the 6,000 mile ocean journey from San Francisco to New York via the Panama Canal.
Scot took a deep breath and reflected on all the work needed to plan every aspect of the crane’s complicated journey.
A risk engineer at Liberty International Underwriters (LIU), Burford worked with a specialized team of marine insurance and risk management professionals which included John Phillips, LIU’s Hull Product Line Leader, Sean Dollahon, an LIU Marine underwriter, and Rick Falcinelli, LIU’s Marine Risk Engineering Manager, to complete a detailed analysis of the crane’s proposed route. Based on a multitude of factors, the LIU team confirmed the safety of the route, produced clear guidelines for the tug captains that included weather restrictions, predetermined ports of refuge in the case of bad weather as well as specifying the ballast conditions and rigging of tow gear on the tugs.
Of equal importance, the deep expertise and extensive experience of the LIU team ensured that the most knowledgeable local surveyors and tugboat captains with the best safety records were selected for the project. After all, the most careful of plans will only be as effective as the people who execute them.
The tremendous size of the Left Coast Lifter presented some unique challenges in preparing for its voyage.
The original intention was to dry tow the crane by loading and securing it on a semi-submersible vessel. However, the lack of an American-flagged vessel that could accommodate the Left Coast Lifter created many logistical complexities and it was decided that the crane would be towed on its own barge.
At first, the LIU team was concerned since the barge was not intended for ocean travel and therefore lacked towing skegs and other structural components typically found on oceangoing barges.
But a detailed review of the plan with the client and contractors gave the LIU team confidence. In this instance, the sheer weight and size of the crane provided sufficient stability, and with the addition of a second tug on the barge’s stern, the LIU team, with its knowledge of barges and tugs, was confident the configuration was seaworthy and the barge would travel in a straight line. The team approved the plan and the crane began its successful voyage.
As impressive as the crane and its voyage were, it was just one piece in hundreds that needed to be underwritten and put in place for the Tappan Zee Bridge project to come off.
The rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge, due to be completed in 2018, is the largest bridge construction project in the modern history of New York. The bridge is 3.1 miles long and will cost more than $3 billion to construct. The twin-span, cable-stayed bridge will be anchored to four mid-river towers.
When veteran contractors American Bridge, Fluor Corp., Granite Construction Northeast and Traylor Bros. formed a joint venture and won the contract to rebuild the Tappan Zee, one of the first things the consortium needed to do was find an insurance partner with the right coverages and technical expertise.
The Marsh broker, Ali Rizvi, Senior Vice President, working with the consortium, was well known to the LIU underwriting and engineering teams. In addition, Burford and the broker had worked on many projects in the past and had a strong relationship. These existing relationships were vital in facilitating efficient communication and data gathering, particularly given the scope and complexity of a project like the Tappan Zee.
And the scope of the project was indeed immense – more than 200 vessels, coming from all over the United States, would be moving construction equipment up the Hudson River.
An integrated team of LIU underwriters and risk engineers (including Burford, Phillips, Dollahon and Falcinelli) got to work evaluating the risk and the proper controls that the project required. Given the global scope of the project, the team’s ability to tap into their tight-knit global network of fellow LIU marine underwriters and engineers with deep industry relationships and expertise was invaluable.
In addition to the large number of vessels, the underwriting process was further complicated by many aspects of the project still being finalized.
“Because the consortium had just won this account, they were still working on contracts and contractors to finalize the deal and were unsure as to where most of the equipment and materials would be coming from,” Burford said.
Despite the massive size of the project and large number of stakeholders, LIU quickly turned around a quote involving three lines of marine coverage, Marine Liability, Project Cargo and Marine Hull & Machinery.
How could LIU produce such a complicated quote in a short period of time? It comes down to integrating risk engineers into the underwriting process, possessing deep industry experience on a global scale and having strong relationships that facilitate communication and trust.
Photo Credit: New York State Thruway Authority
When completed in 2018, the Tappan Zee will be eight lanes, with four emergency pullover lanes. Commuters sailing across it in their sedans and SUVs might appreciate the view of the Hudson, but they might never grasp the complexity of insuring three marine lines, covering the movements of hundreds of marine vessels carrying very expensive cargo.
Not to mention ferrying a 3,920-ton crane from coast to coast without a hitch.
But that’s what insurance does, in its quiet profundity.
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.