The CITB Top 10 Under 40
It’s been a hot, sticky summer. But four industry experts—Shari Dodsworth (Northbridge Insurance); Sandra Henkel (Trisura Guarantee Insurance Company); Paul Jackson (Gore Mutual); and Colette Taylor (RSA Insurance)— stayed cool and selected this year’s top 10 brokers under 40. Read on to find out why they’re the top.
And remember to go online in October and vote for your favourite top three brokers in our peer-to-peer awards, which we’ll hand out at the Top Broker Summit on November 14.
The dad of Sam Cowan’s highschool friend owned a brokerage, and one day Sam asked him what he did. His friend’s father explained it: he sold groceries. “If someone puts a car on the highway, they have to buy something from me. A commercial operator must prove they have liability insurance before they can work, so they have to buy something from me. That’s how I sell groceries,” said his friend’s dad.
Sam was interested, but his friend’s dad told Sam to work for an insurance company first. In 2000, Sam started at Wawanesa Mutual Insurance co.
Now, with 16 years in the industry, he’s partner and vice-president, sales and marketing, at RHC Insurance Brokers.
Recently, Sam initiated a new partnership with a commercial salesperson in Cranbrook, B.C. “He was the main commercial person in town, so it was a natural fit,” Sam says. “The location opened on July 15, and we are seeing some good growth already.”
Sam has also reorganized RHC’s commercial team into a commission structure. “We did a natural talents questionnaire on all the staff to find out if they were naturally set up for sales or service,” he says. Staff were then moved into positions that exposed their natural talent, so they’d stay with the company and have greater success. “We do a weekly check-in where we discuss their pipeline development, new business opportunities and retention strategies.” These changes have helped increase the commercial lines business— last year, it grew 34%.
Under Sam’s leadership, RHC has also engaged in sub-brokering. “We found that many smaller brokers needed a market that was flexible with their clients,” he says. “We’ve partnered with a few brokers to provide them with another market alternative. This helps us increase our volume at Lloyd’s, which helps open doors to new products and contracts.”
Even though his grandfather and father were in insurance, Adam Hare did everything he could to stay away from the family business. “I worked a few summers [at family business Petley-Hare], but it was totally not me. That pushed me to do my own thing.”
Adam worked at Universal Music Canada for six years, managing a digital team. “I was doing the marketing and posters and T-shirts.”
Meanwhile, Adam’s dad had become increasingly aware that customers’ needs were changing. He wanted to explore taking his business more digital, but he didn’t have the expertise in that area. “No one in the insurance world had any expertise,” says Adam. “They were entrenched in 30 or 40 years of insurance but knew nothing about the online world.”
At the same time, Adam was investigating his own future opportunities with other digital agencies but had also decided to explore the possibility of bringing his knowledge to the family business. One father/son movie night and a chat later, and Adam started as the director of marketing & communications for Petley-Hare.
“I thought I was coming to spend a year here to be a digital consultant, get them on the right path, set them up and then go back to my other life,” he says. “I got here and realized there were a bunch of opportunities in an industry that was going through a major shift—and that was my forte.”
After working within Petley-Hare for over a year on its digital strategy, Adam discovered a huge opportunity in the online space. “That was the birth of Insurance Jack in January 2016. Both companies are still operational, just two completely different models.
“Insurance is a tough nut to crack,” he says. “It isn’t a sexy thing, but we’re doing everything we can to make it a unique great experience online.”
Christian Hutchison was born into the insurance world. “We had a family brokerage in North Bay, Ont., and I worked for my father for a period of time,” he says. “But he wouldn’t hire me until I’d done my rst year of business school.”
He worked right through university in the family business until his father sold the company in 2001. “I grew up in the brokerage world, but the reality was that I needed to branch out and experience more than what I was experiencing in North Bay.”
So he headed to Toronto and took a job at an insurance company for eight years. “I always knew I was going to get back to the broker side, and as I started to get closer and closer to the brokers I was dealing with [at the insurance company], I met Ross McDougall [owner of McDougall Insurance Brokers].
Christian bought into McDougall and now, as partner and regional director, oversees its western region—which covers Durham Region and Northumberland County (Cobourg, Courtice and Oshawa). He also manages his own commercial lines book of business in Ontario, and holds out-of-province licences for Alberta and B.C.
Christian travels quite a between between the offices—typically, he’s on the road three days a week—but that doesn’t faze him. “I’ve always been very, very busy juggling different duties at the same time,” he says. “It’s part of our requirement and what we need to do.”
Partners at McDougall are also salespeople, but Christian says not all firms have that requirement. “You have to be involved in sales to be able to manage sales; you’ve got to know what’s happening. It gives you that credibility. The insurance business is really demanding. You’ve got to be in the trenches with everybody.”
David Kennedy’s undergrad degree was far removed from the world of insurance—he studied geography and economics at Wilfred Laurier University. “When I started university, there was always a thought that I might like to become a teacher,” he says. “My mom was a teacher and my father worked in insurance. I was sort of wavering between insurance and teaching.”
David wavered toward insurance, and began as a broker at Frost Insurance in 2003. Four years later, he joined Darling Insurance & Realty Ltd., where now, as vice-president and partner, he runs the Bobcaygeon, Fenelon Falls and Toronto offices.
In Bobcaygeon, David set up a preferred rates program with the town marina, which has been there for about three generations. “It expanded beyond just getting referrals from the marina. Now we have preferred rates with different marinas, and it’s really helped bring business through the door. It’s a monoline account, and now we can expand on that account with our cottage, home and auto businesses.”
In Toronto, David drew the millennials and online shoppers to insurance by setting up an online site. “That’s primarily what we see in the Toronto branch,” he says. “I think 95% of what comes through the office is online, but that’s throughout southern Ontario, not just Toronto.”
David definitely thinks online is the way to go—especially when it comes to growing the business. “With our branch offices, most are in rural Ontario—small towns and cottage country,” he says.
“We needed to think outside of the box and start growing our offices without just people walking through the door. We’ve reached a peak in a lot of our branch offices. [Online] is a way to draw more business through the door, where we can touch all of Ontario, as opposed to just the small towns we work in.”
David Le both fell into insurance and chose it. While at Mount Royal College, he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do. “I saw a poster that said 100% job placement in insurance, so I talked one of my teachers, and she said, ‘You know what, you should probably give that a try.’”
David admits he was a C or B student, but “the moment I started in insurance [with Mount Royal’s insurance co-op program], I got straight A’s. It was just that passion.”
Since then, David has worked on all three sides of the insurance business: clients, companies and brokerages. While he did some underwriting, he always had an eye for the client side. He finally got the client side opportunity at Enbridge, worked in sales at Finning Insurance Services, and then catapulted to JLT, Enbridge’s broker at the time. It was at Finning JLT when he realized he loved sales. “Since being on the broker side of the business, I realize now that sales is what I love and I am good at.”
But, last year, BFL gave him an opportunity to become an owner. “I started to think about where I am in my life now. I’m a recent dad…and all of a sudden I was thinking about things beyond just a paycheque.”
Now as vice-president and client executive for BFL, he continues in sales and loves it for the problem-solving it brings. “It’s coming up with a solution that’s not everyday—that’s how I’ve been successful. Anybody can sell a policy; anybody can sell a sea of services. I come at it very differently. I ask, ‘What is it that you need, or what is it that you’re not getting now?’”
“I always thought the client side was where I was going to hang my hat,” he says. “Even my parents were dumbfounded with the fact I was going to the broker side to do sales. But this is what I love. And when you love something, you do it well.”
In 1983, Colin Marshall’s father started in the insurance business. “He took me around with him, and we do a lot of rural risk, so I’d be sitting at kitchen tables and measuring barns with him. I’ve always known since I was just about 12 years old that I was going to go into insurance.”
Now as vice-president of the family business, Colin has many responsibilities—from ensuring commercial accounts are up to date to managing the staff in the Orillia office, which he tries to visit once a week.
“They all come to me and ask me questions, and I seem to have the answers,” he says. He also seems to know how to manage different personalities. “You can tell some people don’t want you to criticize them, so you have to go in with kid mitts on and be sensitive to the individual but be constructive. And you have to monitor that they actually can make the change,” he says. “That can be really hard when you’re wearing multiple hats like I do.”
But Colin takes it in stride and knows that being busy means more business. “People still seem to want everything right now. People still want me to come and visit. They still want me to be able to give them answers and options. And I just find if you’re able to do that and kill them with kindness, you can win accounts that way.”
And while he says people find the company with an Internet search, they’ll actually call in. “We used to have quote online, but it wasn’t used a whole lot. And I think that’s just the demographic we’re in here. We do a lot of rural business, and so those people know who I am, so that’s why we do business together.”
Crystal Petrie sold real estate for five years before moving to insurance. “I enjoyed the business side of things,” she says, “but it wasn’t the right fit. I wanted a similar industry but with a little more structure.”
So she wrote her CAIB 1 exam—not realizing there was an easier entry-level exam (Fundamentals of Insurance) she could have taken—and landed her first job at Insure BC.
While at Insure, Crystal had a mentor who coached her on what to ask of clients and what kind of information to look for—and was very glad for it. “She pushed me to look outside of the box and really helped me understand the underlying concepts of insurance in general. She also helped me to understand the value of the relationships we build within our industry and how important it is to surround yourself with the right team.”
Now as team leader at Capri Insurance, Crystal handles her own book of business and also coaches and mentors her own staff. “I really want to see people reach their full potential, and whether that’s being within my team or moving up to a higher position, either is great for me.”
That coaching and mentoring comes in the form of customer service training. “One of our standards of delivery is a high level of customer service, and that does require some coaching and mentoring,” she says. But the coaching has paid off. Crystal’s team has seen steady growth, at about a 16% overall increase year-to-date, which she attributes to stellar customer service. “The goal for the year was 5%, so we’re doing pretty good.”
Her mentoring and coaching continues outside of work, too, with Junior Achievement BC. Crystal volunteers in a Grade 10 or 11 classroom to talk about business topics such as running a business, getting a job, setting goals and writing a resumé. “The stuff they wish they taught you in high school,” she says. “The things you’re going to use.”
Maxime Poulin began as a commercial underwriter in Montreal at ING Insurance in 2003.
Then he moved to Nova Scotia. “I wanted to work in an English environment, so I went for a couple of months to their Halifax office.”
Four years later, he joined Compu-Quote, where he learned about the tools and processes that brokers use across Canada. While rewarding, it wasn’t where he wanted to be. “You see clients once a year when you’re a provider. What I wanted was to be more involved with the brokers.”
In 2009, he worked for Axa as a business development representative in charge of brokerages, acquisitions, transitions and growth. It was his time Axa that led him to Ostiguy & Gendron, which was one of his brokerages. “I worked with Gendron for a couple of years and learned their principles and became friends with them.” In 2012, he joined the brokerage.
“I didn’t take the time to think if it was a good move; it was a very natural environment. I already knew the people, and I always had that entrepreneurial fibre. I knew some day I would move into the brokerage. I still think there’s a right opportunity; it could be when you’re 20 years old or 40 years old or 65 years old—but you should wait for the right opportunity.”
“I see a lot of people moving from the insurer side to the broker side on the misconception that it’s all playing golf and having fun and having drinks. And then they’re really disappointed and they end up lonely producers doing nothing interesting.”
He joined Ostiguy & Gendron as the business development manager and was responsible for the acquisition of Jean-Paul Gauthier Assurance. “I knew he wanted to sell and I thought the fit would be good,” he says.
Now as executive vice-president, Maxime is in charge of strategic development, acquisitions insurer relations and the trucking division. And while he does play golf, he also says he works very, very hard.
“There’s a joke amongst people in the industry that no one grows up wanting to be in the insurance industry necessarily,” says Amanda Rudnicki. “Originally, I took fashion merchandising at school [Fanshawe College in London, Ont.], so insurance wasn’t naturally the next step.”
However, some connections at Marsh knew of an opening; she thought she’d give it a try. She started out in an insurance assistant position, then got her broker’s licence and worked her way up within the department.
Now as senior vice-president, Amanda is responsible for the placement of complex insurance programs in large international accounts in the food and beverage and retail areas.
She is also the commerce chair for the Women’s Exchange, one of Marsh’s colleague resource groups. “Our goal here in Canada is to empower women, open up the conversation, really try to drive change. We hear about this all over the place now and we’ve made a lot of headway within the insurance industry overall in trying to support change and support women.”
“One of the reasons why I wanted to participate in this forum was partly because I’ve been successful within Marsh because of the support of senior leaders within the firm, but I don’t know necessarily that all colleagues and all women have had the same experience within Marsh or outside of Marsh.”
While, historically, the insurance industry has been male-dominated, Amanda notes that’s changing in the overall population, except in the senior leadership positions, “where it starts to drop off.”
“We as women offer a lot of value, and we’re dominating from just a pure ratio.
What is it that is stopping us from having those management positions? Is it we don’t have the appropriate support to manage our families and do it all? Are we not being given the same opportunities? Or is it we’re just not trying hard enough?”
Whatever it is, Amanda says “management and leadership do have to do things differently in order to support all of us.”
Brandi White answered a newspaper ad in the fall of 2008. That’s how she got into insurance. “Emergency services dispatch has really crazy hours,” she says. “That wasn’t the way to raise a family.”
So Brandi was hired on at Dowling Insurance as an auto broker. But five years later, her life had changed; she had become single. “I needed to gain more income to become the sole provider.” She got “an amazing offer written on a napkin at a lunch meeting” from Arthur J. Gallagher and took the job. “It was really hard, because these people [at Dowling] were my friends. I’m still very much a supporter of those people I started with.”
After one more move to a smaller company, she ended up at MIG in June 2015, where she is now a multiline digital broker—and is thankful for MIG’s approach to work/life balance. “I work from home and I work from an office. MIG gave me all the resources to be anywhere I need to be for my clients 24 hours a day.” She’s reviewed applications while sitting in the bleachers at baseball games and is constantly processing online leads.
And for those clients wary of the online world? “I meet my clients if they don’t know how to use computers or they’re disabled. I’ll go to their house. I’m just doing as much as I can to accommodate people and make it easy for them.”
She also makes it easy for her students. Brandi teaches the challenging CAIB 2 course, and, since she’s been teaching it, she says the pass rates have improved. Brandi really stresses to her students “how important they are to these people’s livelihoods—especially when you’re talking about businesses. These people are taking out loans, they’re putting up their houses—very serious stuff. I make it very serious and use examples.”
Whether online, on the road or in the classroom, Brandi is “wherever insurance needs me.”
Copyright © 2016 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine