September 26, 2018 by Sarah Cunningham-Scharf, Brooke Smith and Danielle Kubes
It’s that time again—time to showcase some of the brightest talents working in the P&C industry today with our annual Top 10 Under 40.
As usual, you didn’t make it easy on us. Our office was flooded with nominations that came in from across the country. Fortunately, we had a little help from our panel of judges:
Sandra Henkel (Trisura Guarantee)
Tom Reikman (Economical Insurance)
Shari Dodsworth (Northbridge Insurance)
Stephen Corea (Gore Mutual)
Read on to meet this year’s Top 10. And don’t forget to visit our website in October, when you can vote for your three favourites. The winners will be revealed at our Top Broker Summit in November.
Vice-President, National Construction Practice, Marsh (Toronto, Ont.)
By Sarah Cunningham-Scharf
Christopher Graves first entered the insurance industry as a surety intern, and he’s come a long way since then. He’s now vice-president of Marsh Canada’s national construction practice.
“I always had a fascination with construction,” Graves says. “It’s a very client-facing business—you’re highly involved in their day-to-day—compared to some other kinds of insurance, where it’s an annual conversation.”
Seeing a major project through to completion—from the tender process to construction, optimization and maintenance—is his favourite part of the job.
“To say you had some part in these very large projects that everyone’s aware of and can see going up—that, for me, is the key.”
Graves says networking was an important part of building his client base and advancing through the ranks.
“The construction business is fairly small—folks mix and speak a lot,” he says. “If you’re known in that space, it’s more likely people hear your name.”
He worked his way from associate client executive to VP at Marsh within two years by becoming an expert on the industry and talking to clients about what matters most to them.
“Instead of having an insurance-focused discussion, where a lot of clients tend to lose interest, it’s a discussion about their business,” he says. “By doing that, it enables you to understand the things that keep them up at night much better.”
For other young people looking to advance in the insurance industry, Graves suggests, “Pick your niche. There are different views on whether you should be a specialist or a generalist, but when you get into the larger space, being a specialist is key.”
Account Executive, Vezina Assurances Inc., a Marsh & Mclennan Agency LLC Company (Montreal, Que.)
By Danielle Kubes
Jonathan Langlois ended up an insurance broker by accident.
As a child, he dreamed of being a movie director, which led to him studying art in college. Unsure of his next steps, he took a gig as a bicycle messenger. But sharing the roads with cars while on a bike proved too dangerous a career, so he decided to take an indoor job. That led to him being an office clerk in a brokerage.
“As I loved the work atmosphere and the opportunities the brokerage field could offer, I decided to undertake insurance studies to obtain my brokerage licence,” he says.
Langlois has always risen to the occasion when it comes to a good challenge. He climbed the ladder from clerk to portfolio manager for Vezina Assurances, where he now specializes in damage insurance. But he hasn’t forgotten the adventurous spirit of his youth; he’s developed his business in a remote region of Quebec, and he flies up every month to deliver his services.
Indeed, what he loves most about his work is the fact that every day is different and it’s impossible to get bored.
“The field of brokerage is for you if you are willing to work in a constantly changing environment where you learn every day,” he says.
His favourite part of the job is the client relationships he gets to build. He’s proactive and always goes out of his way for his clients. In fact, he’s so successful at establishing trust and networking that he’s doubled his book in the past five years, largely due to referrals and introductions.
With all the changes happening in insurance, it’s difficult to predict where the industry will be in five years. But whatever the future holds, Langlois will be ready.
CEO, Coburn Insurance (Mount Forest, Ont.)
By Brooke Smith
Andrew Coburn says being selected as one of the Top 10 Under 40 comes as a shock. “Maybe in five years, I thought I’d be up for consideration,” he says, “but I feel like we’re not even close to accomplishing what I set out to accomplish.”
But he has accomplished much in the last seven years. After playing professional hockey for a year overseas, he returned to Canada in March 2011 to work in the family brokerage, starting out in the mailroom with policy renewals. He got his CAIB in 2014 and became CEO two years ago.
One of his greatest achievements has been bringing Coburn Insurance into the 21st century. Since his return, the brokerage has undergone a dramatic modernization. “Our workflows and efficiencies were very outdated. So, the last few years, I’ve just tried to build a foundation on which we can grow,” he says. “We’re trying to make it easier on the staff and clients to conduct business and be much more efficient. We went fully paperless a couple of years ago.”
Coburn has also helped the brokerage expand further into commercial insurance, going from a 75/25 personal/commercial split to a 60/40 split within the last two years. “We’ve looked at different segments, exposing a couple of small niche markets,” he says. “That 15-point swing helps us a lot in what we’re trying to achieve.”
One of the keys to Coburn’s success is not being afraid to take risks. That’s why he is constantly evaluating his brokerage’s workflows in an effort to maximize efficiency—and customer satisfaction.
“We conduct quarterly reports on different processes, and we’ve changed our processes three quarters in a row,” he says. “I often seek help or advice from other brokers or consultants, and always try to learn how to do things better.”
Regional Sales Leader, Commercial Insurance at Valley First, a Division of First West Credit Union (Kelowna, B.C.)
By Sarah Cunningham-Scharf
Garrett Jones has an impressive track record in the insurance industry. And it’s all because of one core value: his passion for the community.
He’s relatively new to the brokerage world, having joined Kelowna, B.C.-based Valley First, a division of First West Credit Union, as their regional sales leader for commercial insurance in 2017.
So, how did a former RBC Insurance senior advisor and Allstate agency manager become the head of a brokerage, managing a team of direct reports and selling commercial insurance for the first time? By building relationships—both personally and professionally.
“It’s key, having a diverse network,” Jones says. “I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to meet some amazing individuals.”
His community involvement—he’s served as a member of not-for-profit boards of directors and coached kids’ sports teams—has helped him develop the leadership skills he draws on today.
“To have direct reports is a new era in my career,” he says. “The first thing I wanted to do was lead by example, taking more of a coach mentality. My biggest objective for my management style was to set the pace and create a work ethic.”
Since becoming the commercial insurance lead at Valley First, his team has grown its total book of business by 15.8%. But achievements like that aren’t what drive Jones.
“Working for a credit union that’s putting its money back into the community is why I made the move to Valley First,” he says. “The insurance industry does so much for communities. We need to do a better job of communicating that to the next generation.”
Partner and Account Executive, Jones DesLauriers Insurance (Mississauga, Ont.)
By Sarah Cunningham-Scharf
After graduating from college, Dina Godinho knew she had to find a career. Thankfully, a family friend pointed her toward insurance. Twelve years later, she’s the youngest partner at Jones DesLauriers Insurance, based in Mississauga, Ont.
“You can go any direction you choose in this industry—it’s just a matter of finding your passion,” Godinho says. “I started off my career as an account assistant and worked my way through the ranks with guidance from various mentors.”
To help Godinho find her passion, her mentors asked her where she saw herself at different milestones in her career—two years, five years, 10 years in. That helped her focus on three niches: technology, hospitality and D&O.
Focusing on technology was a strategic choice she made early in her career.
“One of the challenges I faced when I started as a producer was having the stigma of being younger in the industry. [With tech companies], I was sitting in front of people who were the same age as me, and there were no stigmas attached to age.”
To build up her clientele, Godinho prioritized becoming a subject matter expert who could have conversations with clients and prospects about the trends, opportunities and risks in their industries.
“Focusing on the client experience, word of mouth spread quickly and referrals were coming faster than I could keep up with,” she says.
But it is Godinho’s focus on exceptional customer service that truly sets her apart.
“My mentor gave me this motto: there are never problems, only solutions. So that’s been my driving factor to be able to provide a great client experience.”
CEO and Co-founder, Zensurance (Toronto, Ont.)
By Brooke Smith
Danish Yusuf didn’t take a typical path into the insurance field.
He was an IBM software developer before moving into consulting, where he worked with some of the largest P&C insurers in North America and Western Europe. It was during this time that he noticed that much of the industry’s focus was on personal lines business—there was almost none on small and mid-size commercial.
“When I peeled apart the financials, the small and mid-size were most profitable from the loss-ratio standpoint, but horrible on the expense ratio side, given how manual [the process] was,” he recalls.
This led him and his business partner to create Zensurance, an online brokerage focusing on small and mid-size commercial clients. Yusuf began selling policies in the traditional way, getting on the phone and really getting into the “nitty gritty” of client businesses. He still has those clients today.
“They were our guinea pigs,” he says. “We learned from them and they’re still with us, but they buy and manage their policies online now.”
Yusuf’s continued success has not gone unnoticed by the industry: Travelers recently acquired a majority stake in Zensurance. Although the company is known for its user-friendly online presence, Yusuf says that it’s what goes on behind the scenes that really makes Zensurance stand out.
“Only 5% of our effort is what you see on the website; 95% is everything that happens in the background,” he says.
That includes spending about 100 hours on a given industry, drilling down to understand its unique risks.
“When someone goes to our site and the application is completed, I’d argue our application of underwriting rules is better than the standard broker, because we really look at what drives risk,” he says.
Senior Vice-president, National Sales Leader, Private Client Services, Marsh Canada (Toronto, Ont.)
By Brooke Smith
Anton Antonov was hired at Marsh after he graduated from York University in 2003 with an honours degree in public policy and administration. “I literally graduated and then the next week I was at work,” he recalls.
He worked as a broker in the marine cargo department, where he had the opportunity to work on a niche business—fine art and specie—in addition to his other duties.
After about four and a half years, he left for XL Catlin, essentially becoming a part-time U.S. employee handling fine art and specie underwriting for much of the U.S. book of business.
However, with two small children at home, travelling between Toronto and New York was cutting into Antonov’s family time. Marsh Private Client Services offered him a job he just couldn’t refuse and, in December 2016, Antonov became the national head of sales for the private client segment.
In 2017, he was only one of two Canadians selected to participate in the Certified Advisors of Personal Insurance program at the Wharton Business School. For his capstone project, Antonov focused on creating a uniform submission form for prospective clients.
“It seemed like every one of our account executives had a saved document that they’d tinker with,” he says.
So Antonov partnered with IT to create “a beautiful-looking submissions document.”
“It became a very standardized document that now every single one of our account advisors is using coast to coast,” he says.
“I’m excited to be back at Marsh. I’m kind of the new old guy around,” he says. “I don’t consider myself a young professional anymore. I’m just going to shoot for the professional from now on—and cut the ‘young’ out.”
Surety Broker, BFL (Edmonton, Alta.)
By Brooke Smith
Jocelyn Prentice stands out in the insurance industry. The former paralegal joined her father’s insurance brokerage, Foster Park Brokers, to help set up a surety department. She’s one of very few women in the surety field.
“In the world of surety, it’s a very specialized job,” she says. “You spend a lot of time with contractors, on the road, and in construction companies’ offices.”
It’s a job that “can be a little intimidating because you are dealing in an industry that is typically male,” Prentice says.
“It’s old-fashioned, if you like, especially here in Alberta. The construction guys like to deal with men. However, I think it’s becoming a lot more accepted [for women to be in the field]; it certainly has compared to what it would have been.”
Prentice, certainly, has been accepted by the construction industry.
“I’m not shy. I’m a real people person and interested in helping people, getting to know their businesses, who they are,” she says.
Earlier this year, she joined BFL, where she had the opportunity to start her own surety department in Edmonton.
“Although [BFL is] a national company, they’ve only had an office here in Edmonton for about two years,” Prentice says. She adds that she’s the sole person in her department, though she does have support in Calgary and Vancouver.
She also says every day offers something different—but that’s what she loves about her job.
“You’re dealing will all different facets of the construction industry, right from general contractors to many different subsectors: electrical, plumbing, mechanical, lots of landscapers,” she says. “You get to really deal with so many different companies that form the backbone of Alberta.”
Vice-president, Guardsman Insurance Services Inc. (Kanata, Ont.)
By Danielle Kubes
Thomas Watson has been working in insurance since he was basically a child. At 14, he took a summer job at Guardsman Insurance, where he continued to work part-time throughout high school and university.
“I basically fell into insurance and haven’t looked back since,” Watson says.
His career has grown from working in accounts to technical support and customer relations, all the way to his current role as vice-president.
The hours have changed since his early days; the insurance business is far more of a 24/7 job now, and out-of-office hours are required to keep up. Nevertheless, his dedication to the business has never wavered, and it may indeed be in his blood—he’s a third-generation insurance broker in his family.
“I just enjoy working with people,” he says. “It’s a really public-facing job and it’s a lot of fun to work with different people and generally help them solve problems they didn’t even know they had.”
Watson discovered he enjoyed such problem solving when he was put in charge of personal lines. He had to not only look after his own book of business, but troubleshoot and seek creative solutions for many of the brokerage’s clients. He nailed that balance and has even grown his book by 20% in the last five years.
The skills he learned in his years in the Canadian Forces Cadet Instructors Cadre—where he is now a commanding officer—of perseverance, honesty and professionalism have contributed to his success in the workplace.
But, most importantly, Watson truly takes pleasure in his role.
“I’m lucky enough that I look forward to getting out of bed in the morning and going to work.”
Senior Account Executive, HUB International HKMB Limited (Toronto, Ont.)
By Danielle Kubes
Taylor Bettinson took his first insurance job as a 16-year-old to earn a bit of extra cash. He then got busy with school and life, but returned to the industry four years later with a clear direction in mind.
Determined to carve his own path, he started out with a contract position at ECI Enterprise before becoming a broker at Marsh and finally landing at Hub. Then, in 2012, a surprising—and welcome— opportunity arose.
Senior management had taken note of Bettinson’s sales talent, as well as his professionalism and hunger for new challenges, and asked him if he’d be interested in leading the aviation division. He jumped at the opportunity.
“I really like the sophistication and the spec of my niche industry,” he says. “It’s very tough to learn, and very tough to get good at, and there is a barrier to entry, but then once you’re in it, it’s really fun. And I’m having a lot of fun.”
Management’s confidence in him has paid off: he’s qualified for the Top Sales Performers Conference at Hub’s Sharp Awards three out of the last five years.
The next step for Bettinson is growing his team and overseeing a greater group of specialists to further Hub’s success.
Bettinson didn’t get where he is today on his own: he credits a large part of his career trajectory to the mentorship he received. That’s what makes motivating others so important to Bettinson. He wants to pass on what his mentor taught him: that it’s essential to truly enjoy your job to find it fulfilling, and it’s up to leaders to extract value and potential from their team.
“I want to transcend beyond personal success and make it about team success, and to help others learn and achieve their own milestones.”
Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the August edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine
This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.