rEvolution: Turn Crisis Into Clarity and Ignite Growth

rEvolution: Turn Crisis Into Clarity and Ignite Growth

by Tim Leman

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496966926
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 03/09/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 128
File size: 442 KB

About the Author

Larry Linne is one of North Americas most innovative and engaging CEO Advisors. He is CEO of InCite Performance Group and owns and operates numerous other businesses. Larry advises many of the top executives in North America.

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Turn Crisis Into Clarity and Ignite Growth

By Tim Leman, Larry G. Linne


Copyright © 2015 Tim Leman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4969-6691-9


A Very Good Company

With one more scan of an email I had entitled "An Open Letter to My Fellow Partners", I took a deep breath, paused for a second and hit the send button. There would be no turning back now. Courtesy of their newest partner, all of my fellow owners were about to receive a very honest but stinging critique on how we were doing as a company. I shut my home computer down, grabbed my car keys and drove to the airport with my wife, Kimra. It was May 15, 2007. We were off to New York City to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Things were about to get very interesting at Gibson.

Before I tell you more about "The Letter", and my evolution as a leader, I have to put some context around it. While my story spans a multi-year period, it's important for you understand what an amazing organization Gibson had been for nearly three quarters of a century.

Gibson Insurance Agency, Inc. was founded in 1933 in the small northern Indiana town of Plymouth by Dan Gibson. The depression was still underway. There was little local industry and the economy was primarily based on agriculture and local retail firms.

Dan's original focus was life insurance. He had a strong will to succeed and soon won the confidence of the many families and businesses he began to serve. In his second year in business he sold 30 new policies in one month to lead all the agents in Northwestern Mutual's northern Indiana territory.

He saw an opportunity to expand his business and started to sell auto, fire, and theft coverage to his growing client base. Dan and company fought through the challenging times of the 1930s and established the agency's reputation for hard work and impeccable ethics.

When World War II broke out in 1942, Dan joined the US Navy. He left for the Pacific theater as an aircraft operations control officer on the USS Attu, an escort aircraft carrier. He returned to the agency in 1945.

The 1950s saw Dan and other community leaders in Plymouth start to focus on ways to entice manufacturing firms to locate in the area. This led to the formation of the Plymouth Industrial Development Corporation (PIDCO). Funds were raised and land was purchased to form the first industrial park.

Dan stayed very active in local and state insurance associations during the 1960s. These were early forerunners for Gibson to the industry peer groups his son Dave would join. Dan also began Gibson's long tradition of engagement in the community. He was responsible for resurrecting the failed Community Chest and helped found the United Way of Marshall County.

Dan's son Dave took over the organization and helped modernize Gibson during the 1970s and 80s. Dave led Gibson's evolution from a "main street" insurance agency into a leading commercial insurance intermediary, or broker, in northern Indiana. Several significant milestones, such as crafting our first strategic plan and a vision of the future, occurred during this period.

The Gibsons began to transfer ownership to others in the company. They invited several non-family members to participate as stockholders. Dave knew the value in creating an ownership culture amongst his top producers.

Plans for growth were made. Continuing education – before it was required by licensing standards – and a focus on professional development would be expected of all employees. Additionally core values were put to writing and became a part of the company culture. Community support and involvement with not-for-profits was practiced faithfully in words and deeds. It was very clear to anyone that worked with Gibson that their clients, employees and community mattered a lot.

"Two things that Dave Gibson really stressed early on were continuing professional education and what we used to call computerization," commented Greg Downes, who joined the firm in 1980 and became a partner in 1982. Greg would go on to fill a number of leadership roles including President, CEO and Chairman of the Board.

He added, "It really raised the bar for who we recruited, what one had to commit to once hired and how much we were going to invest in our people and our resources. That sounds like nothing today but it was a big deal back then when no one our size was doing that kind of thing. We mandated professionalism and invested in development when few others did."

There was never a question of ethics or integrity. It was well known at Gibson that whether it was in our relationships with clients or insurance companies, as well as internally with our own people, we would always do the right thing.

The introduction of non-family members as owners required a new style of leadership and collaboration. No longer could decisions realistically be made by just one person. With others owning a "piece of the rock" they expected some say in how the company operated. This shift from 100% family ownership spurred on greater engagement with key stakeholders in the company.

It also forced the ownership group to create a more formal perpetuation plan for other future partners. Those buying stock wanted a consistent way of annually valuing the company as they acquired shares from the Gibson family. They also wanted a clear picture and process for others that were offered an opportunity to buy into the company. Ultimately that next generation of buyers would purchase their shares in the same way this group bought stock from Dave Gibson. The philosophy of building a legacy and perpetuating the independent culture at Gibson had begun.

Gibson also began to focus on specialization as a business strategy. Salespeople would work on business insurance, like property and liability coverages, or on employee benefits like health insurance, but not both. Additionally many salespeople began to select industry specialties, such as manufacturing, public entities or construction, where they would hone their skills.

This also brought with it changes in the compensation structure for salespeople. Gibson established a minimum account size, something most agencies of similar size and location shied away from. These strategies and tactics were meant to drive focus on the ideal client for the salesperson. They might receive a little less compensation on each account allowing for company reinvestment in client resources and service help. This would allow the salespeople to do better and higher end work for more clients. It ultimately drove more and faster growth and higher income potential for the sales team.

At Dave's direction we joined a major national peer group, where we were one of the smallest members. At the meetings Dave regularly compared our results with successful insurance brokers from around the country. Cutting edge ideas from bigger markets were borrowed, tweaked and customized for our local client base. Key performance indicators were created to help drive a focus on the most important things.

In 1986 Gibson opened a new office in South Bend, Indiana. The focus on quality and consistency lead to significant growth in the number and size of clients.

Gibson continued to innovate as the 1990s rolled in. We hired people with safety engineering and loss prevention backgrounds. This focus on preventive risk management consulting changed our approach with clients as we shifted from just securing a good price on coverage to adding value to their organization. We began providing fee-based services to clients and also placing their insurance coverages for a fee in lieu of commissions paid by the insurance company. This was a big departure from the industry standard practice of accepting a percentage of the premiums for securing coverage.

Our foray into fee-based consulting work for clients began to shift how clients thought of us and our role. No longer were we just a "middle man" beating up insurance companies and delivering a quote for coverage. Instead, for many, their perception of Gibson shifted to that of a key trusted advisor. Yes, we would still work to secure the best value for them in the insurance marketplace, but we would also strive to control their costs in a more proactive way. If our safety engineers could provide training and workflow consulting to one of our manufacturing clients that prevented workers compensation accidents from happening, they would experience lower claims and therefore better pricing from the insurance company (let alone the cultural boost of not having as many serious accidents).

Just as powerful was the shift that began to take root internally at Gibson. Our own people saw the additional value we were providing and it felt great to be having such an impact on our clients and their businesses. This prompted ideas on how we might expand this concept even further. By the end of the decade we had a staff of 60 employees and nine partners and a growing reputation as risk management experts.

The 2000s witnessed continued success and growth. We entered into a formal business continuation plan. The agreement outlined how shares of stock could be bought and sold as well as guides for distributing profits to those owning stock. This continuation plan essentially forced an even more professional and transparent culture inside the ownership group. There were no secrets, right down to an annual disclosure of the Executive Leadership Team's compensation with the other partners.

This planned transition of ownership would help ensure the future independence of the company. This was in stark contrast to many peer companies who planned to sell or frankly didn't plan at all. Greg Downes was named President and CEO. Dave Gibson remained as Chairman but transitioned his accounts and sold his remaining equity to others in the firm. Revenues and profitability were at an all-time high.

Not long after that, in the summer of 2005, I received a call from Dave Gibson. Dave and I sat on an advisory board at Indiana State University. I was living in Scottsdale, Arizona, and heading up the employee benefits practice in the southwestern United States for one of the national public insurance brokers.

"You need to move back home," said Dave in his typical right-to-the-point style. To which I replied with a chuckle, "Dave, I think people leave Indiana for Arizona, not the other way around."

He went on to tell me about Gibson's plans for growth. Things were good and they had turned their sights on growing the employee benefits division, something I knew a lot about. He also told me that they were thinking long term about leadership perpetuation, which he knew I had an interest in. He articulated the value everyone at Gibson placed on independence. Decisions were made locally. Resources were allocated when and where they were needed. Hiring kept up with the growth.

Still not convinced, I did tell him I was visiting family in Indiana later that month. I agreed to come see him and hung up the phone.

Until that call, the idea of moving back to Indiana and having a career at Gibson had not even entered my thoughts. Little did I know that one call would lead to a complete evolution in my leadership style and skills. What Dave didn't realize that day is that he couldn't have called me at a better time. I was miserable and planning a change. And number one on my list was leaving the culture of a large national public advisory firm.

The Phoenix office of the national company was one of the top performers in North America. It was a crown jewel within the organization.

It was my second job out of college and my first exposure to a high performing operation. There were significant expectations on salespeople. When someone left, one former boss was fond of saying, "We don't retreat. We just reload!" And we'd be on to the next one. I had little to compare it to and assumed it was the only way to achieve success. I've often referred to it as a smash mouth sales culture.

Things began to change after our global IPO sputtered. The corporate strategy to fix this was to essentially change leadership in many of the local offices and practices, coupled with an aggressive expense control initiative region-by-region. I began to see the hollowness of our model. It was a very short term play. Our limited investment dollars were spent on flashy new hires and other quarterly initiatives that Wall Street valued.

I'll never forget when the global CEO attempted to rally a large gathering of key leaders and sales talent by unequivocally stating that our focus would be on the stockholder. He went on to say that many companies mistakenly focus on their clients or their employees. If you don't take care of your owner, you won't stay in business long. What good would you be for your clients and employees then?

You can imagine the sobering looks on the faces in this key employee group as I scanned the room. Even worse, when we returned back to the branch offices, we realized word of "the stockholder is king" philosophy had already made its way back to the service teams.

While I understood the point he was trying to make, I never could reconcile my personal beliefs and values to his way of thinking. For the first time in my working career, I wasn't having any fun. I was planning my departure when I got that call from Dave.

I had been mulling over starting my own company. Due to non-compete issues with my broker role, I had even listened to a pitch from one of the local insurance carriers for their market president role. One thing I had never considered was joining a small insurance agency. And with apologies to John Mellencamp, certainly not one in a small town back in Indiana!

The truth is I had spent nine years in the large national insurance consulting world. Like many career people in that space, I had developed a strong disdain for "insurance agents" even though I didn't really know what went on inside smaller insurance agencies and brokerages. I pictured plaid pants and white shoes. Perhaps even a bolo tie to top it off. I was in Arizona after all.

And I was convinced that they had no tools and resources to help their clients solve problems. I often wondered and was embarrassed by the notion that I shared the same professional license with "them".

My goal was simply to get away from the large bureaucratic control and meddling that comes with public companies and some private equity environments. I thought about starting a boutique consulting operation. I felt that would give me more direct control over my destiny and the opportunity to fully realize my potential over and above income. I still wanted to deliver serious value to my clients. And above all else it would need to be very professional.

While creating my own firm in Arizona was a strong consideration, I had not been able to accept the administrative burden and detail work that comes with starting my own business. And I couldn't get over going head-to-head with my current friends and colleagues at the national firm. Once my non-compete agreement ended, I would have to aggressively pursue former clients. That would likely cause an end to some special friendships.

Once I had opened the door to a considering a return to Indiana, I even talked seriously with some larger independent insurance brokers in Indianapolis. I worried that my ability to really have a voice in their most important decisions would still remain limited. They tried to convince me otherwise, but I couldn't see it.

I told one of these family ownership groups that one thing I knew in life was just how far I had over-married. Since that part of my life was happily settled, there would obviously be no marrying into his family. And I had not seen anyone achieve the kind of seat at the table I wanted without being a part of his family. I would only be exchanging my current corporate yolk for a new one.

The more I talked with Dave and Greg, the more the Gibson opportunity unexpectedly resonated in nearly every way. I had an opportunity to re-tool and build a thriving and lucrative employee benefits practice from the ground up. And to do it the way I knew in my gut would be powerful and sustainable for years to come. If I delivered the goods, they promised to give me an opportunity to be a relatively large investor within a year of joining. I would have a voice and real influence on the overall direction of the company.

Finally, through my in depth discussions with Dave and Greg, I realized that Gibson didn't have a longer term solution for leadership perpetuation. In my heart of hearts, that especially resonated in a big way. I had been intently studying and reflecting on the concept and practice of leadership. I had a growing fire inside to be an integral part of a great organization where the mission mattered. I was ready to move beyond being a successful salesperson and income generator to a role with greater impact and legacy.

In the end, it was the opportunity with Gibson that represented the best blend of what I was looking for. It was much larger and with a longer track record than a start-up but without (I thought) all the layers of inflexibility that comes with a large company.

Gibson's commitment to remaining independent was hugely important to me as well. The brokerage segment of the insurance industry was going through a consolidation phase. The last thing I wanted to do was leave my position in Arizona only to have the firm I join sell to a national aggregator. I would be right back in the same boat. This equaled failure in my book.

I began working my network for information on Gibson and the Indiana marketplace. During my due diligence in 2005, I would confirm time and again what a highly respected and well thought of company Gibson was. Ethics and integrity? Check. Focus on helping their employees grow and develop? Check. Reputation for working hard on their clients' behalf? Check.


Excerpted from rEvolution by Tim Leman, Larry G. Linne. Copyright © 2015 Tim Leman. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword, vii,
Introduction, xi,
Chapter 1 – A Very Good Company, 1,
Chapter 2 – The Letter, 13,
Chapter 3 – Transitioning Into Leadership, 24,
Chapter 4 – From Player To Coach, 31,
Chapter 5 – The RIF, 40,
Chapter 6 – Breakthrough, 48,
Chapter 7 – It's About The Culture, Stupid, 58,
Chapter 8 – Battling Instinct With The Soft Stuff, 67,
Chapter 9 – Liftoff, 75,
Chapter 10 – In Clarity We Trust, 81,
Chapter 11 – Reflection, 86,
What's Next?, 99,
Acknowledgements, 113,

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