Has it really been 20 years? Time has moved so fast. Friday May 21, 1999 and I finished my job at Chubb. Monday I started a brand new business – no clients, no infrastructure – just a business plan, enough finance to get my family and me through starvation for a year or so, and the support of an insurance broker – GIS Bradstock – who gave me an office rent free and promised support – for which I am eternally grateful.
Since day one, I always talked about ‘we’ as a company – even when it was just me. It did sound grander, but more importantly the whole business plan was never about me, it was about creating something important where smart people could come and do great work. Claims at the time was, in most cases, sadly neglected, so on one hand that represented an opportunity, but on the other we had the aspirational aim of lifting standards, largely by combining smart people and good internet based systems.
One of the benefits of coming from Chubb was an understanding of the importance of corporate culture. I knew pretty much from the start that the only way we could differentiate ourselves from the big companies in the space was to build a source of sustainable advantage in our culture. We wanted to have a distinct personality – which we could only create through having a distinct purpose and set of values – and being discriminating in the people we hired to ensure they fitted the values. We didn’t always get that right, but we learned along the way.
Looking back at our business plan, we wrote back in 1999 – “Our Goal within seven years is for Proclaim to be regarded as the pre-eminent claims administrator in Australia with a specialisation in liability claims management. Our aim is to have dynamic team of professionals who manage global alliances and generate $5m in revenue annually”. So that was our lofty initial goal, and you’d have to say we have largely achieved that, and more, even if it has taken us a bit longer than 7 years.
So what have been our key learnings along a 20 year journey?
- It’s relentless. If you want to be great, as we do, you’ve got to be constantly checking the pulse of the business and your customers, and your bank balance. Make a mistake, learn, double down.
- Curating the right culture creates the companies personality and that’s your shop window. You’ve also got to work hard on that, ensuring the behaviours in the business align with your values and purpose. We missed that a few times and it always came back to bite us.
- Balance the heart and the head. Leadership is about getting the best from people, so you need to create the environment where they will succeed. But you also need to balance that with what is good for the business in the short and long term. You can still have a heart, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions – don’t expect that not to hurt!
- Branson says employees are your key stakeholders – keep them happy and all else follows. I was always of the view that our first responsibility as a business was to our clients. I’d say I have mellowed to the point I think there isn’t a ranking required – you need to keep both happy to be a successful business and you need to keep an eagle eye on both.
- It’s great to be nice and to have trust in others, and I would always prefer that as our starting point, but we did find you can get taken advantage of at times by people who don’t share your values. Fortunately, this is a small minority of people – at those times it is important to revert to what is important to you rather than get sucked into bad behaviours just because you were on the end of some.
And what of the highlights?
Looking from the big picture, I have to say the solidarity in the business has been my highlight. When we have had a crisis or challenge, the people in our business have always risen to the task. Seeing a problem as opportunity and moving forward fast to fix issues has been the hallmark of our business, which is testament to the people we have.
Then there have been those companies who have trusted us to manage their business when there were safer bets in our multinational competitors – to them we owe thanks for that opportunity and your courage in choosing us – I am proud to say we haven’t let our clients down.
Getting to a position of market leadership with the biggest insurance market in the world – Lloyd’s – has also been a highlight, as has been getting to know so many wonderful people in London who have helped us build the best possible business.
Probably the biggest highlight has been the great diversity and quality of people who we have had working with us for 20 years. We have seen many grow into great leaders or claim technicians. And they have truly helped us try and achieve one of our core objectives, which is to be a great place to work. I am really proud of where we sit as a business. We look and act a lot like what I envisioned when we were dreaming of how to create a great business.
So what’s ahead?
We started with the internet revolution at our side, helping us to create more efficient systems and reporting. As we hit 20 years – we now find ourselves in the latest information revolution. This time the changes will be far more dramatic – data insights, automation and predictive modelling will create a schism in the market between those with and those without tech. As a company that still feels small and agile, even if we have 60 people now, we see the scale of that opportunity. To some degree the last 20 years has been an audition for the next 5. We hope that we finally are embraced by the local market and work in partnership with insurers and corporates to offer a better customer experience and better results. It’s always been our view that we have great people, and a great culture. So why not us?