A People Business
Surety is a relationship business. And to risk stating the obvious, it is people who are the center of those relationships. That is the part of surety I really like - the people and relationships. Those on the outside of surety don’t appreciate the tight-knit community where competitors seem to get along, while competing fiercely. Sureties are like their contractor customers, who fight tooth and nail over winning a new project, while at the same time collaborating successfully in a joint venture on another project. I have been able to build some fantastic relationships with colleagues, competitors and customers during my years in the industry. To me, it is what makes the business so rewarding.
Surety is one of the few businesses where the product we sell - the bond - is exactly the same for all companies. People are a key differentiator. Sure, we have heard that talent is important. But how many customers have we seen follow a broker from company to company, because of a personal relationship. And as an underwriter, relationships built on trust, rapport and mutual respect are critical to developing a following in the marketplace. A simple truth is that people want to work with people they like. That applies to customers, brokers and even within our own teams.
In an era when every company is promoting diversity and inclusion, surety continues to lag behind. It may be we are a reflection of the construction industry or that surety is slow to change. But you only have to look at the surety industry meetings to see a real lack of diversity around race, gender or even age. That, my friends, spells trouble. As our customers are becoming more diverse - and they are - the surety industry is challenged to increase diversity. Otherwise, we will be left behind.
As a leader, it’s my job to promote diversity and inclusion. And I am doing my part not only because it is an important priority of Euler Hermes. I am a believer in diversity and inclusion because it ultimately produces better results. Research by the consultant McKinsey (and many others) has shown that diverse and inclusive teams have higher productivity, are more successful and more profitable. My own experience has taught me that if we listen to our people (inclusion) and they are presenting you a variety of viewpoints and perspectives (diversity), we are going to find a better solution to whatever challenge we face. For me, and for Euler Hermes, diversity and inclusion is not just the HR flavor of the week; diversity and inclusion are fundamental to how we do business.
Talent Makes Capital Dance
In any organization, it’s the people who make the real difference. Yes, as a surety, you need capital, and systems and a product. But what separates a successful team from a mediocre team? It’s the people: their talent, their engagement, their cohesion, their willingness to go the extra mile for the customer. Fifteen years ago, I first read Funky Business: Talent Makes Capital Dance by Jonas Ridderstrale. In some ways, it was prescient of today’s work environment where people are much quicker to jump from company to company. According to Ridderstrale, it’s the people who differentiate companies, but with today’s knowledge workers, talent has to be engaged and cultivated differently. ‘Business as usual’ is uninspired: people don’t want to work there and customers don’t want to buy from there. If we want to attract the best and brightest talent to the surety industry, we have find new ways to engage and motivate that talent.
As the surety industry continues to talk about attracting and retaining millennials or increasing diversity, it’s up to all of us to create an environment that is not ‘business as usual.’ This is not theoretical. Today, the surety talent pool is limited. Surety struggles to attract the next generation of underwriters into the business. The surety industry is not as much competing with each other for the next generation of talent, we are competing with other, more progressive industries. And if we want to grow the surety industry and transition it into the future, we need to attract and retain a diverse and talented workforce. It’s not all about the benjamins. It’s all about the people.