This year’s IT Pack series got off to a glittering start in London late last month with young brokers determined to network and grab advice from senior industry figures – and from Levi Roots of Dragons’ Den fame
After the success of last year’s IT Pack, the event made a triumphant return in London’s West End for the start of its 2010 run.
At the glittering venue of the Sketch Gallery, this year’s crop of young broker hopefuls gathered, hoping to emulate the success of last year’s winner, Matthew Stringer of Bloomhill Insurance Solutions. They were welcomed by Insurance Timeseditor-in-chief Tom Broughton and Aviva’s intermediary and partnerships director Janice Deakin.
Expert advice was provided by Pavey Group managing director Graham Brown – whose firm won the 2009 Independent Regional Broker of the year at the Insurance Times Awards – and entrepreneur Levi Roots, a success from the TV show Dragons’ Den with his Jamaican barbecue ‘Reggae Reggae’ sauce.
Deakin opened the event with a powerful reminder of the importance of the IT Pack in raising the profile of young brokers, adding that it could help overturn the cliché of “falling” into insurance.
“Nobody wakes up one day aged 16 or 17, or at 21 after graduating from college, and decides they want to be an insurance broker. We all ended up in insurance through one route or another.
“What I love about the IT Pack is that it is about celebrating the talent in our industry, so that in 10 or 20 years’ time, people might wake up thinking about what they want to do and decide they want to be an insurance broker.”
Deakin added that she felt inspired by the dynamism and motivation of last year’s Pack. “In the main, they are making up their own minds, creating their own business and winning their own clients. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy thing to do.”
She also emphasised that the event provided an unmissable opportunity for the industry leaders of tomorrow by helping them to raise their profile, network effectively and, most importantly, celebrate fresh thinking in insurance. “It creates a franchise of talent. If two or three go on to make a difference in this industry, then this whole thing will have been really worthwhile.”
Brown then gave an account of Pavey’s success since its formation in 1971. He explained how the company evolved to partner WestInsure and now controls more than £250m premium in the Devon region. He pointed out that there was much more to being an entrepreneur than having initiative: it also required commercial savvy and the ability to recognise a good risk.
“If you Google ‘entrepreneur’, the explanation is something along the lines of someone who initiates or finances a new commercial enterprise – but entrepreneurialism is also about opportunity and luck … it is about seizing opportunity along the way,” he said.
Later, Levi Roots surprised the audience with an enthusiastic rendition of his brand’s trademark song, ‘Reggae Reggae Sauce’. In doing so, he introduced the first secret of his success, explaining that it was vital for a brand to have a unique selling point, and that his catchy theme helped him to wrest funding from the tycoons Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh in 2007.
Roots added that the brand was so successful in its first year that at one stage it was outselling Heinz tomato ketchup. He believes this was also down to his USP: music. “When I was waiting to go on the show,” he recalled, “everybody was there with their contraptions and going over their business plans, and asking me where my business plan was. But I didn’t have one – my plan was my guitar,” he laughed.
Commitment and passion
As his second point, Roots emphasised that any successful entrepreneur needed to have long-term focus and self-belief. “People think that it happened overnight for me, but it didn’t. I have been making sauce for about 15 years; that’s 15 years of trying and trying, but I always believed that it could outsell tomato ketchup.
“You have to have focus, you really, really do … I was determined to go and slay those dragons,” he said.
Roots said that the third important asset was having a passion for what you do. “You guys are involved in insurance – you have to have a passion about what you do. For example, if you are selling life insurance, it is about how you protect somebody’s life. People have to look into your eyes and believe that you have something they are willing to invest in.” Finally, he urged the young brokers to find a good mentor who could offer advice and support at the start of their careers.
Matthew Stringer echoed Roots’ emphasis on determination and self-belief. He admitted that his age and lack of experience meant that he struggled to get established when he started his new brokerage two years ago.
“The first year was challenging. Initially, the markets just didn’t want to know when they saw an application from a 21-year-old one-man band. We then decided to get in contact with WestInsure to get greater access to markets.”
Stringer agreed with Aviva’s Deakin that the IT Pack provided an invaluable platform for young brokers.
Feedback from IT?Packers after the event was overwhelmingly positive. Choice Quote Insurance’s Lindsay Brown said: “Roots’ speech was really motivational – he showed that if you keep going, you will achieve your goal if you want to enough.”
Caunice O’Hara’s Matthew Whalley believed the event was crucial in raising the profile of broking and enticing new talent into the sector. “There are a lot of positives that people don’t know about. It is such a social industry, and you are out and about a lot of the time. Some people think that a broker is stuck in the office all the time or in a call centre, which isn’t the case.”
Park Insurance’s Mark Loud said: “It was a valuable opportunity to meet other people from other areas – and a chance to chat about any problems that we may be having. With Matthew Stringer, it was great to see someone just starting out in the industry; coming in and making a successful go of it.”
Heath Lambert’s Howard Jones said: “Brown gave a good, detailed account of an individual progression in the industry. He showed that you have to trust your instincts when making a decision on your career path and that you don’t have to work in London to become a success in the industry.”
He added: “It was a thoroughly enjoyable, inspiring afternoon and I look forward to attending again. It was an excellent way to meet like-minded people and share experiences and it was a real privilege to talk to Janice Deakin. Levi Roots was inspirational. The most important point he made was that only you can hold yourself back. You may have doubts, nerves and uncertainties, but if you give into them, you may miss out on life-changing opportunities.”
Speaker’s view – Graham Brown
It was with some trepidation that I agreed to talk to the IT Pack in London on what entrepreneurialism meant to me, following Pavey Group’s achievement of winning Independent Regional Broker of the year 2009.
If you look at any definition of entrepreneur, risk-taking is always mentioned. I would not regard myself as a huge risk-taker but when I was provided with a certain opportunity six years ago, I decided a clear plan, re-evaluating as the circumstances change, would help minimise the risk.
The opportunity arose when Michael Pavey, the founder of Pavey Group, was looking for a succession plan. At the time, his options were to sell to one of the several consolidators, become a niche player or push to become a super-provincial broker. Michael’s business was well-respected, and renowned for excellent service and a fantastic office culture. He offered the opportunity of succession and ownership, and my part was to develop the commercial business.
What with the nationals looking inwards, dealing with Spitzer, and consolidators trying to integrate their new acquisitions, we had an opportunity to push our business forward. Our proposition had to be service-led, with competitive pricing supported by insurers working with us via the Westinsure network. We were determined to offer all services in-house, outsourcing as little as possible, to ensure that our client managers did exactly that and did not project manage services from so-called ‘centres of excellence’.
Steady growth allowed us to acquire additional people, and I would always advocate investing in quality people who share the same values and culture. We were fortunate enough to attract 11 of my former colleagues affectionately known as ‘Marshians’. We have talented teams of people at all levels within the business, who are all capable and share the desire to grow the business further.
This is one way, but it has worked for us. We have had some major slices of luck and opportunity, which we have seized. We will keep to our core values, keep questioning, and ensure we have fun on the way.
Graham Brown is managing director of Pavey Group
Matthew Stringer – my IT Pack journey
I first found out about the IT Pack when browsing the Insurance Times website. It promised to be a fun networking event with other young broking professionals, and an opportunity to meet with industry heads to discuss our worries about the current market and the future of broking.
I went to the Oxford event in June last year with about 20 other young brokers. The venue was funky and the session informal. It was great to meet other brokers who had all been in the industry for a relatively short time, find out about the roles they played and what they thought about the current market. We also heard about Aviva’s hopes for the future, what they wanted to get out of the IT Pack and the structure of the event.
I left really spurred on by the enthusiasm of the other members and their positive attitudes about the future of broking. I had made some new contacts and also had a chance to put my questions to the Aviva directors who attended. Not only did the company respond directly to our worries, but we were also well-informed on their determination to continue to develop their relationships with brokers. There were no ‘classic corporate responses’ or company policy recitals, just good honest answers.
Attendees from each regional event were then chosen as award finalists, the winner of which would be announced at the Insurance Times Awards in Birmingham.
I hadn’t considered the possibility of being chosen as a finalist. I had had a great day and thought it time very well spent. Brokers quite often never speak to other brokers – ‘the competition’ – on open ground, and the informal atmosphere was perfect for breaking down barriers.
Shortly after though, I got an email from Insurance Times thanking me for my attendance and telling me that I had been selected as a finalist. I did wonder why I had been chosen; I’d merely told the group my story, as we all did, and thrown in my opinion during the Q&A session. Nonetheless, I was thrilled and looked forward to the final event.
It was held at London’s Vinopolis, a trendy wine-tasting centre, a few days before the annual Insurance Times Awards. I met the other finalists and we all spoke about the topics of discussion at the various events. I was surprised that we had pretty much all spoken about the same things – the insurers, the aggregators. the current climate, the future for the broking industry and others. There were lots of photo shoots and we all had a 10-minute interview with Nick Hewer, Janice Deakin and John Kitson from Aviva, and Tom Broughton from Insurance Times.
At first, the thought of the interview didn’t trouble me, but as I got closer to my slot I started to worry. What would they ask? Would they be nice? Would it be a grilling like The Apprentice?
I was called to a waiting area and after a few minutes was told that “the judges will see you now …” Oh no, it was going to be like The Apprentice; they’re going to pull me to pieces; but, hey ho, can’t back out now. How wrong I was. The interview was informal, everyone was very nice and the time just flew by.
We all then had lunch and Nick took some questions after giving us his insights on business and what makes success.
The night of the awards soon arrived. All the finalists were on the Aviva table, turned out in their dinner suits and dresses. Shortly after the main course, the award for IT Pack 2009 was called and a short video was played. Eek … I hate being filmed and looked very nervous. It could have been anyone’s award; so much talent had made it through to the final. But it was me! I was shocked – that’s the only word for it. Next thing, I’m on stage receiving my award and the prize money. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying the party and free wine!
My winner’s trophy of a gold bar has taken pride of place in the office. It was also great to be invited as a speaker at the 2010 IT Pack events.
Winning has been excellent for my business; it has provided lots of PR both in the industry press and local media. It was a great chance to impress clients and is very handy to mention when meeting new ones. When you’re self-employed, it’s very humbling when other people recognise your achievements. But for all those brokers who aren’t self-employed, what better way to show your talent to your management?
I would definitely recommend the IT Pack events to every new broker. I don’t think anyone came away having not gained something.
Matthew Stringer, Bloomhill Insurance SolutionsIT