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A Holistic Approach to Growth with Jim Welsh

 

Brent Kelly:

What do car shows, collective genius conversations, and differentiation have to do with agency results? Well, on this episode of the Agent Leader podcast, I interview Jim Welsh, who's a CFO of one of our partner agencies to discuss those three things and much more, enjoy the show. Welcome to the Agent Leader podcast. My name is Brent Kelly and I am your host. Thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today. Today I have a very special guest. I have a great guest on my podcast today, Jim Welsh, and he'll be joining us all the way out from California, although you may be listening from California, so maybe it's not far from you at all, but we've got a great guest today and I'll get to Jim in a second. First and foremost, I always want to share the mission of this podcast. The mission is to educate, to empower, to equip you, the independent insurance agency leader, to help you become your best version possible.

And as you've probably heard me say, if you listen to this podcast regularly, we have launched, introduced a new program and process, the best version possible FastTrack. This is a 90 day integrated training program. In fact, it might be something that Jim and his team have gone through in some way. Our training programs together, go to sitkins.com/fasttrack to learn more about it, sitkins.com/fasttrack, and if you have questions and want to set up a call with our coach to learn more about it, you certainly can do that there as well. So with that, let's dive into the interview. I do have a very special guest, Jim Welsh, as I mentioned. He is the Chief Financial Officer for Winton-Ireland, Strom & Green Insurance Agency otherwise known as WIS&G out in Turlock, California in the beautiful Bay Area out there. And Jim's joining me very early on the Pacific Time. So Jim, thank you for joining me on the Agent Leader podcast. We're glad to have you.

Jim Welsh:

Oh, friend, it's a pleasure. And it's been a real pleasure to become affiliated with the Sitkins Group. Really. We're just starting 90 to a hundred days in and we're really excited.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, part of this too, I do believe it might be a bit, but you know what, Jim? It's my podcast, so why not? But listen, I say all that a bit tongue in cheek because we want to deliver value to agencies like yourself, but as we have introduced the Fast Track portion of this, which is the first 90 days, the training programs, you and your team have just gone through that. So I'm always curious to learn about your agency, what you've done, of course, prior to Sitkins as well, but just some of the things that you're dealing with, the challenges and successes, and share that with the agency leadership listener out there. And I want to start off just so they get to know you and the agency better. I mentioned, obviously you're out in California, but tell us more, again, Jim, about your role and then of course the agency holistically as far as how you're broken up and how many people and what you focus on, all those good things.

Jim Welsh:

Sure, sure. Yeah, I'm the chief financial officer, and I did not grow up in the insurance industry. I've had a pretty varied career, one that I'm very thankful for. I spent a lot of time in large corporate environments, two Fortune 500 companies. One was publicly traded, still is, and a private held cooperative, and worked a lot in the sales area just closely with them. And we talked about what we termed as strategies or informed sales playbooks. And so gained a lot of, but I'm at the core. I began in the financial accounting area, and then I went and ran the operations of a business for 12 years. And so I think I got a unique feel for the other side, if you will, as a client. And so we had a whole host of insurance products that we were leveraging there. And so that helped to give me a perspective as I came in here. And I think at the same time, one of the things I got into very early on was human resources, and I'm a senior certified professional with SHRM, and I think that has helped inform my relationships internally and externally. So I think I bring that as well.

Yeah, as far as,

Well, thank you. Yeah, Winton Ireland is just a fantastic company to come into. It's family owned, it's a community oriented. We are locally focused, but we do have a regional impact. We have three offices, one in Turlock, California, and then just north of Modesto and just one south in Livingston, rooted in Central Valley, heavily in Ag heavily. But we have a whole host of products that we've got. And so we're really excited to be able to be a part of the Sitkins Group and take what we have been doing, but bring greater continuity to it, bring a better understanding of why we're doing what we're doing. And so that has been something that we've been embracing over the last 90, a hundred days.

Brent Kelly:

And Jim, just how many people at the agency?

Jim Welsh:

A little over a hundred. We've got about 80 or so in Turlock, about 15 in Modesto, and a small office in Livingston.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Well, and I wanted to bring that out. Obviously you're a sizable agency, but there's a lot of people, and you always joke about leadership and leadership would be so darn easy if it just wasn't for the people.

Jim Welsh:

Isn't that the truth?

Brent Kelly:

It just wasn't for the people. There's something to do and there's an issue. In fact, I just heard a podcast the other day and it was talking about the fact that people certainly are the greatest blessing. Some of the things they're able to do and impact their lives incredible. But they also can be certainly one of our top frustrations that we deal with in organizations as well. So certainly we'll probably talk about both of those in different capacities on the interview today. And maybe I'll start, I always like to be a positive guy, but I want to start off with the agency listeners. I mean, every agency has challenges. We know that. I know we've had discussions as you guys were looking into our approach and some of the structure and processes and is this the right fit for us? And we talked about some of the challenges that you all had, but maybe there's more than one Jim. But if you could say, Hey, this is probably the biggest challenge that we have faced or are facing, what would you say that is today and how are you going about to address it?

Jim Welsh:

That's a great question. I'll probably step back and talk about how we came to where we are now with our relationship with Sitkins. That was a process that it just didn't happen overnight. We experienced some other solutions that just weren't fitting with us culturally and what we were trying to do. And so it was really important for us to sync up with an organization that was really in line with what we truly thought was important in the market. We are a unique insurance company offering unique solutions, and we know the businesses and the people that we deal with externally are unique as well. So one of the things we gravitated toward immediately was your focus on points of differentiation. That was something that synced up right away with us. We offer unique product to unique people and what truly are our points of differentiation? So we've been going through that process over the last number of weeks, and it is been revelatory. It really has because we've understood what we're doing and why we're doing it.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, we've had some conversations certainly. But the first thing you said, it's interesting about, well, we're unique and we're different. I always joke, and I'm sure you may have heard this before, Jim, but there's, well, the studies out there, they vary. I mean, some people say there's 36,000 independent insurance agencies. Some say there're 40,000 independent insurance agencies. Of course depends. You talk to, here's the bottom line, there's a lot of them. And you always say, the best part about being independent is you're independent. What do we want to do? How do we want to do it? And I said, the biggest challenge of being independent is you're independent. What should we do? How should we do it? So there's a lot of strategy around that. And I think one of the things you guys have gravitated to pretty quickly was the pods. And one thing that I always talk with agency leaders and the producers about is that you may think your pods, and sometimes that's not even true.

It's like, well, what are they? And they're a bit generic and they think they're differentiator, but they're not. And they haven't gone deep enough. And so to me, there's a difference between knowing your pods and owning your points of differentiation. How do we communicate that? What are the questions that we need to ask? Where have we not explored this? And I think a big part of that is, and you guys are all doing a great job of this, is just taking some time to think about it and have conversations about it and challenge each other about it. So again, to go a little deeper in the pause, and I know you're very early in this process, but what kind of things have you discovered maybe from some of those conversations initially about points of differentiation and how do we do this better? I mean, what are some conversations maybe you've had in the agency? Jim,

Jim Welsh:

The conversations themselves have been illuminating because we'll have producers that are, have some clear and distinct and effective points of differentiation, but other producers may not know about them. They may not have been exposed to them. And so this collaboration that we've had among the producers to not only get a master list, but to discuss them and understand, okay, maybe in this particular industry this POD will be more effective, but in this one it won't. And so that effort in and of itself has been huge for us to go through it.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. This is for the audience, obviously as a whole listening to this, but as you said that, it reminded me of something I thought about. I don't think I've said this before, but often when you look at agencies, again, they come in different shapes and sizes, and a lot of times smaller revenue agencies, however you want to define that, they'll say, well, one of the biggest challenges we don't have is enough markets or enough people for these things. And there's some truth to that. But I think what you hit on Jim is really important. And some of the larger agencies, multiple people, one of their greatest advantages is one they don't take advantage of, which is collaboration. And even if you're a newer producer, well, I don't really have many PODs yet. I'm not sure what they are. Borrow them from people in the agency and understand how they're doing things and learn from that, adapt from that.

Of course, they need to be your own. But there is such power, and we see this all the time, and people take it for granted, the collective genius of masterminding or meetings. And so often a lot of meetings come into are based around complain fest or "This isn't good or this isn't good," but let's get together and really share ideas and how we can all get better when we leave this meeting. So I love the direction you're going there. I know that's some next steps you're all taking as you move forward as well. Maybe this is part of success, maybe it's not Jim, but one of the things, and this certainly can be pre-work with us, but what's one thing you guys do really, really well? Maybe this is a weird way to ask the question, and I didn't phrase this to you before, but what would be the WIS&G superpower? And you go, Hey, this is something we're really good at. We've had success in this area, and gosh darn it, we're going to do more of it and share what that is, and maybe we can learn something from it. I'm sure we will.

Jim Welsh:

Yeah. I think it probably goes back to our community orientation. Our top clients, our top 20, if you will, are historically significant to us. We've went back a lot of years. And so those relationships that we've built are highly valued. And I think one of the things as we've came into Sitkins, okay, we don't want to rest on our laurels, if you will, that okay, we have this relationship. We don't want to ever take it for granted. And so while we, I think have done a highly effective job at keeping those relationships sound, it's what can we do to take it to the next level? How can we become a trusted advisor that would allow us to seek out more referrals and to do that with confidence? And so I think it is leveraging what we're doing well and then taking it to that logical next level.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, that's fantastic. And again, and those deep, long lasting relationships are so impactful. I say this all the time, is this still a relationship business? We do our trainings and everyone says, yes, my tongue in cheek reply, but it's truthful as well. What are we doing to deepen that relationship? Right. And I think you hit on it really well, Jim, is that we can, if we're not careful, I've done this, you rest on your laurels, you just assume because we've had this relationship so long that we'll always have this relationship and there's a reason why you've had the relationship for so long. So let's not forget about how we got there and how do we make improvements. And again, maybe, I don't know if you have a specific answer to this or not, and I don't want to put you on the spot, but have there been some things as an agency you have done with some of these legacy type of relationships that someone goes, oh, that's a great idea, or something we can consider doing

Jim Welsh:

That is a, well, I'll tell you what, one of the, and I come back to the community orientation that we have and working locally, I think reaching out for them, reaching out to them to have them participate in novel and interesting activities. A good case in point is we have a really successful, highly effective event that we just finished. It's called Cars and Coffee, and we invite the community out, and we have a wonderful car show that is put out there. And so interestingly enough, we have a number of clients that have classic cars. And so we ask them out, and it's just an event that they look forward to. We put a lot of effort into, and it's, again, it's using the word, it's unique and it's fun and it brings people together.

Brent Kelly:

That's a great idea. I love the fact that obviously there's a bit of a niche in what you do, but the community's involved. And what I love about those too is that whenever you get, I don't know if you invite some of your carriers friends as well or whatever, but there's that community, and guess what? It's like the central part of the community is your agency, and now they're all interacting. And again, it's one of those things, the deeper you go in that, the harder it's for someone to ever break that relationship. And you've earned the right by doing those kinds of things. And that sounds fun. You have to remind me of that next year. Maybe I'll come out and check it out.

Jim Welsh:

Oh, fantastic. And I would add that you had mentioned carriers. We do have a number of carriers that attend as well, and that just brings a holistic approaches from, and so very helpful to us in the community, but we just enjoy it.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, it's fun for me too. And just working with agencies all over the country that do some different community sponsored events or whatever they are, how they're very unique to their own culture and things they enjoy. And part of the country. I mean, we've got bags, tournaments on the East Coast and classic cars and music events with cowboy hats in Texas and you name it, right. But part of it is just deeper in those relationships. That's great. Well, I mentioned as we hopped on here, I may ask you a self-serving question. So here I go. And you've mentioned some things already, Jim, and I appreciate that. But obviously you're relatively new with us. I mean, at this point, you've had most of your people go through our programs and we have our sales program producer fit, our sales leadership program coach the coach, which you hopped on that call with us, Jim, and then the account manager fit. Just from your experience so far, what's been your agency's greatest takeaway? What have you been able to take away from some of the things that you've done through our program so far?

Jim Welsh:

Yeah, the first thing that comes to mind, and I think it's a major one, is the holistic approach you have. Bringing the account managers into this training, bringing the entire agency, if you will, into this training. It's been huge for us. We were looking for something initially that would really have an impact on our producer group,

But to take it to the next level and have the account managers, the service group involved, that's been huge for us. And we had the producers go through their eight sessions. We had made the operational decision to stagger that a little bit and have the account managers go out a few weeks later. We're just now getting the fruit of that training. And so the account managers now are syncing up with what the producers are doing. So the high performance team meetings have began to be a major focus of ours, and we're already reaping the benefits of those. And so bringing those two teams together along with the leadership above them has been huge.

Brent Kelly:

That's great. And I wish I could sit here, and I've mentioned this to the podcast before that, and this is part of our fast track model, we've gave it a real name so people can understand what it is and gravitate around it. But I wish we could say, oh, we've thought this out for years and years, obviously between 2020 and the fact that we've just had conversations with people, we're

Jim Welsh:

Going,

Brent Kelly:

Gosh, you run this program and you run this program and they're all really good, but man, if you could put these together. And so we really got intentional about that and make sure they certainly overlap. And we, there's obviously different conversations we're having with producers than we're having with the service professionals that we're having with the leaders. But whether it's, and I'm sure you've experienced this, Jim, and the agencies you've been part of, and you have a producer that goes out and gets training, it's not inherently a bad thing, but when they come back, what happens? How do we relay that to leadership and service? And so part of this is to take pockets of agencies and say, listen, there's a holistic approach to this. And we talk about a culture of accountability. It's really hard to have a culture of accountability when there's no common language and culture.

Jim Welsh:

Absolutely.

Brent Kelly:

I mean, you're nodding your head, so I'll let you maybe address that because culture is not an easy thing. It's hard, hard enough when you're separated. So what would you comment on that, Jim?

Jim Welsh:

Yeah, I mean, the common language is significant. We are doing things together, but somewhat differently right now. We are very fortunate, Brent, that we have a strong culture. Our turnover is in place exactly where we would like it to be. And so we've kind of set ourselves up now to take it to the next logical level. And so common language, being able to speak. One thing I would add is it's exciting for us to think about new producers, new employees at large coming on now, because they're going to be able to step into that common language and that common method of going about business. And so we're looking forward to that to be as a byproduct of this.

Brent Kelly:

And another little plug here, but it is important how we have stuff set up too, is exactly for that, is whether producers, and Jim, I'm sure we've talked about this, is they go through it. Even though we have it broken up over several weeks, it's still a lot of information. So we have a lot of our producers and part of our membership is just go back and do it again. And we have a lot of agencies, their producers go through it two, three times, even in the first couple years. It's not because they just can't grasp it. It's just what's next. I want to understand this deeper. And then of course, to your point too, Jim, is we've got new people coming on board now we can integrate them into a process and a plan that everyone's heard and been part of, which is really great to hear.

And what's been an interesting byproduct is that we talk about people, people, people all the time, recruiting, developing, retaining. Part of this, and this doesn't have to be a Sitkins thing, it's just a professional growth thing. But if you've got a professional growth plan and a system for your agency, it does help you recruit. It does help you obviously develop and hopefully retain because people are part of something that's growing. So I think that's an important point to make. Alright, Jim, I have one final question and it's all about you. Okay. This is all for Jim. Are you ready for this one?

Jim Welsh:

Bring it on.

Brent Kelly:

Alright. This is my favorite question to ask. I love, there's no any of these, there's no wrong answers. It's just your answer. Alright, so I won't give you an age, but if the younger version of Jim Welsh, maybe you were just starting off in your career, so you're just starting off on this endeavor of business and you ran into today's version of Jim and that younger person looked at the older version, the current version of you, and said, Jim, I'm looking for one piece of advice right now. What would you tell the younger version of you?

Jim Welsh:

I would tell my younger version to take risk, to explore every opportunity that's out there and just go for it. Because there are just so many opportunities out there. And we're in a fabulous industry here helping a lot of people, but there are a lot of other industries doing the same thing in different ways, in different approaches. And so don't hold yourself back, seek out the education that you need to establish yourself, but get in there, roll up your sleeves, get the experience. And the other thing I would say too is just it's absolutely critical to seek out something that you enjoy and don't get stuck. Don't get static. And I think you'll look back and go, yeah, I did everything I could to get where I am and I'm content.

Brent Kelly:

Wow, that's fantastic. Thanks for sharing that. I love it. In fact, I heard a phrase years ago, I don't know who this came from. I said, no risk, no nothing is what somebody said. And obviously we live in the world of risk and insurance, and so you want to hopefully take calculated risk. But you're right. There's so many things that, and I know I've had this too. So as you said that I kept thinking of in what areas have I gone? Oh, well maybe someday or we will get there. I don't want to. And then you do it and you go, why didn't I do that years ago?

Right? Why didn't I do that years ago? And this is a bit cryptic, and you probably have heard this in one of our trainings at some point, but when I had someone that expressed to me the definition of hell on earth of what that was, I shuddered, and I don't know if you remember this, but he said, the definition of hell on earth is when you get to the last day of your life on this earth and you come face-to-face with the person that you could have become. And I'll change this. The person you could have become if you only would've taken that risk to put on what you said, Jim. So Jim, thank you so much. This has been awesome. I've got great value. Any final words you want to share with the audience before we depart? I know you got a busy schedule, a busy day ahead of for you.

Jim Welsh:

No, Brent, I appreciate the opportunity. We're excited about the future. These are uncertain times in a lot of ways, but we can control what we can control and let's just have fun doing that.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, that's for sure. For sure. Well, thank you Jim, as always, I appreciate it. As a listener, thank you for being a listener to the Agent Leader podcast. Again, as a reminder, if you want to learn more about our programs and what we do, some of the cool things that Jim was talking about, you go to sitkins.com and if you want to learn about Fast Track, I'll get the words out. Go to sitkins.com/fasttrack. So with that, thank you so much. Wish you all the best.

 

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