#SitkinsIsTheSolution

Challenges and Opportunities for Agencies with Kevin Stipe of Reagan Consulting

agency leadership podcast Nov 09, 2022
 

Brent Kelly:

Welcome to the Agent Leader Podcast. My name is Brent Kelly, your host. Thanks so much for joining me on this episode. As always, the purpose of the Agent Leader Podcast is to help you, the independent insurance agency leader, to help you gain clarity on what's most important, to build consistency and key behaviors and strategies, and to make a commitment or recommitment to become your best version possible. The Best Version Possible book is out, it's co-authored by Roger Sitkins. It's 60 plus years of insurance experience packed into a short book that you could read on an airplane. We've kept it concise so that anybody, even if you got a short attention span, like myself, can read it and take nuggets and use it right away.

So go to sitkins.com/bvp, that's sitkins.com/bvp to get a copy. Well, today I have a guest that I'm very excited to have on the show with me, someone who I was able to get to know at a deeper level this past year at a leadership event that we're both part of, and he is a partner, founder. Tell me if I get any of this wrong here, Kevin, but partner, founder, CEO, all around great guy at Reagan Consulting. If you are around the insurance industry at all, and you are because you're an agency leader, you know Reagan Consulting, the name. And I love to get to know Kevin, not only from his wisdom, but he likes to have a good time and so I was excited to have Kevin on the show. Kevin, welcome to the Agent Leader podcast. Glad to have you.

Kevin Stipe:

Well, Brent, thank you. I'm going to go ahead and confess something. I was a little anxious about doing this today, having not shaved. And then I looked at you and I realized that shaving isn't a thing for this. So all good. You got some of that right. I wouldn't call myself the founder of Reagan, I'd call Bobby that, but I was one of the original shareholders when we became an independent company in 1995. One thing I do want to say, I joined Reagan three months after I got married 32 years ago and that was February in 2021. Today is my 32nd anniversary, so I'm very pleased with that. I'm very pleased I found somebody to hang in with me that long. So it's all good.

Brent Kelly:

That's great.

Kevin Stipe:

But yeah, been with Reagan for then, just shy of 32 years and dedicated my life to working in an industry, my vocational life in any case, that I never worked in. I came out of banking and I tell people today constantly, I'm like the luckiest guy in the world because I've spent a career in an industry that people outside of this industry don't necessarily know a whole lot about. But it is populated with fantastic people and it's been a great run.

Brent Kelly:

That's awesome. Well, and by the way, I should clarify because I was reading your actual profile on your website. I guess it doesn't say founder, it says since it's founding, so I just gave you credit anyway and obviously getting to know Bobby and I got to see Tom a few weeks ago at an event as well. You guys, if you don't know anything about Reagan outside of how great their work is, but they seem to get along very well and don't mind giving each other a hard time. Is that fair Kevin?

Kevin Stipe:

Well we have a real mocking culture here and it made me a little anxious that we are as hard on each other as we are. And then I heard a podcast by somebody who said the mark of a really good culture is one where people tease each other and actually, it's an affection demonstration that shows that people are comfortable in the environment. So for better or worse, we've got a teasing or a mocking environment. And I just had one of my partners in here, we were talking about something we've been working on and I just said to him how proud I am of the people that we've got here. It's the greatest vocational joy I have is that we've got a team of people here that love working together from really almost the very beginning of COVID. We've been in the office every day because we just mainly just being around each other. And so it's a good gig we've got going.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, there's no doubt and I can tell. And again, I agree. There's a lot that can be said about culture with the fun and the teasing you can have with each other. And one more thing too, my wife likes my little stubble Kevin, so that's part of the reason I keep it. But the truth of it is that I'm kind of lazy too sometimes around that. So whatever, but you look better than I do with it, so congratulations. All right. You want to get into some real conversations?

Kevin Stipe:

Yeah, why not.

Brent Kelly:

I'm sure people are like, I'd really like to hear about your stubble Brent, but actually I tune into this podcast to learn something. So I wanted to bring Kevin in, again obviously for so many different reasons and you see so much of the insurance agency landscape, lots of different levels and agencies you're working with, interacting with. And I told you before we got started that this really is just a casual conversation, but there's some key things I'd love to get to know more from your perspective. And first of all, starting on the challenge side, and I always joke if you ask an agency, "Hey, what frustrations do you have?" Sometimes you've got to grab a seat because they've got a lot of them. But I would like to hear from your perspective and agencies you're working with, interacting with, what would be a top challenge or maybe there's a couple of them that jump out of you, Kevin, that you think that agencies are facing and what are you seeing as some potential solutions to those challenges from your viewpoint?

Kevin Stipe:

Great. Well I think the greatest challenge is almost a universal greatest challenge. And I'm not sure I would say that at any other point in history, but today, everywhere I go, the number one thing people are talking about is the labor market and the competition for talent in a very talent centric industry. We talk about how the assets of an agency leave the building every night and come back the next morning. And so we're in a really tough labor market. We've been in this for a while. COVID seemed to shrink the labor force a little bit, which made it worse. And everybody's just struggling right now with the competition for talent, trying to draw new people into the industry, et cetera. And so I've been thinking about this a lot because we face it too. It's just about every business you know. I mean you go to a restaurant right now and half the tables are empty and they say there's a 30 minute wait and you're like, "Wow, how is that even possible?"

It's possible because they don't have enough servers. And so it's true across the economy and I've been thinking about there's been this building drum beat toward, we are heading into a recession, we're heading into a recession, interest rates going up, we're heading into a recession. And that's probably true. I mean the economy, the cyclicality of the economy, every once in a while people start saying the economy's no longer cyclical. We're going to be in this forever upturn and growth. And we all know that's false. The economy is cyclical. And so there's this kind of growing concern that we're heading into a recession and the message I want to give to people is, "Hang in there baby, a recession's coming." You might remember the old poster from the seventies, there was like this cat and it was, hang in there baby, Friday's coming. Hang in there baby, a recession's coming. I actually think that while none of us would wish for a recession because they tend to get a little scary and it's just tough.

We're in such a weird labor market time right now where employers have so little power and employees have so much power that I think as we head into a more difficult economy, I think there's going to be a restoration of equilibrium to the employer employee relationship. And therefore I think a recession will actually create a situation where the labor market can cool a little bit and there will be more opportunities to attract, recruit, and retain really good talent. And so while I'm not wishing for a recession, I do think that'll be one of the silver linings of that and it'll serve our industry well. So that's your encouraging point for today.

Brent Kelly:

Hey listen, typically you hear the word recession, right? I mean there's baked in fear to just that word alone, but I think you did a... First of all, I just love your take on it, but obviously there's a positive spin potentially in that certainly. So hopefully that's refreshing for, in a weird way, for some agency leaders to hear that. The talks out there. And I agree, it's on its way, but what does that mean? So one thing, and I referenced it a little bit before we started recording this, but obviously just because you talked about in essence people, the challenges people and however you want to describe that, attracting, retaining, developing, retaining your best talent, all that kind of stuff. In fact the best practices report, which Reagan obviously is a big part of that along with the Big I, that was at the very beginning. I mean reading through that, that jumped out.

In fact, I don't know if you know this Kevin, but you guys put it in bold with some of the agencies people, it's people, it's people, it's people. Have you seen anything, and I don't mean to put you on the spot here, but I mean talk about what the future holds, have you seen agencies you work with? I mean you mentioned the culture at Reagan, but have you seen agencies that you've worked with that you know, that have had, I don't want to say an easier time, that's probably not the right word, but better suited for some of the challenges right now in the labor market because of how they're positioned in culture? I mean I think I'm just always interested in... Success leaves clues and if people are having success there and to some degree, however you wanted to find that, what are they doing? Any clues for you on that?

Kevin Stipe:

Well I think it's a leadership question. I think you've either got leadership that really places a high value on people and relationships or you don't. And look, there are businesses that are very transactional that can be very successful, that don't necessarily have a great culture. The firms that I've enjoyed working with the most over the years have been firms with leaders that sold relationally. They sell insurance or they sell risk management relationally. Of course they support it with all kinds of resource. You can't just be out there being a nice person and win the business but have a relational approach to things. And that's going to manifest itself in their client relationships, but it's also going to manifest itself within their own walls. And to me, those are the best businesses out there.

And so they care for and nurture their culture. They pay attention to it, they invest in people, they invest in people, growth, and development. And it's those things that I think mark a good culture. I was with an agency leader recently that told me that because of some acquisitions that they've done and because of some of their growth, that they looked at their employee base, and this is a very large firm, so they looked at their employee base and they realized that over half of their employees today were not in the company three years ago.

Brent Kelly:

Wow.

Kevin Stipe:

Now that's an extreme example and probably very few people that would be listening to this would have a similar experience. But I would guess this, a higher percentage of most firm's employees than they would naturally expect were not in the firm 3, 4, 5 years ago. And what I want to say about this is in a work from home kind of environment, a remote work environment, firms are under investing in their culture. And I think it's very dangerous. I think it's like a car that's just about out of gas and you talk about running on fumes, we're running on fumes to get to the gas station. I'm afraid there's a lot of agencies out there today that are running on cultural fumes from a pre COVID world and the car hasn't quit yet, but it's getting closer and closer to some kind of stoppage.

When you realize that maybe you've overestimated the amount of gas in the tank, i.e. people that have been there through thick and thin, I think our cultures may be more fragile today than we naturally think. And you got to pay attention to that as a leader.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, well a lot of really good wisdom there Kevin. Just a couple comments on that. You may know, we may have talked about this, maybe we didn't, but I've done a lot of training coaching through the John Maxwell team and John Maxwell who's written, it feels like a billion books on leadership, sometimes they cross over but his central theme, which I heard years ago and when I first heard it's like one of those things, okay, that's what somebody said. He said this, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." And when you first hear you're like, "Man, that's a pretty bold statement, right? Everything rises and falls on leadership, that just seems like it's for a book." And maybe that's part of it. But I'd tell you just for what you said, I mean in all the agencies I speak with and work with, that's a challenging word.

And I think what hit me, and I don't know, I've never said this before, so maybe this will get me in trouble or not, I don't know. But with obviously the post COVID era that we're kind of coming out and obviously this hybrid workforce, which a lot of agencies are struggling with and how do we do it? I think it did expose a lot of agencies culturally in the sense of maybe sometimes there was this kind of, well we were around each other and they had to be here. And so there's these little things and I want to be careful because this is a blanket statement for me. So I know it varies, but sometimes culture was a bit of a facade or it's like we just kind of the way it was and all of a sudden people are like, "Wait a second, there's more to this."

And you get some different life experiences. And I think what I've seen just to what you said Kevin, is that the agencies, it's always interesting because you hear about the people, people, people. And you'll have some agents I talk to and we're doing great, culture is great, we're actually finding some great people. That's the exception. But I'm like, what's the trend? We've continued to invest in our people. Like this isn't like we just started doing this a year ago cause we realized there was a problem. We've been consistent in this process.

So I don't know if that's a bit of a broad statement for me that the remote hybrid has exposed some of this. But as you said that, that's kind of what... You didn't say that I did. But that's kind of what I'm sensing. It's the idea of right now if they're not doing it already, agencies need to be doubling down to some degree in that investment in their people. And I know that some of this comes into soft skills and all of that and there's this stigma around it, this soft skills and warm, fuzzy and communication. But it matters. It matters. I don't know, Kevin, you agree, disagree? Tell me what you think. What do you think?

Kevin Stipe:

Well I think remote work wasn't new to COVID, but COVID accelerated it vastly, I'm not a huge fan of consistent remote work or majority remote work. I just don't think you can build a really well connected collaborative environment with that. And especially I've got kids in their twenties, four kids in their twenties by the way. And as I've watched them with various elements of remote work themselves, it drives me crazy to think that they are not sitting in the midst of a broader team on a daily basis. I just think this is as bad for the 20 year olds as trying to learn as a third grader from a Zoom thing in your living room. I just don't like it. I don't think that it's going to wear well over time.

I'll tell you a quick story. When I was in my second job out of college working for a bank in Atlanta, I went on a trip with a senior guy at the bank to meet with a large client up in Chicago. And he warned me going in, he said, "Hey, we've kind of fumbled a couple times with these guys so this might be a little bit rocky but it'll be fine." And so I go into the meeting and I'm sitting there, I'm this 23 year old kid sitting there and sure enough man, the CFO of this company just starts unloading and I'm feeling like I'm getting defensive, okay? I'm wanting to... I don't even know what he's talking about and I want to jump into the defense of my teammate. And so I'm feeling this anxiety and the senior guy takes it all in and he goes, "Man, you have every right to be furious with us. We have really dropped the ball." And I'm like, what? Did you say that? And I watched him totally take all of the anger and the heat out of the conversation by just owning it all.

And I don't think I ever would've seen that exactly on a Zoom call. I don't think you would see that from your apartment. I think that had to be an in the room thing. And I just wonder how many lessons my own kids have missed because they haven't been present in stuff like that early in their careers. Because it helped me, it helped shape something that I'll never forget and a great lesson. So anyway, I worry about that and part of the recession I think will give employers more power to say, "Hey, you need to be back in the office." Now here's the terms by which we mean that. We're probably never going back to the five day a week mandate, but we got to have people working with each other."

Brent Kelly:

Very well said and obviously my kids are in different ages, they're from 19 to five, so I got the whole school thing, but you're seeing stuff now. I'm seeing with my kids of what some of that again, and we can have all kinds of discussions around it. But I certainly see that with the agency workforce as well. And I do find it interesting, I don't know if I said this at the event when I was with you several weeks ago or not, or I've said it somewhere else. But I always find it interesting that some of the biggest tech companies are the ones that are mandating the fact that you're coming back to the office.

I mean it's like, wait a second, these are the tech companies that are all about the remote stuff. And now they're the one's saying, "You got to be here." Why? Well think about it. Right? Anyway. All right, we've talked about some of the challenges. I do want, and maybe this is part of the successes that you share, but I'd like to hear your perspective, Kevin. Obviously in working with so many agencies and being around agencies, what do you see the best agencies, what are they doing? What are some of the success stories that you're hearing and why have they been success stories?

Kevin Stipe:

Well those aren't as consistent perhaps as the challenge. There's this universal challenge right now in terms of the labor shortage. I'd say if I was going to draw a common denominator through the success stories that have appealed the most to me, they would be around young people recruiting and development and getting people from other industries into our industry. Recognizing that particularly sales in our industry is pretty unique in that there's a renewal income stream behind it. You're not starting over every year, every January 1 you start with a blank sheet. It's like no, you're building up a portfolio of clients and relationships. And I think for relational people, the opportunity to have clients that you get to work with for 5, 10, 15, 20 plus years, that is fantastic. I mean, what better industry? And I've experienced this myself. I've been in the industry for over 30 years now and a lot of my friends are people I work with.

And how satisfying is that? It's great. I love it. So I think it's the youth movement opportunities. Actually just here today was a young leader in a big client of ours and we were kind of sharing stories and experiences and man, I think there's such a tremendous opportunity for young people in a somewhat aged out industry where so many client relationships need to be transitioned. So many firms I work with, they've got producers with million dollar plus books and they're not sure who the successor producer's going to be. And for young people to come into that and to be able to grow and have an economic opportunity like that, it's fantastic. So I think this is a great industry to continue to attract talent into. And the firms that I respect the most are the ones that have honed a pitch. They've figured out how to source them and they're effective at bringing them in.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, very well said. Part of this too, I know a big part of what you guys do all at Reagan, I mean we talk about perpetuation even part of that. There's the financial part, there's a leadership part, right? You got to have both to some degree. And I guess unless you're doing the external stuff, obviously, right? But it hit me as you said that Kevin, I have a tendency to use way too many sports analogies and that's just because I like sports and they're easy and they're overused. But I don't care because that's what I like. And I got to be careful here to go to college football because I know maybe it's been a rough year for you Kevin? Am I-

Kevin Stipe:

As an Auburn fan, I really didn't think you'd go there but well let's see where this goes.

Brent Kelly:

Now this is a positive spin Kevin. Cause what I'm getting to is that even with Auburn, now listen, I'm an Illinois fan and we've been so bad for so long for the first time, we're relevant. I mean, I don't even know what to think. Everybody's like, "What do you think about the sea-?" I mean, I don't care. They're relevant. This is a new deal. What I'm getting at is that Auburn with the right leadership, has a great opportunity to do some good things. But I am going to say, I'm going to give a little plug to my guy Bret Bielema and no one else cares, but the coach, you can speak on this, you said recruiting and developing and I'm serious about this when I use an analogy, but especially for firms out there, you're competing against other firms, sometimes bigger than you.

Maybe they're more well established. How do we recruit? What do we do? Great coaches, great leaders say, "Listen, here is why we want you. Here is your development plan and here's the outcome, what you can expect." And be able to share and create a vision that people can see oftentimes before. And I just think leaders see more and see before others. I think great college coaches that recruiters do that. Now maybe there's other stuff going on, but they're able to help a young person see more in themselves and what's possible in being part of their program. And I think great agency leaders do that in a different way, but a similar way as well. So do you want to speak on that? Am I going crazy here? What do you think?

Kevin Stipe:

No, you're fine. Look, I think the reality is, especially with today's youth recruiting is only going to be as effective over time as your ability to develop. And I will point to Nick Saban, I don't necessarily want to give the Alabama coach a whole lot of props. But look, it is what it is. They're fantastic at recruiting, but it's only because these guys come in and he can show a track record of stewarding talent all the way through to the NFL. And the more examples you've got to show your ability to do that, the better off you are. Now I'll transition to something that's a little bit happier for me because Auburn basketball is in a pretty decent spot right now. Bruce Pearl is a good recruiter, but he's a good developer and he's shown how he can do that. And I think, look, the product for the recruits is the development, and if you don't deliver the product to them, then you're going to lose them. And that's as it should be.

Brent Kelly:

Listen, we're all, every human being in their nature is a bit selfish, if not a lot in the sense of, "Hey, I'm going to come to you versus-

Kevin Stipe:

Particularly you, but yes.

Brent Kelly:

Particularly me, I'm probably very selfish, thank you, Kevin. But they're thinking they're in four years going, okay, what's going to... Or three years or whatever it is. It's like what's going to happen to me, develop? What are you going to do to help me get what I want? And that's in essence how people think. And the great coaches, the great leaders are able to show them and then give them a plan and back it up.

Kevin Stipe:

Well, yeah. And look, I mean, don't think it's selfish to say, "Hey, you've got a certain level of giftedness and I want you to be with somebody that can help you reach your highest potential." I mean, I think we all want that for each other. And so man, we need good coaches in this world. And I think the best agency leaders are people who have a coach mentality. I think that would maybe draw together everything we've talked about here.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, amen. And I will say from my perspective and some of the best agency leaders, if you talk to them heart to heart, they're like, "Listen, obviously we want financial this and all that, but I just want to grow and develop my people. Cause I know if I do that, the rest seems to kind of take care of itself." So, All right. Kevin, you ready for one more question? One last question?

Kevin Stipe:

Sure.

Brent Kelly:

All right. You got time? I'll be quick here.

Kevin Stipe:

I'm good.

Brent Kelly:

All right. So the first part of leadership is personal leadership, right? Individual leadership. And so I want to ask you an individual leadership question that can apply to anybody. And here's my question. If you were having a conversation with a younger Kevin, maybe you're sitting in that room as a 23 year old, I don't know what age you are, right? Back when you're just starting your career and that young Kevin looks at the Kevin today and says, "Hey, older me, if you have one piece of advice to give me, to help me, what would it be?"

Kevin Stipe:

I would say don't think about yourself so much. Seriously. And look, I think this is the human challenge and it's harder for some of us than others. I think even today I think about what I want or what I think I need. Way too much of my head space is spent there and I would be so much better off, our firm here would be so much better off to the degree that I could think about myself less and the people around me more. And that sounds great to say, man, it's hard to do that. And I think we all are striving at some level to do that. But I think that's what I would say. The old adage, it's amazing what you can do when you don't care who takes the credit. And I think that's right. I mean, my experience, certainly I've observed that with a lot of really, really good leaders. They seem to be the people that care most about the people around them. And that's what I aspire to be. I fail frequently at that, but I think that's where it's at.

Brent Kelly:

That's fantastic. I certainly echo that. I love asking that question cause I get a variety of answers. But one thing hit me as you said that, and I've heard years ago, the definition of maturity is to be able to see and act on behalf of others. Part of maturity is I'm going to see and act on behalf of the people, which by the way is really hard to do. Because at the core, we're all a bit selfish. But I heard something, it said, "At 18 years old, you care what everybody thinks about you. At 40, you really stop caring so much. And by 65 you realize no one was paying attention anyway." And I always thought that was kind of a fun quote when I heard that. So, hey Kevin, thank you. I know you got a lot going on. I appreciate you being part of this. Any last words or any way if people want to find about Reagan? Any plug you want to throw in?

Kevin Stipe:

Oh gosh, I'm not a big plug guy. Reagan Consulting, we're Atlanta based. Our website is reaganconsulting.com. And we love this industry. We want to see this industry succeed and we work hard like you do, Brent, to try to figure out how to help advance the ball on that. And it's been a great industry to me, I'll tell you that. I'm so proud of it. And the people that I know here are just absolutely class acts. So all good.

Brent Kelly:

Thank you. Well Kevin, thank you again. And seriously, you guys do incredible work, obviously, but you really are, getting to know you better and your team, you truly are what you say you are and that means a lot. Thank you all.

Kevin Stipe:

Well thank you. Likewise.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, thank you all. Thanks for being a part, thanks for listening to the Agent Leader Podcast and I wish you all the best in your success.

 

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