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But first, coffee

There are moments in your career that you will always remember. My first day of work at Berkley One is one of those moments. I was joining a startup business unit after a career spanning 24 years at another company. Just like so many days before, I headed off to work early that morning, but arrived at a different destination in downtown Boston. As a brand new business unit, Berkley One had no physical presence anywhere, so another Berkley company opened their doors to me and provided a temporary workspace to use until the time was right for Berkley One to have our own office in Boston.

When I arrived that morning, I was kindly shown to my office which included only a desk and a chair. Knowing that my phone and computer equipment were on their way, all I really needed to get started was a pen, a pad of paper and a hot cup of coffee—all of which would have been readily available upon my daily arrival in years past. To my good luck, the coffee came first when the President of the Berkley Company that I was now co-located with, who himself had started his company only a few years earlier, came by to say hello and offer me a cup. He carried a full pot with him and as he stood in my doorway, asked me with a smile, “Do you know who made this coffee?” I had no idea, but was intrigued by the question. So he continued, “I made the coffee. I didn’t wait for someone else to do it for me. If I, or someone else in this office, needs something done, we figure out how to get it done and we do it. Otherwise, we’re going to be sitting around waiting for coffee to be made.”

This interaction left an indelible mark and it is the foundation of how I think about our new business. He knew what I quickly learned—at a startup, you write your own playbook, and you make your own coffee. Nothing comes ready for you to walk in, pick up, and start using. It is up to you to figure things out and accomplish them. This theme has resonated across our organization as we have been building it, and has become an integral part of our culture.

 

There is no “way that we do it” here

 

At Berkley One, we have the exciting opportunity to chart our own path. Without legacy systems, departments, and pre-defined processes of a large organization, we are able to design our own approach from the ground up. We are able to ask “how do we want to do it?” rather than “how have we done it in the past?” While the coffee isn’t made for us, there’s excitement in making it ourselves—and choosing what kind we want!

My job, as both an original member of the Berkley One team and as Chief Operating Officer, is to facilitate the process of building the operation with a focus on how everything comes together. With no process manuals and workflow booklets, we started this effort with a blank piece of paper and began to write the story about Berkley One and how we planned to do things differently. As we’ve mapped out our path and moved forward along it, we’ve sought and applied the knowledge and experience of Berkley and its member companies, future agent partners, and, importantly, our own team to build our organization differently.

Starting with a blank page enabled us to think differently about how things are “typically” done in the insurance industry—from how we inspect homes, to how we quote business, to how we interact with our agents and customers. We are building our business to incorporate the best of what works well with that which we know can work better, particularly by leveraging new and developing technology to better serve customers and agents. And we’re designing with a heavy reliance on what we hear and learn from creative and experienced people both inside and outside of our organization—including our employees, partner agents, and technology innovators.

 

Everyone is an architect of the company’s foundation

 

At Berkley One, we have hired a group of individuals who are expert in their discipline. That’s foundational when you’re developing a business based on credibility and trust. Equally important is finding individuals who bring passion and expertise that reaches beyond their traditional role and department—people who are naturally inclined to solve problems with passion and creativity. With intention, we are hiring people who are catalysts for change and for action.

This manifests in many different roles here. For example, Nick Sedlak, our Vice President of Underwriting Operations came to Berkley One after having helped launch a personal lines insurance startup. He brought with him expertise in underwriting operations, and also a unique understanding of the challenges and opportunities of designing a new policy administration system. Vadim Mezhebovsky, our Chief Actuary, and a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society, brought deep actuarial expertise, and also has experience in designing internet-based consumer portals for personal insurance. And Frances Brodeur, our very first Agency Experience Manager, joined Berkley One with expertise in working with agents and brokers to help them grow and also as a trained actuary. She leverages both skill sets to analyze results, evaluate agency feedback, market effectively and make our product offering better.

This approach to recruiting has produced a team of experts that operate cross-functionally, are passionate about doing their defined job well and work with a strong sense of personal ownership and contribution. Each of the exceptional people we have here is able to reflect and see the mark they have made on Berkley One. This wouldn’t work without an extraordinary level of respect and trust, and that’s part of who we are.

 

There is a profound sense of responsibility for what we are creating

 

No one could have prepared us for the tremendous sense of accountability that comes with starting up a new business. It’s a bit like having your first child—everyone gives you advice on what to expect, but only when that child comes into the world do you really understand the responsibility of it all!

There are many people to whom we are now accountable and to whom we have an important responsibility. There’s the Berkley One team, who have chosen to join our new business, who trust and believe in the vision, and who have each had a hand in designing from the blank page.

There’s Berkley, an organization that sees a terrific opportunity in our business and has invested in our model and our team.

There’s our agent partners. These are agents and brokers who trust us enough to commit to a relationship with Berkley One and to place with us the insurance coverage of their most important clients.

And then there are the individuals for whom we will provide insurance protection. We’re promising that we will help get these folks back on their feet if their home is damaged in a storm, if they face a lawsuit, or if their favorite work of art is stolen. We hope to make the insurance transaction simple, to be there when needed, and to help protect the things these individuals have trusted us to insure, things that are valuable to them and that they have worked hard to earn.

The sense of responsibility is huge and it sits everywhere at Berkley One. It energizes us. It brings an excitement and a purpose to what we do—and brings us back each day to why we started Berkley One in the first place. We’re here because we believe we can make the insurance experience better, and easier, for our clients and our agents. And now that we’re open for business, we are already hearing feedback and ideas that will become part of the fabric of how we operate. It’s our job—and our privilege—to keep listening.

We now have almost 70 people working for Berkley One. We have rates and forms written and filed in multiple states. We have a policy administration system built from scratch that is now fully operational. We have partnerships with unique service providers. We have agents appointed with us and selling our products. And we have customers to serve and employees eager to serve them. We’re thrilled about this business and building something truly different. And as we grow and a team of 70 becomes 170, you’ll still find us learning and responding every day—and making our own coffee.

Kevin Hogan is Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Berkley One.