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Fall Leadership Conference: McBride Sworn in, Salmon Elected, Symington Outlines Vision

Get up to speed on the new Big "I" chairman Mike McBride, newly elected Executive Committee member Bobby Salmon and the short- and long-term priorities outlined by the
new Big “I" president & CEO, Charles Symington. 
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fall leadership conference: mcbride sworn in, salmon elected, symington outlines vision

Last week in Grand Rapids, Michigan, during the Big "I" Fall Leadership Conference (FLC), Mike McBride, president of Mason-McBride in Troy, Michigan, was sworn in as the new Big “I" chairman.

After being sworn in by his daughter, Sarah McBride, he addressed the more than 400 attendees at the Big “I" Installation of Officers Luncheon, where he emphasized the importance of communicating the value of Big “I" resources, especially in the hard market.

“The Big 'I' is the best, most reliable and comprehensive source of programs and resources to support independent agencies and help them thrive, but too many of our members don't know that," he said. 

“We need to connect with them where and how they want to be reached," McBride said, before explaining how the association's more than $2 million investment in new database and content management systems will benefit members. 

During the Big “I" board meeting, Bobby Salmon, manager of INSURE in Raleigh, North Carolina, was elected unopposed to the Executive Committee while new Big “I" president & CEO, Charles Symington, also addressed Big “I" board members and outlined short- and long-term priorities that will help the Big “I" achieve its mission: “to offer members a competitive sustainable advantage."

To “focus on the business of the future," Symington said that he is looking forward to prioritizing technology and improving market access for agents. He highlighted a massive and newly launched technology upgrade for the association that will help the Big “I" better understand its members and their interests and needs, and he looked forward to assisting agencies with their own technology through a new InsurTech Task Force, the Agents Council for Technology (ACT) and Trusted Choice® TechCompare. He later added that he also looked forward to exploring how ACT, TechCompare, and Catalyit—an entity initiated by several state associations to help agencies leverage technology—could work more seamlessly together. 

Given the difficult current insurance market, Symington explained several planned enhancements and expansions to Big “I" Markets, the association's market access program, and said he hoped for more creative solutions in supporting members through the challenging climate. He explained the need for increased advocacy on legislative and regulatory changes to ameliorate market dislocation and vowed to have hard conversations with carrier partners about what their underwriting restrictions mean for their distribution force.

Symington joined the Big “I" in 2004 on the government affairs staff. He has been regularly recognized by The Hill newspaper as a top lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and has been a key leader in many industry coalitions on Capitol Hill, advocating on issues important to Big “I" members.

Symington also gave two special recognitions honoring the service of Executive Committee members. A statement honoring John Costello, immediate past chairman, was presented into the Congressional Record by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York), and a statement honoring Salmon was presented into the Congressional Record by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-North Carolina). 

During the Young Agents Leadership Institute (YALI), which was held in conjunction with the FLC, over 100 young agents, half of whom were first-time attendees, listened to a host of engaging speakers and panelists who provided advice and strategies that will help them not only become the leaders of tomorrow but also step up to become the leaders of today.

YALI kicked off with “Generational Differences in the Workplace," a panel hosted by Tamra Johnson, vice president of public affairs at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA). Brandon Okita, chair of the Big “I" Diversity Council and vice president of FIA Insurance Services in Pasadena, California; Johanna Holling, InvestSM volunteer relations program manager; and Brock Elliott, chair of the Big “I" national Young Agents Committee and producer and partner at Elliott Group in Louisburg, Kansas; shared their insights on the unique challenges and opportunities of a multigenerational workforce.

The panel explored ways that employers can utilize the existing experience within their company and also adapt to the wants and needs of millennial and Generation Z talent, such as embracing hybrid work, changing communication styles, and actively seeking suggestions from younger generations and implementing them.

“We have to look differently at our business," Elliott said. “Hybrid probably isn't enough, so there has to be something more creative for delivering what the next generation wants."

Keynote speaker, Robyn Benincasa—an award-winning keynote speaker, a more than 20-year veteran San Diego firefighter, a world champion adventure racer, a 2014 CNN Hero, a Guinness World Record Endurance Kayaker, a best-selling author, and founder of The Project Athena Foundation—wowed the audience with tales of leadership and teamwork.

In an insurance market defined by rising rates, dwindling capacity, increasing frequency of catastrophes and more, Benincasa remind young agents that “you are never defined by your setback, you are defined by your comeback."

Drawing from her experiences as a world champion adventure racer, Benincasa has learned that “changes and challenges are the only things we can 100% count on, but it's our response that dictates our success." She impressed principles such as focusing on the hope of success rather than the fear of failure and showing courage and guts when the going gets tough.

During the afternoon sessions, Kelly Donahue-Piro, founder and president of Agency Performance Partners and a no-nonsense effectiveness expert who has helped hundreds of insurance agencies identify and capitalize on sustainable improvement opportunities, gave attendees six strategies for how to survive and thrive in the current market in her session, “How to Be a Hard Market Hero."

“The reactive model really hurts an agency," she said, encouraging agents to “have confidence in the hard market" by devising a plan. “We can't control what the carriers do, but you can control your approach and your strategy," she said.

Strategies included leading your team with facts not feelings; managing your time to focus on clients that lead to retention and customer satisfaction; optimizing the remarketing process; and dealing with inbound calls from clients who are unhappy that their rate has increased.

In the final session of the day, Lisa Hart, senior territory manager at Liberty Mutual, Safeco Insurance and State Auto, moderated a panel discussion called “Tackling Hard Conversations." Avery Moore, owner of ECI Insurance in Piedmont, Oklahoma; Will Lemanski, owner and producer at Meiers Lombardini Lemanski Insurance in East Lansing, Michigan; Mallory Cornell, vice president of Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin; and Daschle Larsen, risk executive and principal at McKinneyOlson Insurance in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; shared some of the difficult conversations they've had in their careers and things they wish they had done differently.

That evening, state young agent committees received a slew of awards, including the 2022 Outstanding Political Involvement Award, 2022 Outstanding Invest Supporter Award, 2022 Outstanding Membership Development Award and more.

Will Jones is IA editor-in-chief. 

Thursday, October 5, 2023
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