Hub International’s Tina Osen kicks off fall CKNW CEO Series

Oct 01, 2013

Tina Osen

Why would a leading insurance organization look to McDonalds, Starbucks and Ikea for potential employees? Tina Osen, President and CEO of global insurance brokerage HUB International revealed the answer, along with other fascinating management insights, in the first interview of the fall 2013 series of CKNW 980’s “The Chief Executives”.

The event is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University and prominent Vancouver radio station CKNW News Talk 980 to bring leadership and business advice from some of Canada’s top business leaders to the Segal Graduate School. For the first time this fall, respected CKNW host Bill Good is conducting the interviews in front of Vancouver’s business community at live breakfast events.

Good opened the series by probing into Osen’s early life, specifically how she got started in the insurance business. She revealed that her father had sparked her interest in the career, after inviting her to join in an entry-level position at the regional insurance brokers he owned. She soon realized that being the daughter of the boss had both pros and cons, and after one year in her father’s organization, she accepted a position in a training program at a national insurance company based in Toronto.

“Our industry is one that people don’t think of as a career to go into – most kids don’t grow up dreaming of working in insurance,” said Osen. “The moment I began in this business I loved it. There is nothing in this world that doesn’t transact with insurance, so the breadth of people you meet is very exciting.”

Osen then shared her thoughts on leadership, specifically the qualities she believes make for outstanding leaders. In her experience, most top leaders never aspire to have the top job, but instead, recognize that success depends on recognizing the teams they are a part of, the communities they engage with, and ultimately, the customers.

The importance Osen places on leadership is highlighted in the qualities she looks for when recruiting new employees. Since 1999, Hub International has grown from employing 100 people to almost 340. As a result of this Osen, is not able to interact with all the staff as intimately as she would like to, and therefore looks for leaders to fulfill this role.

She described an initiative the company set in motion two years ago, where they looked specifically for people with leadership qualities rather than insurance acumen, searching within service providers such as Starbucks, Ikea and McDonalds for new employees. The experiment, she revealed, had been a success, and the new recruits had brought a fresh perspective to the organization.

“You can teach technical skills, but you can’t teach leadership qualities,” she said. “When looking for new talent we seek out self-starters, people who are entrepreneurial. A given for potential employees is integrity.”

Good inquired about how Hub International sets about retaining their staff, with Osen answering that they invest greatly in their employees. Each case is different, with training, promotion, and financial incentives all rewards for high performance, but setting people on a career-path is ultimately the top priority.

The subject of the global financial crisis cropped up during conversation, which Osen admitted presented a unique set of challenges to insurance firms. At the beginning of the crisis, Hub International made a commitment to its employees that although none of them would receive a pay rise for at least a year, there would be no redundancies. This gesture to employees ultimately provided them with peace of mind, and was appreciated.

“The beautiful thing about insurance is that everyone needs to buy it,” said Osen, eliciting laughter from the audience. “We were never concerned about our ability to stay afloat, but if our clients go, we go. I know insurance firms south of the border who were badly affected by the crisis.”

As is customary for the Chief Executives series, the interview ended with Osen fielding questions from the audience, touching on subjects such as her approach to training employees; what advice she would give to her younger self; the insurance industry’s perspective on the increasing risk of a large-scale earthquake in Canada; and what steps they take to ensure they stand out in the competitive insurance market.

To see past interviews from the CKNW Chief Executives Series, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/events/2013-cknw-ceo-series/

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