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Business Observer Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020 8 months ago

Insurance firm enhances HR department by wooing Publix exec

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A 25-year veteran of Publix’s HR leadership team takes her lessons, in building teams, compensation programs and more, to a hungry, fast-growing insurance firm.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

In less than a year since it raised nearly $230 million in an IPO, Tampa-based BRP Group has been one of the busiest insurance firms in Florida. It’s acquired 10 companies, adding more than $50 million in revenue, in addition to taking in hundreds of employees now under the BRP Group umbrella. Revenue grew from $79.88 million in 2018 to $137.84 million in 2019, up 72.5%.

All told, BRP Group has 878 employees today, up from 550 in 2018. With more growth and acquisitions on the horizon, company leaders urgently sought to add a top executive who could direct human resources, from compensation programs to enhancing its already solid culture. They found that executive, Erin King, far from insurance but in a place known regionwide for its top-shelf culture and employee satisfaction: Publix.

'The biggest challenge of human resources today is most employees look at leaving a job every few years as learning and development.' Erin King, BRP Group.

King was named BRP Group’s Chief Colleague Officer in July. She had been with Publix for 25 years, most recently as director of human resources. Like many Publix managers and executives, she started at one of the stores, as a clerk/cashier. Back then it was to make spending money while a UCF student in the early 1990s. She stayed with the company and worked her way up, where she established Publix’s compensation program and oversaw training and hiring, among other roles.

At BRP Group, King’s task, in part, is to attract, retain and develop top talent in an industry, insurance, facing a generational gap challenge: The level of young employees aren’t entering it at the same pace seasoned employees are leaving. “The biggest challenge of human resources today is most employees look at leaving a job every few years as learning and development,” King says. “Staying long-term with a company” is no longer something many people do.

King is also tasked with delivering some of the best HR lessons learned from Publix — a Fortune 100 Best Company to Work for winner 23 years in a row — to BRP Group. King wasn’t looking to leave Publix when the BRP Group opportunity came to her. But noting Publix turns 90 years old this year and that many of its policies have been in place for a while, she was lured by the possibility of building something new at BRP. “I can’t wait to get started,” King says.

BRP Group COO Dan Galbraith says King wowed the executive team with her engaging personality and willingness to embrace something new — like leaving an executive post at Publix. “The insurance industry is one that relies very heavily on human capital and expertise to be successful and thrive in the long run,” Galbraith says. “So Erin’s role is centered on ensuring our most valuable asset, our colleagues, are adequately represented on the executive team.”

King knew little about BRP Group, formed in 2011. After several meetings, she says she was excited to join a company that, like Publix, “differentiate themselves from others based on service and relationships.” BRP Group’s focus on its Azimuth, its True North and guiding principles, is also Publix-esque and another factor for King.  

Among the Publix-learned lessons King aims to utilize in her role at BRP Group is the difference between policies set at the top and how employees at every level perceive them. “Culture is not about process; it’s about day-to-day,” King says. “Whenever you set up a policy, ask yourself, ‘How will this impact employees? Does this decision motivate associates to feel like they are really taken care of?’”

The focus on employees from the ground up, King says, is embedded in the Publix HR strategy. Today that includes an employee stock ownership plan, free flu shots, holiday cash bonuses and more. “We define success when what we do creates a world where our associates are fulfilled and satisfied,” King says of the Lakeland grocer. “We believe when our associates are satisfied, they put their best effort forward.”

On hiring and recruiting top people, King says the Publix secret is to value work ethic, problem-solving and curiosity over technical skills. “You have to find someone whose individual work values fit with your company’s work values,” she says.

After you find that person, the onus is on the company, King says, to create an environment where employees believe the mission is more than merely selling milk or life insurance. “People want to feel belonging,” King says. “They want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and something that matters.”

(This story was updated to reflect the terminology of Publix's employee stock ownership plan.) 

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