Insurance executive Steve Herrig has learned some big lessons about hiring top leaders over the years. A big one: don’t do it alone.
Amid the turmoil of the pandemic, one area firm has kept its sights on the sunny side of the street.
That company, Bradenton-based Sunz Insurance, has worked in recent months to build up its leadership team, making several additions through external hires as well as through internal promotions. The growing leadership bench comes during an era of significant growth for the 350-employee firm, with $415.02 million in revenue in 2019. That's up from $137 million in 2016, a 203% increase over four years. The firm is a national provider of workers’ compensation insurance and insurance services to professional employer organizations, staffing companies and large employers.
Sunz CEO and chairman Steven Herrig says the first key move was promoting Rick Leonard to president, in May. In early October, Sunz announced it had hired a new executive vice president and CFO, Jeffrey Marshall. Then, later in the month, it announced a new chief underwriting officer, David Brodsky. That came after Alicia Christiansen was promoted to director of sales operations and Glen Distefano was promoted to chief information security officer in August.
Leonard started with Sunz as broker relations executive and was then promoted to director of sales. “Rick’s skill set and leadership style is very broad-based and expands beyond an understanding of sales,” says Herrig. “Rick is a gifted individual and an exceptional leader and has a good understanding of business. He was the natural selection to be president of Sunz.”
‘I probably have grown in the process by letting others be more involved in also interviewing the person and getting their perspective of what they thought.’ — Steven Herrig, Sunz Insurance
Leonard, with Sunz since 2011, is also an asset because he understands the Sunz model, Herrig says, and its vision for the future. “Where Rick, I think, is exceptional and will help the most is he’s very hands on, he meets with the various teams and does a really nice job of interacting with the other managers and pretty much everyone in the company,” says Herrig.
The hiring of Marshall as CFO was predicated by need since Sunz’s CFO was retiring. The company used an executive search firm to find a good fit.
Marshall, with over 35 years in finance and accounting, was with Ategrity Specialty Holdings Insurance Co. as a senior vice president, group CFO and chief risk officer prior to joining Sunz. “The vetting process was long and arduous, and we selected Jeff because of his broad-based understanding of business,” says Herrig. “His resume was tailor made for us, and then after having met him and interviewed him, the decision was made clear.”
Brodsky, Sunz’s new chief underwriting officer, filled a spot the company wasn’t actively searching for, and was, instead, an example of the firm's opportunistic nature. “He was someone who was well known and highly regarded in the industry,” says Herrig. “We heard he became available and we just went after him.”
Herrig, who previously helped grow a PEO, Bradenton-based Professional Employer Services, to a $50 million business, among other ventures, says his approach to hiring has evolved over the years. “I probably have grown in the process by letting others be more involved in also interviewing the person and getting their perspective of what they thought,” he says. “In past years, I pretty much made those decisions without additional input from others.” That change has been gradual, adding one person into the process, then another and so on. “As you grow, you have to do things at a higher level,” says Herrig. “It requires a greater degree of sophistication.”
The leadership team now includes people from outside, like Brodsky, and people from inside the company, like Leonard. That’s an asset, says Herrig, who doesn’t want to limit the company’s prospects by sticking to solely internal or external candidates. Both sets will help lead growth. “The internal people will help drive it from the standpoint that they have a solid understanding of Sunz’s unique model and how we serve our clients,” he says. “The external people will drive it by bringing in new ideas and ways of viewing things.”
In the coming months, Herrig says Sunz will unveil additional plans for growth. Early in the pandemic, Sunz, like many companies, experienced a contraction. But now it’s on better footing.
The leadership additions and promotions, meanwhile, are just part of its larger big-picture plan. “Our strategy, like most businesses, is always to improve and evolve along with your growth,” says Herrig. “We’re always looking to elevate and become better.”