When Scott Franklin and other members of the Lanier Upshaw management team sit down to interview a prospective employee for their insurance firm they have a specific list of criteria that person must meet.
That list includes sales skills, technical know-how and a strong business acumen.
Those traits are particularly important at Lanier Upshaw, a full-service, independent insurance company based in Lakeland, with an office in Tampa. The firm has 65 employees, including 17 sales agents, and handles about $93 million in premiums a year. In addition to business insurance, services include a private medical insurance exchange, group employee benefits services and financial consulting.
Franklin, president and CEO of the firm and a 14-year U.S. Navy pilot veteran, says recruiting and retaining top employees is one of the firm's competitive edges. Lanier Upshaw does it well, too, with numerous best places to work awards over the last decade.
“Because we don't manufacture anything, but instead provide an intangible product, human capital is everything,” says Franklin. “Talented staff is the essential prerequisite for client and revenue growth. So, it's fair to say our growth strategy focuses on both new staff and new clients.”
For starters, successful staff members at the 75-year-old company are encouraged to think like owners — which they are. In 2004, Lanier Upshaw began to offer employees, after they are with the firm for one year, partial ownership through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, an uncommon move in the industry.
Franklin declines to discuss the value of the stock. But he says the business is an open book to his fellow colleagues and co-owners.
“Every year, an outside firm does the valuation and determines the price of our stock. We then have a staff appreciation event and give out the stock certificates. Everyone's always eager to see how much their shares have grown since the previous year,” he says. “Being an owner of a company is like the difference in buying a home versus renting an apartment.”
Employees are taught the firm's mantra, “progress, not perfection,” from the first day. “We can teach the technical stuff and sharpen their sales skills,” Franklin says, “but we can't teach self-discipline and perseverance.”
Lanier Upshaw employees are also trained on the firm's team-based approach, which isn't an empty cliche: Clients are assigned a team that consists of agents, account managers, executives, loss control, safety experts and more. Some clients have been with the firm since businessman Lanier Upshaw founded it in 1941, right before he was called to serve in World War II.
“We create teams who handle the same clients over and over,” Franklin says. “That way they build relationships with each other.”
Then there are the regional and statewide awards. One big one is from workforce nonprofit CareerSource Polk. The organization honors employers who exemplify best practice workplaces and are committed to improving their employees' quality of life. Lanier Upshaw has won a CareerSource Polk Best Places to Work Award for nine consecutive years.
“Chemistry with the team is critical,” Franklin says. “Lone wolves may succeed in other places, but not here.”