S4 EP 42: People, patience and private equity growth – with Lea Daughtridge Wharton, Chief Human Resources Officer, Oakbridge Insurance

“Patience is such a virtue when working in a high growth organization like this. The number of partner agencies that we’ve brought together are all in different phases of talent maturity.

You just have to be patient and figure out where they are on the continuum and bring them along. I’m building and doing and teaching all at the same time”, says Lea as she emphasizes the need to be patient in a start-up environment.  

On the Insurance Coffee House Podcast this week, Lea discusses the steps that led her from advertising HR leadership roles in Boston and New York, through to real estate investment in North Carolina to her role as Chief Human Resources Officer at Oakbridge Insurance.

“People are people. The principles of organizational behavior, design and talent management are transferable. There are some tweaks that need to be made based on the industry that you’re in and the issues you may be facing. I’ve really enjoyed learning all about insurance and risk management.

I work with a great leadership team that has helped me learn. They have learned from me and the talent skills that I bring to the table. Oakbridge Insurance is an extraordinary company.”

Lea describes the private equity-backed business model that underpins current growth.

“We’re on our second round of private equity. We hit the ground running on January 1 of 2021 with around 100 employees. Today, our growth, we’re ranked 55th among US insurance brokerages. We have 485+ insurance professionals. And have now acquired 32 partner insurance agencies.”

“Our shareholders know that is how we’re going to grow. We are constantly in the market looking for partner agencies that share the same cultural values.

We’ve got a robust M&A team. That is what they do, day in day out.”

From a people and culture perspective, Lea gives insight into working alongside the M&A team and integrating insurance talent in to the business.

“Once they’ve identified the prospect and moved it through the funnel, we get to the point where we start having the talent conversations.

I integrate with the leaders, the owners of those acquisition targets and talk about talent. We all know that without talent, what are we in the brokerage world? We need to preserve that insurance talent and make sure that change management journey is as easy as possible.”

Lea discusses the impact of working in a high-growth fast-paced insurance business environment.

“The driving force is the mission to better serve the communities that we’re in. Transforming and elevating the way that business is done in the insurance industry, you’ve got to be prepared for a rapidly changing environment. To be comfortable with ambiguity, flexible, adaptable and open-minded.”

Lea highlights the benefit of working alongside a team of like-minded insurance professionals as well as seeking the advice and counsel of external support.

“It’s all about creating a best-in-class producer-centric, employee-centric brokerage built on the foundation of meaningful client relationships.

Having that team of like-minded folks is really important as we explore all the opportunities that are out there and building things from the ground up, making sure your skills are sharp and that you can be agile.

I am a firm believer in peer support from other organizations, even outside of the industry. Having conversations with people like you on, ‘What’s going on in the industry, what are you hearing? Making sure that I’m learning and growing all the time.”

Lea shares her advice for insurance leaders coming to interview at Oakbridge, saying, “Bring your authentic self to the interview. Be prepared with your questions about the organization. Make sure that you’re looking for the fit, because the fit is so absolutely important.”

Advising her fellow insurance industry HR people leaders and talent acquisition professionals, Lea says “ Again, look for the authentic candidate. Read between the lines when you’re looking at a resume or being presented a candidate from a top level insurance executive search. Make sure you understand what your organization’s value proposition is. Make sure there is a fit because if it isn’t there, then neither party is going to be successful.”

When working with an external insurance executive search partner, Lea says, “It’s very clear those who are in it just to put a warm body in a seat and earn a fee. Those who are actually your partner are the ones that listen. They want to understand the organization. They want to understand the value proposition behind it. They are going to only present the right candidate that fit.”

In conclusion, Lea shares one lesson her HR career has taught her she wants everyone to know.

“I talked about being agile, being willing to wear many hats, but when you’re putting together your strategic plan or you’re trying to figure your plan for the year, cut it in half. Be realistic, about what you can and need to accomplish.”

Connect with Lea Daughtridge Wharton on LinkedIn or find out more about Oakbridge Insurance

The Insurance Coffee House Podcast is hosted by Nick Hoadley, CEO of Insurance Search.

We are a global Insurance Executive Search Consultancy, supporting Insurance and Insurtech businesses to attract and retain the very best insurance talent.

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