Uprooting herself to try and build a struggling business back up where nobody knew her, was the challenge that Drew Schnehage (pictured) accepted in 2019 – a move that saw her leave the South African unit of insurtech and third-party administrator (TPA) Innovation Group to lead the Australian operations in her capacity as managing director.
Schnehage, whose 32 years of insurance industry experience includes time spent as chief executive of her own underwriting agency, went big on conversations both with clients and the workforce at Innovation Group Australia. The goal was to find out what was and what wasn’t working internally, as well as what clients expected and wanted the company to deliver.
It was through these conversations – including staff breakfast meetings pre-pandemic – that Schnehage said she discovered who “the heart of the business” was, and they were the female next-level leaders at the firm. These were the line managers, or those below the executive and management teams.
As part of the managing director’s transformation plan, Schnehage revamped her top line-up and elevated the line managers who fit the bill.
“I realised that if I lift them up,” Schnehage told Insurance Business, “we were going to have a way better business because they understood it. They’re very much in tune with the employees and understand where things are going wrong and where things are not working.
“And what I did as well is I collapsed a structure because there were just too many layers that we didn’t need. We need to be able to say that we all operate on the same level, even me. I’m not sitting at the top and I’m not dictating to everybody; I go down to the level where I actually go and find out exactly why something’s gone wrong.”
It was also through Schnehage’s meetings that she picked up pieces of information that helped her in changing the culture and structure of the business.
The MD noted: “That’s where the teamwork, I think, really works well with women, because we like to work together.
“So I said let’s work together, and let’s make a plan and see how we can make sure that this business gets to be the type of business so that we will be able to say that Innovation Group is the company to work for; and for clients that Innovation Group is the company they need to use as a TPA. So that’s how it started evolving.”
Currently Schnehage’s executive team consists of three females and two males, while her management team has an even 50/50 split.
Another important aspect of the rebuilding at Innovation Group Australia was recognising the contributions of its people and providing them a sense of involvement.
“We started working out a plan of how we are going to deliver,” recalled Schnehage. “So we said, ‘All right, what is happening in the business, why are we not delivering service’, and it was all about culture. It was about the staff not getting the recognition and the reward and just that ‘thank you’ for what they’re doing. Slowly, but surely, if you’ve got a happy workforce, you’re going to have happy clients.”
The managing director also highlighted the benefits of coaching and cross-skilling.
Schnehage explained: “If you work in silos, then you’re going to have gaps, because you’re just doing this one thing and then this next person is operating and doing that one thing, and you’re going to have gaps in between because it’s not fluid and people are not working together.”
“The first thing you can do is to cross-skill people, and people enjoy that because they are learning more,” she noted. “And through the cross-skilling they’re actually getting different perspectives as well and can make suggestions to their colleagues, and then you find that your staff on the ground level are actually feeling that they are contributing.
“Then you find that the whole culture starts changing, and the business, because it becomes collaborative. And people start contributing to how to make it better.”
In fact, Schnehage offers incentives to employees who can suggest efficiencies which then bring in more passive revenue for the company. The boss believes that having everyone involved inspires the workforce.
“It comes from my passion”
While Schnehage has succeeded in overhauling the Australian business, particularly when it comes to female leadership, she is the only woman at her level globally. Being the only woman, however, has not stopped Schnehage from making herself heard.
“I have to be very forceful, which is not my nature because I’m not this domineering-type person,” she told Insurance Business, “but I have to basically say, ‘You know what, this is where we’re at and this is what we do’.
“So I continuously have to push, showcase, make them aware, highlight to them that this is how we change the business. This is what our plans are; this is our strategic focus; this is what we need from you in terms of support. And I drive that agenda all the time.”
In November 2019, at Innovation Group’s global conference in the UK, Schnehage took the opportunity during her presentation to provide everyone a full picture of the Australian unit – where the business has come from, what they’ve done, and where they’re going.
In Schnehage’s view, it was important to get all that across, especially as the group was developing a global platform and certain things specific to Australia were needed to make that happen.
She said: “The comments that came back were ‘well done’ and ‘You’ve come a long way in terms of what you’ve done in Australia, and one thing we can say is you’re persistent and you’re drumming your drum in terms of what you need and we hear you’, and that was good enough for me.
“Because I knew that my point is across and they understand where I’m coming from. For me, I know what we need to do to deliver for this region, and if they don’t listen, then what’s the point? And they appreciate that, because they know the place that I come from. It comes from my heart; it comes from my passion; it comes from who I am and what I want to do for this business.”