When Insurance Business suggested to Rhys Mills (pictured above) that his first insurance job must have been a baptism of fire, he agreed.
“Yes, it was!” said the agency boss.
Rhys Mills is managing director of Solution Underwriting, an independent agency based in Melbourne with offices around the country. His first insurance position was with the family business, McLaren’s Loss Adjusters, in the suburbs of the Victorian capital.
“My father is a loss adjuster,” said Mills. “In the late 1990s, I started as a trainee loss adjuster which was a great way to get into the insurance industry.”
But not without its challenges.
“I was 19 years of age and turning up at people’s homes after a fire or burglary - so as a teenager,” he said. “I was meeting these people after they had a pretty bad event happen to them, not necessarily the worst day of their lives, but it’s certainly up there when their house has burnt to the ground or they’ve been burgled and had all their precious things stolen!”
Mills still had ‘P’ plates on his car and virtually every customer he met on these jobs was considerably older than him. However, he said, he needed to persuade them that Rhys Miills from McLarens Loss Adjusters was here to sort their claim out and look after them.
“As a 19-year-old, I was standing there trying to convince them that I was the man for the job and not to worry, I’ve got this,” said Mills.
He remembers Christmas during those years - but not for the usual reasons.
“In Victoria, we don’t have the cyclones but certainly storms and they tended to happen around Christmas time just as you were getting ready to spend Christmas with your family,” said Mills. “The phone would start going off or, back then, the pager would start beeping and you’d be off, on the road, with job after job dealing with houses underwater or a tree through the roof or whatever it may be.”
The work was stressful, he said, but a lot of fun.
“It gave me a great grounding for the rest of my time in insurance in terms of dealing with people, which is what we are, we’re a people business,” said Mills.
Mills did have an experienced companion with him on these jobs – but not for long.
“I started out as a trainee so I went around with one of the senior loss adjusters for a few months but then a decent storm came through and I think they basically said, ‘Right! You’re off, here are some files, out you go!’” he said. “And out I went.”
IB suggested that this confronting but very personal experience dealing with people’s tragedies may have helped instil empathy and other people skills that are not so easy to build if you start in other parts of the insurance industry?
“Yes, that’s the coalface really, the mums and dads,” he said. “We did business claims as well but a lot of the time we were dealing with mums and dads, so it doesn’t get any more personal than somebody’s home that’s been burgled or caught fire – that, apart from getting injured - is as personal as it gets.”
He said in these circumstances you really do need to have a lot of empathy and patience.
“It was very, very challenging and it probably did set me up for the rest of my career,” said Mills.
It was also great fun.
“I had a ball! As a young man driving around basically looking for fires and storms and talking to people about burglaries is about exciting as it gets in terms of insurance,” said Mills. “So I look back on it very, very fondly.”
His firm, founded with business partner and director Anita Lane in 2010, now has offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth and employs about 50 staff. The Brisbane and Perth offices opened last year.
“We’re growing at a rapid rate,” said Mills.
The challenges are different now, he said, but he still “loves it.”
“There’s an expectation that I know what I’m doing compared to when I was 19 - and I work harder now than I ever worked before,” said Mills.
What’s a standout memory from your early career in insurance? Please tell us below.