Meet Rob Marsh: Liberty Mutual Canada's President
In this episode, we chat with Liberty Mutual Canada president Rob Marsh about what it takes to become a successful industry leader in an incredibly dynamic environment. Marsh shares his thoughts on building the right company culture, key insurance trends, and what’s in store for Liberty.
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Narrator: [00:00:02] IBC talk the Insurance Business Canada podcast. The pandemic has really shaken up the way we work, prompting businesses to embrace new working models if they are to bridge new and emerging divides with a customer focused mentality and a multifaceted approach to risk. How is Liberty Mutual finding balance internally and embracing the needs of employees? To discuss this and more. We are joined by Rob Marsh, president at Liberty Mutual, Canada.
Surina: [00:00:44] Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of IBC Talk, the Insurance Business Canada podcast. I'm Surina Nath, news editor here at Insurance Business. And today I'll be chatting with Rob Marsh, president at Liberty Mutual Canada, about what it takes to become an industry leader and an incredibly dynamic environment. Rob, welcome to IBC Talk. Thanks so much for joining me today.
Rob: [00:01:09] Thank you, Surina. I appreciate the opportunity. It's great to be here.
Surina: [00:01:12] Perfect. Well, let's dive in. And Rob, just for any of our listeners that aren't quite familiar with you, can you tell me a little bit about your background?
Rob: [00:01:21] Yeah, of course. As far as background, I'm proudly born on the east coast of Canada, specifically from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. And thanks to the generosity of others, namely Don and Rob Sobey, who actually sponsored a scholarship I was fortunate to receive, I was able to move to Ontario and earn a Bachelor of Commerce from the Smith School of Business at Queen's University. And after that experience, I had the opportunity to join a large global insurer as a financial institution underwriter. I later joined Liberty Mutual, where have been for the last 11 years. At Liberty, I started leading our financial institution underwriting team, relocated to Calgary a few years later, led our prairie region as well as the Western Casualty portfolio. And I was then asked to move to Toronto and lead our casualty team nationally. Later adding property as well. And eventually that expanded into my role to lead all of commercial insurance for Canada. More recently, in May of 2021, I was appointed president and I couldn't be more excited about the opportunity to lead Liberty Mutual Canada on this next chapter.
Surina: [00:02:24] That's fantastic and quite a progression throughout your career. What really attracted you to the insurance industry in the first place?
Rob: [00:02:32] It's a great question. I think most importantly, it was the ability to apply a diverse set of skills. I was most interested in finance, but I was also interested in sales, marketing, business, decision making and a number of other subjects. And I really wanted to apply a broad skill set to my career. At the time, I felt that some of the other roles or careers that I was considering appeared to be a bit more one dimensional. So for example, let's say 80 to 100% of my time might be spent behind a computer with very little client interaction, or at least not for a few years. On the other end, it might be very client facing, but it wasn't analytical enough or the product was a little less interesting. And I'd say in addition to the interest in a growing, diverse skill set, I was also just really fortunate to know quite a few people with a few years of experience under their belt, and I always asked for candor on their experience, and it often differed from the recruiting message that I may have heard from companies directly. Thankfully, the feedback was resoundingly positive in property and casualty insurance, and I tried it for a summer. That was my first exposure to Toronto. I love the city, the job and the industry. And the same remains true today. And I think since that time I've come to even further appreciate the people and the purpose of our business and the insurance industry we provide. I believe one of the most socially responsible products in the world. We protect and provide help for people when they're in need. Often when they're feeling most vulnerable, we help people lead safer and more secure lives. So not only do we provide this social good, but we very much support and drive our economy and society forward. So I'd say for those reasons, that's why I ended up in the industry.
Surina: [00:04:05] Well, Rob, you are certainly a very busy man trying to balance family life, philanthropy and a career in insurance. I was wondering if you have any advice for those looking to make those next steps in the industry?
Rob: [00:04:21] It's a great question. And, you know, I think when I reflect on it, my advice would generally be similar for anyone in or outside of the insurance industry. And in thinking about this previously, I'd probably narrow it down to three things. One, really being hungry for opportunity, regardless of where you're working or your age, there's always room for people with a strong work ethic and a passion for what they do. I think secondly, it's making sure that you're in an environment and a culture where you can be yourself or you're empowered to thrive and you can have some fun along the way and where you're recognized for good work. I think lastly, I really strongly believe this, that you need to surround yourself with good people, with people that share the same values you do, your colleagues, your friends, your mentors. I believe that you're a function of the people you spend your time with. So it's important to choose carefully. And it's really that group of people who will support you and encourage you to do your best. I also want to point out that when you do have success in your career, I think it's so important to remember that with that privilege does come great responsibility, and it's really important to find a way to give back and pave the pave the way for others.
Surina: [00:05:37] Definitely. And I love that you mentioned just having a good network of people internally within an organization that you work for or externally, whether it be your friends or family. Having that support system is so essential to be able to be the best you can be in a certain role.
Rob: [00:05:55] I agree. There's no question. If not for the support of of others throughout my career, I certainly wouldn't have had the success and the opportunity that I've been fortunate to have.
Surina: [00:06:05] And so when it's coming to have those relationships and really having a big work life balance as that's been so prevalent over the last year. Is there any type of unsaid expectation that someone needs to sacrifice that balance in order to really advance in their career?
Rob: [00:06:22] It's a good question. I mean, I'd say broadly in business, generally, yes, this expectation does exist. I think, thankfully, a lot less than when I started my career and certainly a lot more than the generation that started their career before me. I also think the insurance industry is actually led many others in this regard. So it's a strength of our industry. All of that said, I tend to think about it more like work life harmony being the goal than work life balance. When I think about my role at Liberty, my role as a husband, father, friend or in the community, it's it's really all part of my identity. So trying to find harmony among those roles will always ebb and flow. And in the past I would say, yes, I have made sacrifices. But as my career has developed, I've learned to be much more intentional on where I want to spend time in one place versus another. So, for example, when I take on a new role, often there's an intentional and active decision to spend more time on that purpose. For example, as a result, it isn't a sacrifice. I'm passionate about what I do and my commitment to my career is a personal choice I'm proud of, just like the other roles that make up my identity. And I'll also add that with respect to career advancement, I firmly believe in performance and outcomes over certainly hours worked. And this is the message that I encourage time and time again with our team. I've worked my fair share of hours in the past, don't get me wrong, but that's not the core reason for my success. It's really the outcomes that results and the support of a lot of people along the way. That's led to some advancement and opportunity.
Surina: [00:07:56] You said that you're a husband. You're also a father. Did you take any time off during those periods of time at all?
Rob: [00:08:04] Yeah. So 2021 was one of if not the most eventful years of my life and not just because of the new role, but as you alluded to, it was becoming a father of three, actually. So a month prior to becoming president of Liberty Mutual Canada, I became a father to twin identical boys, Logan and Chase, and they joined their big brother Maxwell, who was 16 months old at the time. And all of a sudden my wife and I were navigating a family of five with three boys under two. So I did take a much needed parental leave for two months, which was taken almost 90 days after stepping into my new role.
Surina: [00:08:43] Congratulations. Father of three and twin boys. That's very exciting. So I'm wondering where you still able to be engaged and accessible within the company during that leave?
Rob: [00:08:55] Good question. Yeah. First of all, deciding to take a parental leave is something candidly that I struggle with. I plan to take a parental leave in mid 2021, but that was prior to being appointed to the role of leading Liberty Mutual Canada. So once I was announced on my new role, I must admit that I lean towards not taking the leave. I just didn't think it was possible, but it was actually some of my support network, my colleagues, my mentors that challenged me to rethink that decision. I hadn't selected the time to move into this role, and like many before me, there's always that doubt. This is inconvenient or my organization think. What will others say? I realized that not taking parental leave would not only have a negative impact on my family, but it would actually have one of my colleagues as well. There's so many other parents who have gone through similar challenges, or even much more so than I have. Particularly true for women who are disproportionately impacted in the workforce if they choose to have children and. The more and more I thought about it, it started to become an easy decision. And this was because of the support from those around me, the plans for a 90 day transition into the role before my leave, and very defined plan of how the business would operate during my time away. So I would add for anyone listening who wonders if they should take a parental leave, I would just say, please do not only for you but for others coming behind you. It's there for a reason. And it's really crucial to get back to your question on how disconnected I was during my leave. I thankfully and gratefully would say almost entirely disconnected. I did focus time with my family. Now my leave was slightly different and that it wasn't 100% away. And that was an intentional decision that I made, given the uniqueness of the timing, my regulatory responsibilities and otherwise. But I was available for the highest priority items outside the day to day, and that was handled during very defined points of escalation, which was very few and far between. My colleagues wanted me disconnected in a way from the business. They wanted me spending time with my family, and that's about working in a leading culture is all about.
Surina: [00:10:59] What are some other really key lessons that you've learned throughout becoming president at Liberty?
Rob: [00:11:06] Yeah. I think most importantly, it's really been the importance of clarity and focus. I like to call what we live in today the age of distraction. We all have so much information coming at us each and every day tend to be quite overwhelming. And so to define clear focus on where we're headed and where we're spending the most amount of our time is just really important. And so I've spent considerable time with our senior leadership team and my colleagues defining a very clear vision at Liberty Mutual Canada and how that aligns with our aspirations as one of the world's largest global insurers. And I kind of take away three main things from that. We're very focused on being the number one choice for top talent in the country, and that's not just in the insurance industry. We're continuing to build an even more customer centric mentality in commercial and specialty insurance. And third, we're building a world class operating model that will allow us to scale to new heights. And I think overall, we're just really focusing on playing to win, and that's done with putting people first, above all. So it's that clarity, that focus, I think, particularly in this leadership role, is so important both for our internal and external stakeholders.
Surina: [00:12:25] And it's a comprehensive strategy that you've built. And you mentioned wanting to be the number one choice for top talent in Canada. Those are some pretty bold words there. Rob, I was wondering how you plan on making that happen.
Rob: [00:12:38] Yeah, no, good point. And humbly, I mean, we have ranked quite well as an organization, whether it be a number of awards and points of recognition for where we sit today. We've made really strong headway in recent years. And and it is it's time for some boldness on that next stage of our evolution and really to get there we're leaning into our values. But the most important one I mentioned earlier, putting people first and we'll lead with purpose. We're on a journey to be an industry leader within our culture, the ability to bring your whole self to work and what we stand for, what we recognize. It's something that we strive to be unlike what most can offer.
Surina: [00:13:21] And I think that it's an important goal to have, especially in today's climate, as we face the great resignation and just overall talent. It's been a lot of issues when it comes to attracting talent to the industry, needless to say. And it's easier said than done when trying to strategize for that. So I was wondering what you think in the insurance industry needs to do just to attract that top talent that's needed for everyone to stay successful.
Rob: [00:13:52] Yeah. I know you've hit on such a key point that it's it's arguably like never before, right? We have this widening talent gap in our industry. And I talked about how people are most critical to our success. And there's a gap now that's occurring really at all levels, whether it be attracting talent to the industry or perhaps even more important is those at the mid-point of the career and the development of focus they need, or at the other end of the spectrum, which is those that are nearing the latter part of their career, the crucial skills, capabilities and knowledge that we can't easily replicate. And it's really ensuring those years for those individuals that nearing retirement is focused on leaving their legacy. And it's just about more than just knowledge or knowledge transition, but maximising their energy and engagement. And we kind of look at that relative to the great resignation. I mean, this labour shortage extends to our brokers, our clients, the broader Canadian economy. And it's really been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Surina: [00:14:50] And Rob, what's Liberty doing to keep DEI really top of mind?
Rob: [00:14:55] Yeah, no, I appreciate this question I mentioned earlier because it's so crucial to us. We're putting equity at the centre of everything we do. We're fortunate we have a Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office that's done some incredible work over the years. And across Liberty Mutual Canada, we've supplemented that with a really empowered Canadian team to leverage the great global work and also contribute significantly to our Canadian local challenges and perspectives as well. We have a new leader in Canada. We have a national committee that has done some phenomenal work, both strategically and from a grassroots perspective. I could name countless initiatives, but maybe just a few. Last year we created a number of scholarships for equity deserving students, supporting marginalized vendors and businesses. And we've had a lot of small group conversations that almost 100% of our employees have actively volunteered to participate in. A lot of it starts with clarity, with knowledge and with learning. And we talked about the hardships of the past few years and alongside the pandemic that continues to disproportionately impact marginalized communities and individuals with intersecting identities. And you think about the steep rise in hate crimes.
Rob: [00:16:11] It's imperative to me and certainly my colleagues that we reflect on system inequalities and make change. I mean, our business will rightfully focus on customers and our profit, of course, but it won't matter if we don't move to a more inclusive society and frankly, one that works to identify and address systemic racism and racial inequalities. At Liberty, we have a really incredible DEI committee that I referenced and I've been privileged to be a part of, and that group has laid the groundwork for fostering a culture of storytelling and just sharing of lived experiences. It's really been something special and I recognise that achieving an inclusive culture at liberty or in the insurance industry and beyond, it doesn't happen overnight. It requires intentional and systemic action. In this year and beyond, liberty is steadfast in our commitment to demonstrating progress. It's much bigger than us. It's much bigger than all of us as individuals. But we do recognize that it's our individual actions that will create much needed change in the world in our pursuit for equality.
Surina: [00:17:14] Rob That's beautiful. And it's you're not only focused to enhancing the culture at liberty itself, but just about the dynamics in a Canadian work environment altogether. And it's very admirable.
Rob: [00:17:27] Thank you. I really appreciate it.
Surina: [00:17:29] And so just going back to talent and how DEI is really falling hand in hand and those two strategies really help attract talent. But there is still a huge gap in the pandemic has really accelerated the amount of retirements that are in the industry, creating even larger divide when it comes to working parents and everyone else. So as a working father right now, I was wondering what advice you have to help the industry create a better culture to help working parents succeed?
Rob: [00:18:03] Yeah, no, it's a great question. And it's something that I really empathize with for people. And, you know, it starts just with identifying how much we've all been through. We're in year three of the global pandemic. And first and foremost, it's acknowledging how hard that is on everyone. It's prioritizing mental health, assuming everyone, whether working parents or not, is potentially struggling to some extent. It's really about being flexible for people of varying needs and helping relieve pressure wherever we can. Whether it's flexibility for people on where and when they work or the trust and empowerment they receive to do their job. It's to support people to be empathetic, to allow them to achieve harmony with their personal and professional lives. And it's often just about checking in, often on overall wellbeing and ensuring workloads are manageable and to provide emotional support. It looks different for everyone and. The question, though, of how are you or how can I support you? Just really listening with genuine intent. And I certainly don't have all the answers, nor do my colleagues. But we do have that intent to care personally, and we're taking action thoughtfully. We know that if we don't support our employees with their ability to care for their family, they'll never be able to show up and find meaning at work with the engagement and certainly what they're looking for and what we're looking for as an organization.
Surina: [00:19:24] Absolutely. And over the past three years, we've definitely seen companies have having to be more flexible when it comes to where their employees should work. As we all navigate what a hybrid work environment would be, or if returning to the offices would be better. And so how will liberty really balance between being flexible in the workplace and still providing quality service to clients when they and properly support brokers when they return back to the office?
Rob: [00:19:57] Yeah. There's there's no question in my mind that we need to offer flexibility in the workplace moving forward. I mean, the past two years have taught us a lot about inclusion, empathy, and trying on new and better ways of working together. And both in-person and virtual work have unique benefits and challenges. Everyone is different. Many individuals are better able to focus in a remote environment. Some thrive in an office setting. Some have embraced a newfound flexibility in working hours or reduction or their commute. I think about myself, for example, and how I've been able to actually tuck in my kids and read to them almost every night over the last two years, despite also having an in-office presence when it's been safe to do so. I can certainly assure you that that wouldn't have happened pre-pandemic. I think it's simple at liberty, we we really consider all employees needs and have a hybrid workplace model which mixes in office and remote work to offer flexibility and support. Both are available and we won't needlessly focus employees to be in office when they're better off at home, or vice versa, both for them and for organizational needs. And those reasons to support hybrid working go well beyond the ability to be focused and productive. It's to ensure people don't feel forced to be somewhere just for the sake of it. And I mean, the benefits, of course, are vast and includes more autonomy, empowerment and better work life harmony, which results in better engagement and more productivity, better health, stable workforce. And certainly we will evolve our expectations and norms for connecting in person and collaborating together, listening closely to our employees and customers, brokers and clients. As you know, when considering how we evolve, what we continue to target is a very winning culture. We also recognize that social interaction does formulate a huge part of the fabric of our culture and that in the industry and many are missing that. So we do think there's going to be some catch up there, but we certainly won't lose people or lose their engagement because we want to be too rigid in trying to conform employee expectations from one group's preference to the other.
Surina: [00:22:00] Definitely. And I think that it's important to have that balance where it has maybe almost improved some mental health initiatives within workplaces to have the option to tuck your kids into bed and spend more time with them while also having a presence within the business. But on the other end, as you mentioned, the social aspects to any office environment really helps foster a great culture, and that's also important.
Rob: [00:22:26] Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And ultimately we want the best of both worlds and that's the opportunity with a hybrid workflow workplace going forward. I'm really excited about.
Surina: [00:22:37] I am as well and I think that the landscape of insurance is just always changing and we have to be able to adapt with it. What do you think that the industry should really do to stay ahead of the game when it comes to an ever changing insurance landscape?
Rob: [00:22:56] Yeah, it's a great question. Across Liberty. So not only in Canada, but across our global specialty and commercial business, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can be ahead, what our global environment is going to look like in 2025, 2030 or beyond. Some of the things that we spend a lot of time thinking about is the growing protection gap in the insurance industry, where societal losses are outpacing industry insured losses. We're spending a lot of time thinking about dynamic and more forward looking, data driven underwriting or the importance of digital and analytics that give us better risk insights. We also know that expectations of us as a risk provider, both with our own capital and that beyond traditional risk transfer is actually increasing. We've commented on a lot today. Of course, but it's to stay ahead of this ever changing insurance landscape. We also know that we must attract, retain and develop diverse talent that's ready to take on all of these challenges with enthusiasm to be collaborative, agile and innovative. That's ultimately going to be an incredible differentiator.
Surina: [00:24:02] Absolutely. And there's so much to come for the industry, whether it be technology or talent. There's so much to really be excited about. What do you look forward to the most for the future of the industry?
Rob: [00:24:16] Yeah, it's a great question. I think that, you know, a couple of things. One of them is that excitement is we have to tell that narrative, right? We have to market our industry of proactively. Sometimes there's many that can be guilty of saying that they fell into insurance. And while this can be true for some, it doesn't always create the best narrative we need to attract people from all walks of life, all industries, not only because it's the right thing to do, but because this is one of the most enriching and fulfilling industries in the world. You think about so many careers and development opportunities that we can offer, whether you're in human resources, technology, law, engineering, or those without access to a university degree. I mean, none of us should gain pleasure in knowing that the insurance industry might be a best kept secret for rewarding and fulfilling career. So I think, first off, what I'm excited for and the change that's coming is really shaking up that image that perhaps of what people thought about of the insurance industry, that was years ago. And so I think that's that's a really important point to make. I think in addition to that and the change that you referenced, I'm really excited about how we solve this interconnected risk, interconnectivity of risk that's happening everywhere, tackling some of the challenges, those significant risk based challenges around the world, how we're embracing the future of environmental, societal and governance, ESG issues, or the fact that our industry has and will continue to support innovation. We think about autonomous vehicles and tangible assets, or one that hits particularly close to home. Is the transition to a carbon less economy thoughtfully and pragmatically. Over time, our industry, Canada and our energy sector will help lead the way here, and none of this will be possible without the insurance industry providing creative solutions. And I get really excited about that. We have a purpose and responsibility to lean in and continue to support businesses that are taking risk, tackling big challenges and innovating.
Surina: [00:26:19] I agree. I also look forward to seeing how the industry who never fails to really dive in deep to try to make make impactful changes, whether it be on the ESG side, whether it's improving workplace culture, if there is so much to look forward to. And I was wondering actually, what can the industry expect from Liberty in 2022 and what do you hope to bring to the table?
Rob: [00:26:48] Sure. Well, you can expect a lot. You'll expect us to lead with with purpose to support that growth, innovation and impact of Canadian business as we're talking about. You'll see us focused on being the number one choice for top talent to really be recognized as a leader in DEI and as well as some of our community engagement efforts as well. You'll see us bring a consistent, customer centric mentality. I spoke about that earlier and really just focus on making it easy to do business with us, coming to the table with creativity, problem solving, and a deep knowledge and expertise of ever changing risk. You'll see us focus on an operating model where we grow our portfolio focused on clients who excel at managing risk. And lastly, but also importantly, you'll see us really leverage the advantages of being one of the world's largest insurers in the world that has this unique advantage of being a mutual insurance company focused on the long term and with a lot of empowerment focused on our Canadian business.
Surina: [00:27:52] And I look forward to seeing that growth and innovation and continuing to see how you develop within your role at Liberty. It's all very exciting.
Rob: [00:28:03] Thank you, Surina, and I really appreciate that.
Surina: [00:28:05] And thank you for taking the time to share your insights today. Rob, I, I, this has been a fantastic conversation. And just before I let you go, I was wondering if you have any other comments that you wanted to leave for our listeners.
Rob: [00:28:20] Sure. Yeah. No, I appreciate the opportunity. And maybe just a few comments before we wrap up. First and foremost, to my colleagues at Liberty, I just want to thank those listening for their support and that passion and energy that you display each day. And to realize that the vision that we're pursuing and talking about, I think, to our brokers and clients, I want to thank you for your trust, for your continued partnership. I speak for many of my colleagues and saying we don't take that lightly and we look forward to serving your needs as the nature of risk continues to evolve at such a rapid pace. As we've talked about today to our peers and competitors, I hope you'll join us in this pursuit to continue to evolve the narrative of our industry, to contribute to our collective diversity, and continue to attract and develop new talent as well as give back to the communities in which we work. And look, if there's those listening from outside the industry who may have an interest in starting your career in insurance, there's an incredible opportunity here, both now and moving forward. So please do join us. I'm confident that you won't regret it. And so, again, Surina, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. I really appreciate it.
Surina: [00:29:28] Oh, Rob. The pleasure's all mine. This has been a fantastic discussion. And I want to thank you again for just hopping on IB Talk into chatting with us today.
Rob: [00:29:38] You're very welcome.
Surina: [00:29:40] And that wraps up another episode of IBC Talk. Thanks to our listeners for tuning in. I'm Surina Nath here at insurance business. Until next time.
Narrator: [00:29:54] Thank you for listening to this episode of IBC talk. For more from the team at Liberty Mutual, visit them at libertymutualcanada.com That's libertymutualcanada.com for more. Thank you for listening to IB talk for the latest episodes. Be sure to follow us on SoundCloud, Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.
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