It’s not always a cakewalk for the children of parents who own businesses to reach the company’s top ranks – just look at the Logan family in the HBO show Succession or Joanna Mendonca (pictured), who rose through the ranks of her family’s brokerage, Staebler Insurance.
Kim and Stephen Philpott had been the president and chairman respectively of the Kitchener-based brokerage since the 1990s. When Mendonca graduated from high school and was looking for a job that would lead to a career, an entry-level operations assistant position opened up at the family firm.
“I said, I can absolutely do that job,” remembered Mendonca, today the president of Staebler Insurance. “I was still young and my mom hadn’t really seen me in a working setting before so she said, that’s sweet of you to offer, but we need someone who’s really reliable and I don’t know that that’s a good fit. I begged and pleaded, and did my best to convince [my mom and the brokerage’s EVP] that I could do the job, so they went away to think about it.”
Not long after, when Mendonca was working a shift at McDonald’s, her mom walked in and told her to hand in her two weeks’ notice and in June 2006, she joined the brokerage. Over the next few years, she got experience across the organization – from being a personal lines broker assistant to moving over into commercial lines as a marketing assistant before becoming a commercial client service broker.
Then in December 2012, Mendonca became team leader of the commercial client service brokers and by May of 2015, her parents were planning their retirement and succession strategy. That’s when Mendonca joined the management team as business development manager.
“It was a new role and a new area for our business,” she said. “We formed that area looking to make a management role for me to fit into, but also to create this area of business development that could become a greater focus for us in the future. I was a business development manager from May 2015 until January 2019, when my parents officially retired and my brother and I took the business over from them, and I became the president.”
Looking back at her journey within the brokerage, Mendonca says the perspectives from the different roles she had helped her to stay engaged and interested in the industry, and trying something new every few years was a challenge that she enjoyed. She also accomplished a lot along the way. As a leader of the commercial service brokers, she reshaped that team so they could better weather personnel changes, support people at various stages of their career, and improve client relations.
“Rather than have a partnership between one commercial client service broker and one commercial broker, we formed a commercial service team where we pooled the resources of our commercial service brokers, and between the entire team they supported all of the commercial brokers,” she said. “It really allowed us to make the commercial broker the focus of the relationship between them and the client – so they had one primary contact who was the representative for our brokerage when it came to dealing with customers – and it helped us solidify the relationship that the client had with that person above all other people at Staebler. It also meant that you could deploy everyone that was on your commercial service team to areas where they were capable and competent.”
Being a business development manager was another point of pride for Mendonca. It was not a role that existed prior to her moving into it in 2015 nor was it a division or a department of Staebler before then, so it tested the boundaries of her expertise. As a result, she did a lot of learning to shape that role as best as she could.
“At some point, I found a successor for that role and that was also a really satisfying experience to be able to pass along responsibilities to someone else,” said Mendonca, “and to have someone join the organization that actually had expertise and experience in that field, and to see them really latch on to business development within our business and grow that to be a much more predominant function and division.”
In the meantime, Mendonca has gotten involved with the Young Brokers Council (YBC) under the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) as a Territory 7 team leader. She was interested in getting more involved in the industry at-large, and connecting with other brokerages as well as young brokers and more seasoned brokers alike to build her network. Getting a better understanding and appreciation for the challenges of the insurance industry was another perk of this involvement, in addition to getting further knowledge about the value that brokers bring to the insurance supply chain.
“I think it was really helpful for me to be able to get a good grasp of, what is the value proposition of our distribution method, why do customers choose brokers, and are we living up to our mission and our purpose for our customers?” she told Insurance Business. “Getting out in the industry and talking to people about why they do it and how they do it better established in my mind why brokers are around and why brokers are the better choice for customers [as well as] how we can continue to deliver on that purpose and improve our delivery.”