Greg Barrows, president and owner of Cameron Agencies in Manitoba, has a degree in zoology and biology, and worked in wildlife conservation for several years before making a career move to agriculture. While he was conducting research on herbicides and pesticides, Barrows was introduced to the field of insurance by a colleague, and eventually made it his full-time job.
In this Q&A, he tells Insurance Business about juggling two career paths at once, the benefits of having expertise in life insurance, and what it takes to run Cameron Agencies.
At the same point in time, I hadn’t fully gotten off my feet. I had applied for and gotten a job for Agriculture Canada as a research associate, so I basically landed a federal government job. I worked at that for approximately three years, but while I was doing that, I was still continuing to build my life insurance portfolio, and I got to a point where I was actually more profitable and I enjoyed more my work I was doing in the evening than I was during the day.
In 2004, I had known one of the previous owners of Cameron Agencies before through an acquaintance. He had mentioned to me [that] if I was interested, I should consider coming and trying the insurance business full-time. With that, I accepted a position where I went from full-time security to a six-month term with a small base salary and commission options, and with a potential chance to buy in.
[By] January 1, 2005, it had worked out and I was doing really well, so I bought a third of the business. There were two brothers and myself, and from that, I continued to grow my life insurance portfolio. I started working on general insurance, Autopac, obtained my real estate license – pretty much anything [to] wear whatever hat would need to be worn. As that progressed, the one brother five years later decided he wanted to retire, so I purchased the other third, and then five years from that date, the other owner decided that he wanted to retire and I purchased that third to own it outright.
Some of the other proudest accomplishments have been seeing clients made whole at time of tragedy, and realizing just what we actually do and the power that we have when we’re giving advice when circumstances go wrong.
Another thing that I probably do that may be different [is] I tend to look when I’m hiring staff for people that first have expertise in a client’s area that I’m going to need. For example, if I am looking for a farm advisor, I definitely try to find somebody that has a huge, in-depth knowledge about farm and farming operations, or whether it’s oilfield, oil operations or business, or whatever it may be, and then I take the approach [that] I want that first and I cross-train the insurance. I train the insurance almost as a secondary. First, I want them to have a very good understanding and very good ability to relate to the customers and understand the risk they might be having.
What I mean by that is, I think a lot of our value doesn’t necessarily come via the web portal – that’s more of a transactional-type basis. Our value comes in advice, advocacy, claims support and just being the people here to help pick up the pieces and make sure those pieces don’t fall apart, and at the same point, struggling not to get too caught up in the technology and forget about what our real job is. We need to make it easy for the customer, but not at the expense of what we really do.