Finding comfort in the uncomfortable

Finding comfort in the uncomfortable | Insurance Business

Finding comfort in the uncomfortable

Luck was on Tommy McDonald‘s side when he considered joining the insurance industry. A marketing graduate from John Carroll University, McDonald is currently the vice president of Marsh, Berry & Company (MarshBerry).

Prior to joining MarshBerry more than eight years ago, McDonald was a production analyst at Pulte Homes, where he supported the firm’s vice president of construction in the reporting and analysis of best practices. After more than a year, he left the company and started looking for other opportunities. This is when he considered jumping aboard the insurance industry.

With little knowledge of the industry, he bravely bucked the odds and got his chance to speak with MarshBerry’s CEO, who happened to be a good friend of his wife. The CEO saw something in him, and with luck on his side, he was able to book an interview for a financial analyst post.

It was in 2008 when McDonald officially joined the firm. He was initially responsible for the statistical compilation and interpretation of financial information for clients but it did not take long for him to move up the ladder and became a product manager.

With his leadership capabilities, he was then promoted to vice president in 2012, assuming responsibility for the firm’s executive peer exchange networks. Under his guidance, MarshBerry’s network partners recorded a 7.6% average annual organic growth in their agencies.

Outside his professional accomplishments, McDonald was also instrumental in the establishment of the Ohio chapter of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation in 2014. He has also been one of the most sought-after speakers at national conferences, agent association meetings, and executive leadership forums.

Insurance Business had a conversation with McDonald to get to know the secret behind his professional success. In this Q&A, McDonald shares the most fulfilling part of his work in the industry. He also talks about how it is important to take on the uncomfortable conversations to stay ahead in the game.

Tell us how you got into the insurance industry, what led you to this career?

Luck and who I knew. Like many of our clients, I fell into the insurance industry. My knowledge of the insurance industry at 23 was very limited. I completely misunderstood the industry. I was lucky enough to marry a woman who is a close friend to our current CEO. Our CEO’s son was actually the ring bearer in my wedding.

I spoke at our rehearsal dinner that our current CEO attended. I don’t remember what I said or how I said it, but it was good enough to get me in the door.  He was able to get me an interview with our firm 10 years ago. I was so impressed by the company and the value we provided to our clients, it was a no-brainer to join the team.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work in the insurance space?

Our clients. We are engaged to help our clients with big hairy issues and achieving big hairy goals. The fulfilment that comes with helping our clients as they work to achieve their goals is second to none. Whether it’s executing an internal perpetuation plan, helping our clients decide if it’s the right time to consider selling to another firm, providing data that helps with making a tough decision, or speaking at an industry conference that provides relevant takeaways, our firm helps organizations change – this is very fulfilling. 

I would also add that it is very fulfilling to work for a company that consistently justifies our value. We have a deep bench of intelligent and creative people with established resources. It is very fulfilling to be able to pair client needs with valuable resources to help them grow.

Our firm has a voice in the insurance industry. The ability to participate in the creation of a message that can cause people to enact value-enhancing change is very rewarding. I don’t know how many companies provide their employees with as much of an opportunity to have a voice and be relevant in the industry as Marsh, Berry & Company, Inc.

What or who do you think has been the secret to your professional success? How do they motivate you?

I have three. First, the Marsh, Berry & Company, Inc.: Our firm is obsessed with challenging ourselves, and our clients with obtaining sustainable and profitable double digit organic growth. The never-ending quest to create sustainable growth is what keeps my feet on fire.

Sports/my parents: I was an athlete through the end of college. I think my parents knew how important sports were to creating discipline and subconscious motivation. The idea of constantly trying to win and get better is what motivates me.  I think it is the way I was raised.

Our clients: Being intentional, as a company, to help our clients find new and better ways to create value keeps me motivated.

Tell us briefly about your company and its role in the insurance industry. What makes it different from other companies in the same space?

Our company is a management consulting, performance benchmarking and Merger and Acquisition (“M&A”) advisory* firm. Our services focus on helping insurance firms learn about the value of their company through data, improving the value of their company through the execution of best practices, and then realizing their value when they decide to sell their company, either internally to key employees or externally to another firm.

I believe that our role in the industry is to help improve the quality and protect the sustainability of the Property and Casualty & Employee Benefits distribution space, primarily the agent, broker and employee benefits organizations. In my opinion, our approach to intentionally confront challenging and, often times, uncomfortable conversations with our clients is what makes our firm different (and better).

Describe a world without insurance.

Could a world exist without insurance? Scary question when I think about all of the assets and people that our clients protect. 

What do you think are the most challenging issues facing the insurance industry today?

I have three:

First, there are too many firms, agency owners, and leaders in this industry that are comfortable and do not focus on important but non-urgent challenges until it’s too late.

Another concern is the lack of focus and investment the industry places on the importance of systematic hiring and development of talent. Lastly, there is the lack of focus and investment the industry places on technology and the role it will play in our industry in the future.

What are your hopes for the insurance industry moving forward?

I also have three:

  • More and more high-quality talent learning about the beauty of our industry and flocking into our clients’ offices, helping firms grow and perpetuate the industry.

  • That high quality firms that focus on expanding the value they provide to their clients greatly outpace the firms that are coasting and comfortable.

  • The industry starts to think differently about talent and technology and both become high priority strategic initiatives now and for many years to come.

What are your passions or hobbies outside insurance?

Spending time with my wife and three boys, Cleveland sports, and exercise. 

*Securities offered through MarshBerry Capital, Inc., Member FINRA and SIPC, and an affiliate of Marsh, Berry & Company, Inc., 28601 Chagrin Blvd, Suite 400, Woodmere, OH 44122.

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