Katherine’s Feature in Crain’s San Diego

If I Knew Then…is an ongoing series, where Crain’s San Diego writers ask executives, entrepreneurs, and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy. Here is what our Managing Partner had to say:


The Mistake:

I didn’t appreciate small company values.

I spent most of my career working with Fortune 500 companies. After I got married, however, I took over running this small, family business. I had no idea how different it would be.

I tried to apply the same principles I had used successfully at large companies to this small business, and it was like trying to make us Goliath when we were actually David. I was making our presentations and interactions very corporate. I thought that my buttoned-up corporate ways would make us succeed, but we weren’t winning new business.

Because we were a family-owned business, failure was not an option. I had an obligation to my small and tight-knit team, to my family, and to my clients to succeed.



The Lesson:

It was hard to go in a different direction. It was alien to my 20 years of business experience, but I realized that there’s a special and very different quality to running a successful small company. I learned to look at our size as an asset. Our key to success was not in trying to emulate a big business, which had been the basis of my earlier business success.

Being fully ourselves took courage, commitment, and faith. It worked to our advantage because we’re able to remain nimble and creative about solutions. By streamlining, we’re able to obsess about our clients and do what’s right for them and not for us. As soon as I learned this lesson, our business took off.

We streamlined and simplified. I canned the fancy slideshows and presentation books that I had insisted we needed to be like the big guys. We learned to listen qualitatively and quantitatively to our customers.

In our business, there’s not much that differentiates one broker from another. We all have access to the same plans; we all have access to the same rates; we all have access to what the carriers have to offer. But we learned to be creative about solutions and drill down into what clients need from a bottom-up perspective. This took getting to know their employees, getting to know what their needs are, and what their basis is for needing health insurance. By understanding clients’ needs, we can create customized solutions for them that will help them save money and relieve HR burdens.

People were confused by slogging through long presentations. They wanted to understand their options in plain English. When you’re presented with an 80-page document, who’s going to really be able to understand and synthesize all that information? We got down to what companies really care about: How do we offer the lowest cost plan to our employees with the richest benefits we can afford?

Health insurance is one of the top three decisions that people will make in a company, and it’s one of the top three expenses. Now we give prospective customers one piece of paper that shows: “Here’s where you are, here are a couple of different options, here’s how much money you can save with each of these different options, and here are the pros and cons of each one.” They can look at something in black-and-white and make an informed decision.


Check out the full write up here.