Growing Business by Growing Employees

How Cindy Zobian and Crystal & Company have fostered a culture where employees feel empowered to make decisions and ask questions

Cindy Zobian wakes up every day knowing she has options at New York-based insurance brokerage Crystal & Company. Part of its employee-driven culture is promoting a work-life balance with initiatives such as work-from-home days. But Zobian, the company’s executive managing director in charge of leading the firm’s national private client services business, is herself often driven to go into the office.

“I was lucky that I fell into the insurance industry and loved it,” she says. “It’s something you can find a passion for because you feel like you give back to people and help them.”

Established in 1933, Crystal & Company has more than 400 employees spread throughout its New York headquarters and ten regional offices. The company currently places more than $1 billion in premiums annually in the global insurance marketplace.

Crystal & Company hired Zobian in 2004. She had already been in the insurance business for more than a decade, beginning with a part-time job at Chubb Insurance in 1990 while she finished college. After graduating, Zobian joined Chubb full-time.

For a short period of time, she worked in commercial claims, and then she found her home in personal insurance. After four years on the carrier side with Chubb, Zobian moved over to the brokerage side of the business and has been there ever since.

“What I enjoy most about personal insurance is the one-on-one aspect, dealing directly with clients and developing an in-depth understanding of what is really important to them,” she says. “Children and family come first, of course, but then you get into the physical assets and learn what their passions are. You get a feel for their buying habits, whether it’s a watch collection or classic cars, and it gives you great insight into their personality.”

Zobian says she likes to get down into the nitty-gritty to understand how clients think and what’s important to them. That way, it’s easier to work with them and come up with new ideas that best serve their individual needs.

Zobian is responsible for Crystal & Company’s national private client business, a growing sector that makes up about 20 percent of the firm’s total revenue. By implementing a consultative approach, Zobian and her team address the insurance needs of those who require a sophisticated approach to personal risk management and wealth protection.

Zobian is well-known and respected in this space. Although she has many responsibilities, her main focus is maintaining and growing a profitable business. This means providing additional training and empowering employees to explore new ways to reach their clients.

Employee engagement is a key part of Crystal & Company’s corporate culture and has also become one of Zobian’s greatest strengths. She makes it a priority to keep every team member involved.

“You don’t get as much one-on-one time with employees as the business and the teams grow,” she says. “It’s still important to me to really know your team. I want to know my employees and make sure they understand they’re not alone.”

The company has made supporting employees’ work-life balance and career fulfillment a priority. Zobian, who enthusiastically supports these initiatives, once refused to accept an employee’s resignation because it was based solely on geography. Zobian encouraged her to remain on board, work remotely, and continue to grow with the company. That was five years ago, and that colleague is still a member of the private client team and has even recently taken over additional responsibilities, advising high-net-worth art collectors.

“The world is changing,” she explains. “No one has to be in the office every day in order to be successful at their job. I was the first employee at the company to work remotely, and technological advances have made working from home much easier than it used to be. With things like video conferencing and instant messaging, it’s as if someone is sitting right next to you.”

To enhance the work-from-home option, Zobian’s group has also piloted a program where employees share desks and alternate schedules.

“You have the hustle and bustle when you’re at the office, then you have the benefit of being able to focus on work without distractions when you’re at home,” she says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Zobian also cochairs Crystal & Company’s employee recognition subcommittee, which recognizes and rewards employees who go above and beyond their day-to-day responsibilities. She acknowledges that the company culture is continuously evolving, and she’s thrilled that Crystal is dedicated to that mission.

Zobian cites a number of internal programs that have been implemented, including the following: employee wellness programs that provide healthy snacks and discounted gym memberships; a monthly Lunch with Leaders, in which senior Crystal executives discuss topics that range from current insurance market conditions to career goals; CrystalCares, an employee-organized-and-run volunteering initiative that supports the local community; a pilot program that allows colleagues to work from other offices around the country; and a wingman program, which encourages colleagues to disconnect and enjoy their time off by assigning dedicated backups when they are away from the office.

Considering the many exciting employee initiatives such as these, Zobian not only feels lucky about landing in an industry she loves, but she also feels lucky about landing at a company she loves just as much.