Last year, the owners of Walsh Insurance Group in Buffalo, New York, decided to invite its 75 employees and their spouses on a weekend excursion to Woodlock Resort in the Poconos to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary. The happy group attended cookouts and bon fires, were pampered with gifts and services, and participated in competitions, scavenger hunts, and games.
What is your secret to building a good team?
“Hiring bright, capable people and letting them have the independence to be successful. Not putting any kinds of restrictions on them, to provide the opportunity to be accountable.”
CEO & Chairman
“Seek people more capable than we are, invest in them, and meet them much more than halfway.”
Administrative Services Manager
“I am involved in hiring, and we try to look for people who are enthusiastic, who may not necessarily have the experience, but who have the skills we need.”
The getaway was Jack, Ted, Mike, and Barney Walsh’s way of saying thank you. “We could have put the money in our own pockets,” says CEO, Jack Walsh. “But if we had, we never would have benefited by the kind of return we got bonding with our employees. We came back to Buffalo with an extraordinary feeling of appreciation and respect for one another.”
The Walshes also wanted to do something significant within their community to represent the 150 years that Buffalo had given them, so employees and vendors planted 150 trees in Buffalo’s historic Delaware Park. The park system, which had lost significant numbers of its trees over the years from Dutch elm disease, storm and ice damage, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s signature urban-parks designer and the father of New York City’s Central Park. “The outpouring it created in our community was extraordinary,” says Ted Walsh, president.
Now in its fifth generation of family leadership, the Walsh Insurance Group includes Jacob Hauck Agency (Hamburg, New York), Garrick Insurance Agency (Medina, New York) and Sardinia Associates (Hamburg, New York). Each of them sells the original property and casualty, personal and commercial insurance products, and general contractor bonding that the Walsh family’s forefathers did. In addition, they now also offer the services of an employee-benefits group, including disability, medical and life products.
The company’s focus is to provide insurance solutions as trusted advisers and consultants. “We’re doing research and providing alternatives, not just selling products,” says Jack. “That’s a more global conversation today than our ancestors may have had in 1950.”
The company’s culture is derived from principles instilled in them by their ancestors and refined through the family’s education, experience, and ethics: deliver on your promises, always put the customer first, do the right thing, be honest, admit when you can’t do something, study, and work hard.
That culture transfers outside of the company walls into the community, where Jack, Ted, Mike, Barney, Sean, and other family members have led or participated in more than 100 charitable organizations. “Engagement in the community is not something we pursue as a business strategy, it is rightly understood as an expectation of our parents,” says Jack. “We care about Buffalo. We want to help the community we live in, that has been good to us, and that our kids have been blessed by, as well.” That helping hand also extends internally. The Walsh Insurance Group takes in summer interns, celebrates anniversary milestones and encourages everyone, including themselves, to continue their education. They try to share the wealth and are pleased that their colleagues find the company a wonderful place to work.
But while the culture hasn’t changed across generations, technology has changed both how and where the company does business. Because of the Internet, “We can now do things faster, easier, and more globally,” says Ted. “People are picking up on articles we’ve written or speeches we’ve given, and as a result, we have customers in different parts of the country and the world that we didn’t have when everything was much more manual. Today, we can have video conference meetings involving multiple parties and locations and can transfer information back and forth with the push of a button.”
Within the next 10 years, the company will be ushering in the next generation of leaders, and whether they be Walsh family or employee family members is fine with them. “Whether our children’s careers are or are not connected to the insurance business isn’t the issue,” says Jack. “We want them to be fulfilled, successful, and hopefully have a commitment to their communities. If those linkages perpetuate in them being involved in the family business, that would be wonderful, but we’re more concerned that they choose paths that make them happy, contributing citizens.” Whichever way it goes, the Walshes have already added a lasting heritage to the family history books, and to that of their community, as well.