After spending his career as a lawyer for technology companies, John Albright was more than a little surprised to get a call from HUB International—the ninth largest insurance broker in the world—offering him a job.
“Other than being a consumer of insurance, I didn’t have a depth of experience in that field,” he says. HUB told him the primary qualification when hiring anyone new at the company was a strong cultural fit. Albright was intrigued, and once he met with the top leadership team, he was sold. “Any company that puts culture as a priority is going to have a cohesive and effective management team,” Albright says. “This is a group of folks that are at the top of their game. Having seen a lot of companies inside and out, very few were as committed and excited about what they are doing.”
Albright has been the chief legal officer at HUB International—one of the fastest growing brokerages in the world—for nearly two years. In 2013, private-equity firm Hellman & Friedman acquired HUB International as part of a deal that valued the company at $4.4 billion, up from the $1.8 billion Apax Partners paid for the company in 2007. HUB International employs 8,000 people at more than 350 offices, including its headquarters in Chicago.
Much of the company’s growth has come through acquisitions—there were thirty-one last year alone for Albright and the legal team to oversee. Albright’s team handles due diligence, document preparation, project management, and all other legal aspects of each acquisition for HUB.
Albright has a wealth of legal experience, though most of it is in the technology sector. Before HUB, he was the executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary for Information Resources Inc., a billiondollar data, technology, and market-research firm. Prior to that, he served in both legal and commercial leadership roles for Accenture’s business process outsourcing group.
But little of Albright’s previous experience has proved to be as foundationally formative as the two years he spent working in technical sales in the early 1990s before attending Vanderbilt Law School. “I never knew the lasting impact that skill set and those experiences would have on me,” Albright says. The experience shapes the way he approaches many aspects of his career. “To me, it often comes down to sales,” he says. “In pretty much everything you do, at some level, you are trying to manage to an end result that is going to be best for the company and the business as a whole.”
“If you come in citing legal regulations, people are going to be less likely to want to listen. They want to know how it impacts the business objective they are trying to accomplish.”
That could mean selling the value of the legal department or even is selling a compromise to his business partners—Albright is always looking for a way forward that balances legal risk and commercial objectives. That style of thinking is part of Albright’s DNA now, but it can help other legal advisers gain additional respect and cooperation from their business partners. “If you come in citing legal regulations, people are going to be less likely to want to listen. They want to know how it impacts the business objective they are trying to accomplish,” Albright says.
Changing industries mid-career has been a learning experience for Albright. “I don’t know that I’ll ever be fully caught up,” Albright laughs. “I’ve heard before that a general counsel’s job is a mile wide and an inch deep; there’s definitely truth to that,” he says.
“We are in an industry that is evolving, both from the way we service our clients and from a regulatory standpoint,” Albright says. “The passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act has transformed the way health plans are brokered and how HUB has embraced technology, including its MyHUB benefits exchange platform, to help advance these changes—changes that the legal department has helped to facilitate from an investment-infrastructure and relationship perspective.”
With such a large and growing company, Albright has to stay proactive. “We’ve also had to embrace technology within the legal department and drive efficiency so we can scale with the growth,” he says. “That’s been a critical element of our success.” HUB has rolled out major technology implementations throughout the company like its new broker management system. The legal department is adding value by negotiating contractual relationships with critical operational partners and enhancing compliance initiatives through the optimization of process flows.HUB is not only dynamically changing, but growing on a double digit basis year over year, according to Albright.
“I definitely have a more hands-off leadership style—I’m not a micro-manager,” he says. “I try to empower the people on the team. My role is to not only make HUB successful, but to make my team, both individually and as a whole, successful. Ideally, I want to keep them excited and interested in their jobs.” To accomplish that, he tries to challenge those around him. “I think people perform well when they are pushed a little bit outside of their comfort zone,” he says. “I’m also always looking to challenge myself.”