When Larry Berran agreed to have breakfast with iPipeline’s trustees in 2002, he thought he knew what he was getting into. “They reached out to see if I could give them some thoughts on their business plan and help them out a little bit,” he remembers. “So I met with them a few times, did a small project for them, and then they came back and said, ‘Hey, look, we’d love for you to come run the company.’” Berran joined the company as president that August, and thirteen years later, he is still leading iPipeline to success.
Founded in 1995, iPipeline provides cloud-based software solutions for the life insurance industry. iPipeline’s channel solutions for carriers, distributors, and producers automate activities that enable the insurance industry to market, sell, and process faster. Berran, who currently serves as the chief financial officer and chief operating officer, oversees human resources, support, finance, planning, security, and network operations for the company.
What makes iPipeline a great place to work, Berran says, is the company’s commitment to integrity and fairness and the way its priorities are arranged. When chief executive officer Tim Wallace joined the company in 2008, he shared his mantra with employees: customer, company, team, and self. “I still remember that day,” Berran says. “Tim said, ‘That’s the order we’re going to run the business, and if we build the company from the customer back, we’ll have a great business.’”
It’s a formula that has worked. When Berran joined the company, beginning a six-year stint as president and chief executive officer, iPipeline had about thirty-five employees. The company now has 450 employees, and offices in Horsholm, Denmark, as well as London, Tokyo, and throughout the continental United States and Canada.
The Customer: iPipeline’s First Priority
iPipeline’s commitment to the customer has required clarity about who the customer is, according to Berran. “In this industry you have this tug of war between the insurance company, which wants everything perfect, and the agent, who wants everything easy to get the signature from the customer to close the deal,” Berran says. “We really try to build stuff from the agent’s point of view.”
To better serve agents, iPipeline puts considerable focus on sending employees out in the field to talk to customers about what they need and want. “That’s probably one of the biggest areas you have to excel at, if you want your customer to be really satisfied,” Berran says. “Our people really want to do a great job for our customers.”
Company: A Defining Core Value
Providing a high level of service and satisfaction is always a challenge, but it has especially been so as the company has grown over the years. Consider iPipeline’s acquisition of the insurance technology company Aplifi in 2013, which captured the largest life and annuity insurance customer base in the business. Over the years, the company has been through cycles of rapid growth and change.
“When you look back, you have a company that was doing $1 million in revenue when I joined in 2002, and this year we’ll do about $100 million. But it’s not a straight line,” Berran says. “Most people just connect those two dots, but you really have periods where growth accelerates and periods where it decelerates a little bit and then starts to accelerate again.” The key to smooth internal growth, he says, has been honesty and transparency. “We try to be as transparent as we can with the employees,” Berran explains. “We really try to over-communicate. I think employees generally feel there’s never enough communication.” As a result, the company works hard to make sure that employees are kept in the loop.
Team and Self: The Last Pieces of the Puzzle
As the company has grown, a strong focus on training is also crucial. “Training has been a huge initiative over the past couple of years,” Berran says. “We make sure we onboard people as fast as we can and put a lot more structure around that process.” The company hired a director of training in 2014 and has increased its training budget.
Beyond that, Berran believes in allowing people to test themselves. “Give people the opportunity to fail and fail fast,” he says. “And see if they can learn from their mistakes and move on, or if they’re not capable of that.” Ultimately, Berran says, this is why growth is important: “People get excited working for a growing company. As you’re growing, it creates a lot more opportunities.” That way, employees can stretch themselves toward their ambitions, which yields positive results company-wide.
To this day, that mantra—customer, company, team, self—is what keeps him excited and motivated to continue growing at and with iPipeline, Berran says. “The value that we provide to our customers is pretty great, and quite frankly, the people here are just awesome,” he adds. “That’s probably the main thing; I look forward to coming to work every day just to see people that I work with.”