Make a plan and dream big. Those are some of the lessons Naveen Anand has learned during his first year as CEO of Hallmark Financial Services, a specialty insurance company based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Hallmark Financial Services was founded twenty-five years ago primarily as a personal auto insurance company, but it has grown and evolved into a national specialty insurance property and casualty carrier with a focus on commercial products.
Anand joined the company of 410 employees and nearly $500 million in revenues in September 2014, and he has quickly defined a short- and long-term strategy that charts the course for product and organization growth that delivers value to all stakeholders: customers, employees, and shareholders.
The company has grown through acquisitions over the past two-and-a-half decades and was primarily managed like a holding company with subsidiaries operating independently. “I want to harness the power of the collective company to drive strategic growth and scale,” Anand says. He has been working to bring the company together to move forward as one enterprise.
Anand spent the first ninety days as CEO listening to company contributors, understanding what the company did and how it did it. Then he came up with objectives for his first year and got to work defining the new organization’s culture and collaborating with the leadership team to ensure a well-articulated employee communication and alignment plan.
“We are evolving our culture steadily, but it takes time to go from a fragmented organization to an operating company culture,” Anand says. A major part of building that culture is branding—internally and externally—which Anand says his leadership team talks about almost daily. But what is Hallmark Financial Services’ brand, and what does Anand hope it will be a few years from now?
“We want to be known for the quality of our people, our products, and our services,” Anand says. “Our clients will describe us as a solutions-oriented and client-centric business partner that not only delivers value-added products, but delivers those products in a simplified manner with continually improving processes.”
Anand wants to drive more authority and expertise to the point of sale and make working with Hallmark Financial Services a simple and positive experience, he says. “We are striving to be more nimble as an organization, larger, and more profitable with a highly skilled staff,” Anand adds. “We want to be the market of choice for our customers.”
Knowing the brand and working toward it collectively is important, because it clearly defines the decision-making framework of an organization, according to Anand. “If an organization doesn’t have a clear view of who they are and where they want to be, customers and employees will see that,” he says.
In his first year, aside from developing and implementing a rebranding strategy, Anand defined a long-term strategic road map for the business. “There is a lot of change happening in the organization, but it’s all going toward the objectives we’ve established,” he says. “There are a lot of exciting things going on, and we are building strong momentum toward our goals.”
Anand also aims to streamline the focus of Hallmark Financial Services on diversified, niche-specialty insurance risks for both the company’s independent-agent and wholesale-broker clients. Hallmark Financial Services has also concentrated on underserved markets with limited competition and higher profitability, helping avoid business that negatively affects its combined ratio.
“We do not want to be all things to all risks,” Anand says. “Our strategy is to focus on disciplined underwriting and bottom-line profitability.”
“If an organization doesn’t have a clear view of who they are and where they want to be, customers and employees will see that.”
Expanding the geographic reach of the company is another initiative that Anand prioritizes. Hallmark Financial Services was founded and developed in Texas. Most of its business—68 percent in recent years—resides there, as well as in the five surrounding states.
Yet Anand envisions further diversifying the company’s product portfolio and expanding nationally where appropriate. The organization may eventually leverage international opportunities that align with the business’ strategic plans, he adds. “We are taking it slow, and we are selectively identifying places where we think there are opportunities for our products and to expand our operational footprint,” Anand says. “It’s important for us because it provides diversification and broadens our reach as a company. The growth process is an ongoing journey.”
As for the future, Anand aims even higher. “We continually compare ourselves to the top five or six insurance companies in the country—those are our aspirational targets,” he says. “And I lead from the front.” That mind-set comes into play when he is hiring as well.
What will differentiate Hallmark Financial Services from competitors is the quality of its talent, according to Anand. “I want people that aspire to greatness, people who reach and push and are willing to challenge the bar,” he says.
To get the best and brightest, Anand says the insurance industry has a lot of work to do, but he hopes Hallmark Financial Services will be on the forefront of making the industry an exciting career path for the next generation. “The insurance industry has struggled with attracting top tier talent in the financial field. Those students often tend to be attracted to investment houses, hedge funds, or private equity companies,” he says. “This industry was never the sexy place to be.”
To help change that mind-set, Anand incorporates goals into the short- and long-term strategic plans, which focus on developing the leadership team and employees as well as building a performance-based culture. The company has also launched an internship program to establish a pipeline of future talent and to build awareness on college campuses.
“If you are looking for a career that gives you variety and opportunity for a different challenge every day, if you want build your financial acumen and grow your ability to lead and manage, the insurance industry offers all of that,” Anand says. “There is a lot of variety, a lot of different challenges and a lot of different ways to grow in this industry.”
With so many changes going on at Hallmark Financial Services at the same time, Anand says constant internal communication is the key. He adds that his team spends a lot of time talking to employees about the direction of the company as well as why they are doing it. “You’ve got to win not just their minds, but their hearts as well,” he says. “If you say what you are going to do, do what you said, and then talk about what you did, it puts the wheels in motion, and you start building momentum to move the organization forward.”
For other CEOs leading through transformation, they need to keep their eye on the big picture, according to Anand. “Keep your focus on the goal. There are a lot of day-to-day issues that CEOs deal with that can bring you from 30,000 feet down to ground-level,” he says. “Step back and step out and make sure you are keeping your goals and long-term strategy in mind.”