Company Culture Draws Millennials to Harford Mutual
Strength. Stability. Support.
The celebration of 175 years in business for Harford Mutual Insurance is more than a tale of longevity in the marketplace. It’s a statement of the success and magnitude a company can have in an industry that impacts the local, regional and national economy. It’s also a message to the current and future workforce that the insurance industry, and companies like Harford Mutual, offers a career path worth considering.
Patrick Gagen, director of human resources for Harford Mutual, says he is focusing on developing young financial relations students for jobs at the company. “The insurance industry isn’t usually the first job choice for new graduates. It’s usually something people fall into then stay in it for the long term, creating a nice career,” Gagen notes. “We’ll be seeing significant turnover in the next five years, with the number of baby boomers retiring. There will be a lot of opportunity.”
To find new talent, Gagen says, the company is changing where it looks for people, the messages it communicates and the media it uses to reach potential employees. Starting with an intern program that partners Harford Mutual with Temple University and St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, Gagen says the company is talking more about benefits packages, company culture and the industry’s bright future. Both universities have specific majors in risk management and insurance, and St. Joseph University’s program is ranked No. 1 in the country, according to the school’s website. The required courses for the majors range from general business classes and accounting to risk-management concentrations that teach students to identify risk sources, then select and implement solutions to control those risks.
“The internship program gives students real life experience,” Gagen explains. “They go out on agency visits, they look at risk factors and they make recommendations.” The interns themselves recognize the value of the work they do at Harford Mutual. Summer intern Marlaina Hahn says, “What surprised me while working at Harford Mutual was how extensive and expansive the insurance industry is, and how many little aspects there are to it. You don’t learn that from school books.”
Since the program’s inception in 2012, Harford Mutual has hosted eight interns – three of whom have been hired as full-time employees. Alex Troutman turned his internship opportunity into a job. “Interning is the best way to simulate what a full-time position will entail,” Troutman says. “It allowed me to solidify my interest in the industry and gain knowledge that is not available in a classroom. The insurance industry offers diverse career opportunities, so you can explore those until you find what fits you best.” Troutman graduated from Temple University and joined Harford Mutual as a commercial underwriter in June 2014.
Of Harford Mutual’s 152 employees, approximately one-third are in the 21-35-year-old age group, fondly known as Millennials. Gagen points to research that indicates social responsibility and company culture are top priorities for this generation. “Luckily,” Gagen says, “Harford Mutual’s culture has always considered these important facets of who we are. We just had to make sure we were getting that word out to attract new staff.”
Stacey Rebbert, marketing manager for Harford Mutual, reports the organization is on track to donate $250,000 to local charities by the end of 2017. In addition, Harford Mutual employees each receive eight hours of paid time off to do community service work. The paid time off can be used for volunteering at their children’s school or helping at a non-profit organization. Harford Mutual supports the United Way, Harford Family House, SARC and numerous other non-profit organizations in Maryland and the states in which it does business. Rebbert notes that the company believed so strongly in amplifying its social responsibility message that it added the position of Corporate and Community Engagement Coordinator in 2016. “This position is tasked with facilitating employee involvement, corporate communication and charitable giving,” she says.
At the office, employees will find a well-stocked coffee and tea bar, fresh fruit delivered weekly and holiday gifts. To greet new employees from day one, welcome gift baskets are delivered to their homes and a bag full of Harford Mutual logo goodies and information is presented on their first day. Current staff is informed via e-mail of new hire start dates with a photo and short biography. “This way people can see who the new faces are and welcome them, and it’s a great opportunity to get people with like interests together,” Rebbert says. “If you see someone who has the same hobby as you do, you’re more likely to reach out to that person and start a conversation.”
Employees are offered company-sponsored professional growth opportunities, including development seminars, in-house and external training programs and continuing education. In 2016, 12 employees received 17 separate insurance designations from the Insurance Institutes, and Harford Mutual was recognized by the Maryland CPCU Society as “Employer of the Year” for its commitment to educational excellence. Gagen and Rebbert attribute the high retention rate at Harford Mutual to these ancillary benefits and the consistent attention to detail. The average employee tenure is 10-plus years.
Rebbert points out that while students and potential employees with an insurance background are highly coveted, it’s not necessary to “be in” insurance to secure a job at an insurance company. “These companies have HR departments, marketing departments and IT departments. The job skills for these specialties are necessary, but the particulars of the insurance products can be learned,” she says. Both Gagen and Rebbert agree that companies are looking for potential employees who can provide outstanding customer service and build relationships. They look for candidates with proficiency in mathematics, accounting, communications, psychology and sociology. “People who are a good match for the industry are truthful and honest, have the ability to instill calm and confidence, and aren’t afraid to pick up the phone and call a client,” Rebbert says.
“The insurance industry impacts all areas of the economy,” Gagen notes. “After a natural disaster or world event, it’s the insurance industry that gets people, businesses and the economy moving again.” Harford Mutual provides commercial insurance coverage to protect clients’ businesses through partnerships with nearly 450 independent agents throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, including eight states and the District of Columbia. The company recently added South Carolina to its roster and has plans to include Georgia in 2018.
Harford Mutual is not all work and no play. In fact, the employees themselves spearhead many social and charitable events. Staff members can donate $1 on Fridays to wear jeans to work, and the money raised is donated to local charities chosen by employees. Committees volunteer to run fundraising bocce ball tournaments, agent golf outings and holiday decorating days. Harford Mutual hosts an annual holiday gathering and an annual employee appreciation party, when President and CEO Steven Linkous takes the opportunity to show his gratitude for his team’s hard work. Rebbert says this year’s appreciation party, a celebration of the 175th anniversary, included employee family members and was held at Conrad’s Ruth Villa in Middle River. Attendance was 140 out of 152 employees, testament to the satisfaction workers feel at Harford Mutual.
Employees and visitors to the Harford Mutual campus in Harford County can get a flavor for Harford Mutual’s history from a commissioned painting that hangs on the wall of the company’s executive conference room. Created by local artist Jim Butcher, the mural is a pictorial that reflects the company’s milestones of the last 175 years as they relate to historical local and global events, like the evolution of Main Street in Bel Air and both World Wars.
Gagen says the strong history and stability of Harford Mutual in maintaining customers, retaining staff and experiencing continued growth is something today’s job seekers should strongly consider when choosing their career industries. “The growth of the company has been tremendous over the last 10 years,” he notes. The annual statement reports a revenue increase of $14 million (8.4 percent) in 2016. Harford Mutual policyholders’ surplus has increased 92.6 percent to $208.6 million since 2006. The team wrote $184.9 million in direct written premium in 2016, and $26.4 million in new business premium and will top the $200 million mark this year. Linkous quotes Benjamin Franklin in his annual statement message on continuing the astonishing mission of the company: “‘Without continued growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.’ This clearly and succinctly defines our vision … never resting as we continue to execute the strategies of mutual success that expand and strengthen Harford Mutual’s legacy for the next 175 years.” I95 Content Marketing