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2018 Power Broker

The Next Generation of Leaders

With already burgeoning careers, the 2018 Power Broker® Rising Stars share the key components to their success.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 7 min read

Every year, Risk & Insurance® recognizes the best of the best in insurance brokering. These Power Brokers exemplify creative risk solutions, exceptional customer service and a profound knowledge of the industry over 25 sectors.

This year, 214 brokers nationwide and beyond became 2018 Power Broker® winners or finalists. Of these, 80 winners and finalists were under the age of 40, making them Risk & Insurance® Rising Stars.

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Rising Stars are young leaders who have taken the insurance broker industry by storm with above-and-beyond attitudes to get their clients what they need when they need it.

“Never say no.”

That’s Berj Basralian’s approach to brokering. An account executive for Risk Strategies/DeWitt Stern, Basralian is the youngest Rising Star this year at age 27. He works specifically in the Entertainment sector, which, he said, is an industry where he needs a good sense of humor and should be just a little bit crazy.

“I try not to let insurance dictate what clients can and can’t do. I always try to find a solution,” he said. “Sometimes you have to look at something from a consumer standpoint and say, ‘that would make for some great TV.’ Then I work to make it happen.”

His philosophy is to get on the phone or see a client in person when they have a question or concern.

“You get a better sense of what they’re doing. You can only explain so much in an email, but over the phone you learn more.”

Communication Is Key

This year’s Rising Stars understand the power of communication.

“This is something I hold near and dear to me,” said Justin Johnson, age 31, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions, a Rising Star from the Construction sector. “I will go to the ends of the earth for our clients.”

Justin Johnson, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

He finds teaching clients about construction and its coverages as the most rewarding part of his job, because he gets to help them understand the nuances of construction risks.

Johnson “works with companies that may not have a lot of experience on the construction side. These might be Fortune 500 companies that build one or two new facilities every 10 years.

“Construction is like a foreign topic to them. I like to work with them and articulate how certain coverages work to ensure they are protected appropriately.”

He always tries to respond within the same day he receives an inquiry from a client. The digital age, he said, makes it so that responses are sought out fast.

“Being able to respond quickly helps to develop trust and ultimately build strong relationships.”

“We millennials have a different way of managing how to communicate. I think we are focused more so on results than on process, which is good. We’re more fluid in how we communicate,” said Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions, age 28, a Public Sector Rising Star.

Many of these Rising Stars have grown up with easy-access communication at their fingertips, whether it be by email, text or some form of instant messenger.

“I think sometimes we forget that we all put our pants on the same way. My philosophy is to always be human when I communicate [with clients]. That humanizing factor is how we really connect with each other.”

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Crowe makes a pointed effort to check in with her clients and see how they’re doing. She believes having that extra touch of care enables her to better serve her clients.

Jennifer Akhter, senior vice president, Aon Affinity, age 36, an Employee Benefits Rising Star, said honesty is always the best policy when communicating with clients.

“We must be honest about what we have to accomplish together. This industry is consistently changing, and that’s exciting. There is a way we can change and impact the companies that we work with.”

The Path to Brokering

Akhter joined the brokering field like many other Rising Stars; she found her way to it circuitously.

She was enrolled in law school, but after joining Liberty Mutual as a liability underwriter, her plans changed.

“No two days are alike. This industry keeps changing and evolving. Aon allows an individual, like me, to be creative,” she said. “There is a tremendous opportunity to learn and to grow. Insurance is an industry that allows people to influence others in a positive manner.”

Basralian, too, was working toward earning his law degree.

“I worked for an attorney [after graduating college],” Basralian said. He decided it wasn’t his path and turned to his family in the insurance business for advice. The rest was history.

Now when he sees his family, “we trade our insurance war stories,” he said in good humor.

“I think sometimes we forget that we all put our pants on the same way. My philosophy is to always be human. That humanizing factor is how we really connect with each other.” — Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

In his line of work, seeing the finished product drives him to work harder.

“When we get to see the finished product — sometimes some things can come up so out of the norm. We see the stuff come in before its even filmed. Getting to see how it all came together is the best part,” Basralian said.

He mentioned a tank being used on a prank show as an example of such ‘out of the norm’ events. In another instance, he had a client who added a last-minute stunt that involved dangling a person from a helicopter. He had four days to get the carriers and the coverage secured.

Johnson, on the other hand, entered the construction sector as a civil engineer, working for three years on the project side. The company he worked for at the time had a philosophy of rotating employees into different groups to help them get a better understanding of the business holistically.

Katie Crowe, account executive, Aon Risk Solutions

“I was rotated into risk management,” he said. A few years later, he had the opportunity to join Aon, where he entered into brokering.

Crowe also found her way to brokering after starting her career in another field: “I have my undergraduate degree in political science and Mandarin,” she said.

She worked for a company that handled large, multinational power generation stations. It was there she had her first taste of risk management.

She said this background has helped her become a better broker.

“It was challenging making the transition from being a client to a broker. As a risk manager, I was running the show. My needs and expectations were being met. Now I manage risk managers’ needs and do all I can to exceed their expectations,” Crowe said.

“I can say, ‘I was in your shoes.’ I have the knowledge of both sides, and now I can pay it forward.”

Ask Questions

One thing each of these Rising Stars noted is that they don’t always know all the answers: “Insurance is such a broad topic. With so many different ways policies can be constructed, it’s hard to get your arms around the breadth of it all,” said Johnson.

“I think my first two years were spent reading policy,” said Basralian.

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“When I first came to the [brokering] world, I had this opportunity to lead a team,” Akhter said. “At that time, I was maybe 25 or 26, and I felt I needed to know all the answers. It was my first lesson learned.

“You don’t have to have all the answers. Listen and collaborate with clients. Rely on your colleagues,” she said. “Being younger, I think, allows me to not be afraid to ask questions.”

“Not every one person knows it all,” added Johnson. “I try my best to align myself internally with our subject matter experts. That way, [clients are] getting the best Aon has to offer.”

Crowe said her first order of business is to make sure she understands what clients are asking for. Then, if she feels she could benefit from additional knowledge, she’ll ask herself who can help.

“People, as a whole, don’t like asking questions and they don’t like asking for help. Younger people, I think, see it as an opportunity to grow,” she said.

When brokers ask questions, “the end result is stronger, because we’re working at a solution through many sets of eyes,” said Akhter. &

See the complete list of Power Broker® Rising Stars.

Autumn Heisler is the digital producer and a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Masters of Risk

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.

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But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.

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Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]