Philadelphia Insurance’s CEO John Glomb Details the Importance of Company Culture in the Midst of Uncertainty

Even during a global pandemic, Philadelphia Insurance Companies has found a way to effectively utilize its culture and encourage employees through positivity and innovation.
By: | January 11, 2021

No amount of preparation could have predicted what 2020 had in store for businesses and people alike.

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For one company, however, no amount of global pandemic disruption could stop it from continuing to encourage its employees and drive a company culture rooted in success.

“We were lucky in that our culture has been a part of us for decades,” said Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY) President and CEO John Glomb, who assumed the CEO role on January first. “Our employees know the heart of what we do, and that has helped us tremendously over the March to December months dealing with the pandemic.”

As the pandemic raged on, Glomb and the PHLY team worked hard to build upon the culture already set in stone, promoting an environment of encouragement and solicitation of innovative ideas.

This focus on company culture has helped pave the way for PHLY to navigate the virus, as well as continue to invest in itself and the communities the team services.

Glomb sat down to discuss the importance of culture, both in terms of the virus and during “business as usual.” Here’s what he had to say.

Risk & Insurance®: In your view, why is it important for a company to have an identifiable culture? What benefits do corporations gain from having one in place?

John Glomb: Culture can equip every employee with a purpose and excitement to go out and win. There’s consistency of thought. Everybody is being driven by the same mission, the same goals. It’s even more important now, with everyone working remotely, that we talk about it and make sure that everybody’s on the same page.  There is no such thing as over communicating our plan and reemphasizing cultural differentiators as we share stories of success and celebrate those that embody our corporate culture.

R&I: What is an effective way to instill company culture into employees’ day-to-day?

JG: This is something that starts as early as new hire training. For Philadelphia Insurance, we’ve always said one of the things that makes us great is our culture. Senior leadership knows we must continue to bang the drum so to speak. By setting a positive and encouraging example, we can help make sure that everybody’s clear on what that means. A part of doing that and doing that successfully is having the executive team commit significant time to sharing with our new employees the way we see ourselves as different and how we define our culture.

We have new hire training twice a year, in March and September. Myself, our chief marketing officer, Brian O’Reilly, and Bill Benecke, our chief claims officer, share our perspectives. The three of us have been steadfastly committed to making sure that is time we set aside. We want people to know that we are approachable and they can ask us any question they want.

John Glomb (center) with Chief Claims Officer Bill Benecke (left) and Chief Marketing Officer Brian O’Reilly (right) participate in Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014.

R&I: When you bring on new hires, how do you describe the Philadelphia Insurance culture to new team members?

JG: There are a few core tenants I can point out. First is, if there’s something happening and you don’t agree with it or you think it’s wrong or unethical, we encourage you to say something about it.

We also talk about treating your job as if you are the owner of the company. Are you going to respond to a telephone call? Are you going to work late? Are you going to go the extra mile, to find the solution, when an agent or a client is calling you in a moment of desperation? If you’re treating your job as if you’re the owner, you’re going to have a lot deeper sense of commitment.

Another thing we focus on is continuous improvement. If you find a problem, tell us what it is and offer a solution you think would work. You don’t have to have the answer but feel encouraged to suggest different ways to problem solve.  This also ties in with betting on yourself.  Invest in yourself though continuing education, industry designations or degrees that allow you to take control of your career and demonstrate your commitment to personal development and the industry you have chosen to pursue your career.

Finally, we want you to have a positive mental attitude. I can’t state how important that is during these COVID times, because there is so much uncertainty building.

R&I: Over these past few months, how has having this culture in place helped to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic?

JG: In the early days following the pandemic shutdown, our submissions were down. New business wasn’t where we wanted it to be. But new business is something that we could control, so we had to get creative. And we said, “Okay, let’s adapt to these new times.”

In the old days, a marketing rep would have been out on the road. We didn’t use Zoom. We didn’t use Microsoft Teams, or any of the other platforms. Now, we are using them every day. There’s no reason we can’t have a meeting in Cleveland, in Chicago, in Plano, in Dallas, in Orange County, in San Francisco, and then finish up in Seattle all in one day.

It’s shown us we can be a heck of a lot more productive without having to travel as much. So it’s just a matter of embracing kind of the paradigm, if you will, being focused on whatever we have to do to win on the new business side.

But it’s abundantly clear that everybody’s dealing with different situations on the home front. Even though it’s a hard market, we deliver the message of what we want to do on renewal — with empathy not with arrogance. That starts with how we treat our employees, as well, because not everybody is going to have the ability to work the same number of hours, doesn’t have the same working conditions at home as everybody else. We’ve seen what tremendous empathy and flexibility during these times can do to encourage employees and still drive business.

R&I: Looking ahead, even with the uncertainties, how do you think the PHLY culture will help enable the company to return to “business as usual?”

JG: The fact that we’ve been able to do as well as we have, leveraging our culture, over-communicating, showing empathy to our employees, communicating in an even better way than we had previously with our agents — it’s going to enable us to come out of this.

In late March, I put my head together with our HR team to keep our finger on the pulse of the employee population and how everybody’s psyche is and how everybody’s doing emotionally. I’ve sent out a two to two-and-a-half-minute video message every other Friday since late March. It’s not something I ever would have done before this. It’s something I probably will do when we’re back in the office. It’s been hugely helpful in allowing the senior team to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

There’s a lot of emphasis on transparency. No doubt, when going through something like this, your culture carries you through. The hope is that our people see the way senior management carried ourselves throughout this process, as we navigated unchartered waters, that this is going to bring us together as a team. And we’ll be even stronger as a result of it.

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R&I: How do you continue to get employee buy-in, especially during difficult times like this?

JG: As mentioned, transparency’s key. The challenges of 2020 not only brought new challenges to the workplace; it opened up opportunities to talk about them.  When somebody asks a question about pay equity, you must answer it openly. When somebody’s worried about diversity and inclusion and they want to understand how senior management is thinking about our commitment to Diversity & Inclusion initiatives over the long run, it’s important to speak to it; not to shy away from it. Transparency, and not being afraid to communicate but instead be real with people, is extremely important during these times.

R&I: How do you make sure that you are growing with the times and that the culture is growing with what’s going on in the world at large?

JG: We have to embrace change, keep an open mind, and celebrate people who come up with new ideas. That encourages an environment of innovation, collaboration, and progress. I think there’s been no time greater than the last nine months that has proven you can’t be afraid of change.

One example of how we’re driving positive change is our net promoter score. Ten years ago we started tracking our NPS, which measures customers’ experience and loyalty. At that time, we were probably in the mid-40s. By 2018, 2019, we were in the mid-60s. We set a goal, and we said, we want to clear 70. Four out of eight months last year during the pandemic, we cleared 70. We closed 2020 with our highest NPS ever.  That’s a testament to everyone’s resiliency.

PHLY employees at an event for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2019.

R&I: A big portion of PHLY’s culture is in giving back to the community. What are some of the ways that you’ve been able to continue doing this, even during a year like 2020?

JG: Giving back is absolutely a huge facet of TEAMPHLY culture. It’s something embraced company-wide and our employees have fun working together on charitable work.

One of the best events we do every year is a fundraiser for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). In years without a global pandemic, our departments have what we describe as healthy competitions with one another, where they go and raise money from the same employee base in our Bala Cynwyd, PA home office. So somebody might sell popcorn, while someone else will host a kickball game. There might be raffles to a Phillies game or to an Eagles game. All that builds camaraderie while raising funds for the communities we serve.

This year in a virtual environment we raised, amazingly, almost the same amount of money that we raised last year. We raised close to $50,000 which was also matched by the company. Over the last 17 years, we’ve given over $1.3 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in the fight against pediatric cancer. Throughout the months we’re actively raising money, we have several doctors come in and provide educational forums on cutting-edge research and progress being made. It’s absolutely amazing, and it really gives the team a lot of confidence that there will be a day, in our lifetime, where pediatric cancer will no longer exist.

Even this year, we’re finding ways to keep giving back. For example, we had a virtual celebration with Special Olympics, where we have partnered with Villanova University for the last 15 years, in their Fall Festival. This year, I had the honor and privilege on behalf of PHLY to award a young Special Olympic athlete with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies’ Valor Award. She gave an acceptance speech over video conferencing, and I’ll tell you, it was one of the most uplifting moments I’ve had over the last eight and a half months.

This is all a part of who we are as a company. A lot of people get very passionate about it. There’s plenty of opportunities for employees to raise their hand and get involved in initiatives and opportunities that are important to the company. That not only gives them visibility with people who they may have otherwise not encountered, but it also gives them visibility with senior management. It’s one way they can take control of their career at PHLY and be able to shine and stand out.

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R&I: What is it about giving back that not only bolsters company culture but also helps PHLY support and serve its employees and its customers?

JG: Being one of the largest insurers of nonprofits, there’s plenty of opportunity for us to give back to our customers and community through fundraising, volunteering, and other charitable activities. Any form of volunteerism is a way to give back to the communities where we live and work.

John Glomb (right) with PHLY employees at a volunteer project in support of a nonprofit customer in 2015.

R&I: What advice would you give to other corporations looking to drive a positive culture at their company?

JG: It goes back to the importance of company culture and our focus on continuous improvement. Other companies looking to build culture must take improvement measures very seriously. Be open to criticism — welcome it. Improving comes down to what you do with the feedback you get from employees on areas where you can improve.

That focus on always getting better is something that drives us at PHLY. &

Autumn Heisler Demberger is the content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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