I recently had a long breakfast catching up with Kathy Wernet, whom I had not seen for many years. We had been teammates at Johnson & Higgins Chicago. We shared fond memories, asked about people we each are in touch with and recalled stories which still stand out.
Kathy said Guy, her husband, always refers to our company as “Club J&H” because of the fun everyone had working together.
It’s a week later and I am still thinking about the message Club J&H sends.
By background, Johnson & Higgins was a global insurance brokerage and consulting firm of about 9,000 people and we had offices in 54 cities around the country and about the same number in most major cities outside the U.S. We had been founded in 1854. For nearly everyone, J&H was our careers. Seldom did we lose a good person, i.e., almost no turnover.
The insurance industry is huge. In fact, I heard that it is the single largest industry. I had never thought about that, nor do I know if it is true. However, insurance is certainly huge and has to be up there with the very largest. Virtually every person and every company has insurance.
J&H was among the very best in the industry. A great many in the field and others who were knowledgeable, and I say this sincerely, considered J&H the standard, best in field.
I would like to pass on what “Club J&H” signifies – that we can develop and maintain a company in which people of all levels enjoy working together, genuinely like each other, and, yes, have fun – and be a great, healthy company, considered best in class by its people and by its clients.
There are many factors which must align, yet if the top leaders embody humility, truly value their people and encourage ideas flowing up, it can be done. There are companies today that are doing it and they will be the most successful companies in the future. It takes courageous leaders, who are not in it to maximize just how much money they may personally make, rather they think long term, e.g., placing the development and success of their people ahead of short term, 90 day earnings.
We absolutely need leaders with humility, being out with their people, asking purposeful questions, encouraging their ideas, listening to understand and learn, and encouraging and providing development opportunities – which are wise investments and lead to happy team members and consistently outstanding results. Isn’t this what leadership should be all about!
Let’s invest in good people, trust and empower them and avoid bureaucracy with layers of approval processes which only suppress excitement and initiative.
Happy team members do better work.
Leadership is not about our being great and how much money we make personally, it’s our helping others be great and their success.
May the spirit of what “Club J&H” signifies, having fun working together and bringing out the best in one another of all levels, continue to have influence in our business community.