Limitless Possibilities Podcast, Episode 3: “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” with Grahame Millwater

May 03, 2022
Limitless Possibilities Podcast Episode 3 Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast with Grahame Millwater

Limitless Possibilities Podcast, Episode 3: “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast” with Grahame Millwater 

In this episode, your host, John Pelle, is joined by Grahame Millwater, Acrisure’s President of Global Insurance, who dives right into the importance of a strong company culture and engaging with the incredibly talented people within the world of Acrisure. 

 

What does it take to stay ahead of trends in an increasingly “risky'' environment? It all starts with curiosity. Tune in and follow the Limitless Possibilities podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube

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TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

John Pelle:
Welcome to the Limitless Possibilities podcast. I'm your host, John Pelle, and joining me is a very special guest, Grahame Millwater, Acrisure's president of global insurance.

 

John Pelle:
So let's just jump right into the questions. So first, culture, very important to the company. We have a new FinTech driven strategy. You're driving our insurance vertical. There's a famous business quote most people have heard, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." Just starting there, do you agree with that quote? What is your perspective on that phrase?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Yeah, I do agree with it. I think culture is incredibly important within an organization, because I've seen many organizations spend ages trying to get everything right. And frankly, also constant reorganizing the deck chairs and the organization around that. And I've always said, the reality is if you haven't got the culture right, you'll never get the organization right.

 

Grahame Millwater:
Because it's also particularly important in a business like ours. It's so multi-dimensioned. And because of the multi-dimensional nature of what we do, we have the client dimension, we have a product dimension, we have a carrier dimension, we have a regional dimension, we have an industry dimension. And guess what? Organizing around that is really quite difficult. And the only way you really get organization around it is a team rowing in the same direction, that want to work as a team. And in order to have that, you need a very strong culture to enable that to happen within an organization.

 

Grahame Millwater:
My sense within the organization is we have that, because we've bought some excellent businesses with some excellent people. But the reality is corporate people can sit in a, whatever you want to call it, conference room, boardroom, and have a whiteboard. And draw all sorts of things on that whiteboard about strategy, and not be able to execute any of it. Because if they haven't engaged with the people that really matter, or the people who deliver that to our clients, then it's never going to be possible to deliver it.

 

Grahame Millwater:
So strategy is important. If you don't have a direction, then you generally never get there. Everybody needs a map, probably a GPS these days, but a map. And reality is, you don't have a map, you tend to get lost. But actually arriving at that destination, there're two things critical over and above the direction itself.

 

Grahame Millwater:
One is the culture, to enable you to get there, and engage with your people to get there. And the second one is, fundamentally, you have to execute. So I think culture eats strategy for breakfast. I'd also say that execution eats strategy for breakfast.

 

John Pelle:
You have a phrase you've used in conversations with me and others, "How do we make one plus one equal three?" How do you make one plus one equal three for all the producers and insurance partners listening onto a podcast today?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Well, firstly, that is not really my phrase. It's a phrase I heard more than any other when I was speaking to the hundred APs I spoke to in my first couple of months. And, John, we bought some fantastic businesses. We partnered with some fantastic people. But I think wouldn't it be a terrible shame if that partnership equaled two, rather than three?

 

Grahame Millwater:
So the leverage, and the scale, and the capabilities, and the talent that we've got in the organization, we need to draw upon for the benefit of the organization. But also, most importantly, for the benefit of our clients. If we've got a one dimensional offering to our client, then actually I don't think we're serving them particularly well.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And risk, and the profile of risk, is getting more complicated. The exposures are getting higher, whether it's cyber, whether it's flood, whether what we're seeing happening with climate change. The world is a very uncertain place at the moment in many respects, and managing the risk that goes with that is paramount. I would defy, most of us, that we have the capabilities to truly serve a client in all ways, just through our own knowledge, and just through our own talent.

 

John Pelle:
So Grahame, in terms of our specific Acrisure products and offerings, I know 2021 was a huge year in terms of products we launched. Miscellaneous E&O, AcriBuild, AcriFlood come to mind. Now, we have our cyber vertical, our real estate vertical.

 

John Pelle:
What trends are you seeing in the marketplace that make you think we're in the right areas we need to be, and we have the people behind those products, having those customer interactions that are going to help us achieve success?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Sure. Well, I mean, I'd start with possibly one of the most obvious. Which is, and where, clearly, the group is investing a lot of money and time, and that's cyber. I don't think we can talk about the world of risk today without highlighting cyber. And what I love about what we're doing within the group is we're not just talking about solving that from an insurance perspective. We're talking about solving it from a risk management perspective. So I think cyber is a very obvious one.

 

Grahame Millwater:
But climate change, I'm sure there are some people who may be listening to this, who may question whether climate change is happening or not. Reality is that we're getting more and more losses from climate events, so whatever the driving force of that. I don't think anybody can ignore the fact that we're having more floods, we're having more windstorm, we're having more wildfire.

 

Grahame Millwater:
So it's finding solutions to these issues. It's not easy, because obviously the more the risk exposures go up, the more the price goes up, or even the less coverage there seems to be. So we as an industry have to solve this.

 

Grahame Millwater:
But specifically, we got the flood process in place, and we some great people like Dan Freudenthal, in terms of flood skills. We're doing an awful lot around wildfire. We've got an AP, Leo Rodriguez, who has done some amazing things around wildfire coverage, commercial. I think increasingly I come back to this issue around, the world is getting more risky.

 

John Pelle:
Mm-hmm.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And so therefore, the more options and more solutions we can provide to that.

 

John Pelle:
So there's so much, I mean, you use the word trends. Risk trends, staying knowledgeable, staying on top of what customer needs are.

 

John Pelle:
For folks out there, wherever they are in their careers, how do you suggest or recommend just that staying on top of trends? Because I feel like it's one of those things where if you've had a career like yours, you probably just know through osmosis. Where are you getting your information? How are you getting trusted information? How are you learning? How are you growing as a professional?

 

John Pelle:
Which we'll go into a little bit more in one of the later questions, but what are some of your recommendations for someone who wants to maybe do a little bit better job keeping their finger on the pulse of everything going on out there.

 

Grahame Millwater:
I think the starting point is curiosity. A desire to understand more about what's out there, about what's happening. What are the trends that are happening? If you don't have the curiosity, it's very unlikely you're going to make the effort to go and find.

 

Grahame Millwater:
But I would say it's rather like an individual's development. We as an organization should always try and provide as much opportunity for somebody to develop as possible, but if fundamentally you don't want develop yourself, it's not going to work.

 

John Pelle:
Right.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And I think it's the same around understanding and finding how you solve issues. If you're not curious, and you don't have an appetite to find solutions for you or your client, then it's going to be difficult. What our role is, is to make sure that we try and supply that curiosity as effectively as we can.

 

John Pelle:
One thing that stuck out to me as a communicator, when you and I talked recently, it was how much you believe in the power of "peer-to-peer," was the way you described it. "Peer-to-peer communication."

 

John Pelle:
When you say, "peer-to-peer communication," what is the best possible universe of peer-to-peer communication at Acrisure look like? What does that collaboration look like? Where is it happening? And, most importantly, how could we encourage that? How could you in your role encourage folks to embrace that idea?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Yeah. I mean, look, I've always believed that, I think it goes with culture. A very powerful team orientation means that people communicate with one another frequently. And I also believe that respecting your peers is absolutely critical, and we're not all made the same way. We've all got different skills and different sort of attributes.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And part of a team goes, that the best team, whether that's a sports team or a business team, is made up of different types of skills and people. I suppose, in UK soccer speak, you've got strikers and you've got defenders. If you had a team full of strikers, you might score a few goals, but you'd probably lose the match. If you had a team full of defenders, you might end up nil-nil, but at the end of the day you're not going to win the match. So you got to think about that team.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And within that, an AP speaking about their experiences, and their successes, and their failures to another AP is very strong. When somebody says, "Well, actually, I've achieved success for my client by utilizing these resources. You should do the same."

 

Grahame Millwater:
I think sometimes that's a much more powerful message than somebody from above in corporate saying, "You should do this." The reality though, is that corporate is still a very valuable entity, because it's facilitating communication. It is trying to outline strategy.

But then for the communication to go from AP, to corporate, back to AP, one, it's pretty inefficient. But secondly, it's nowhere near as powerful as the APs and the producers really talking amongst themselves about how to drive success.

 

John Pelle:
Yeah.

 

Grahame Millwater:
So I'd like to really unleash that within the organization. I think we're starting. I pulled together, just from a manageable group, 35 APs to really give me direction within the organization. I mean, I've been delighted within to see not only the direction they've helped give me, but actually just the power of that team working together, and talking to another, and agreeing to collaborate.

 

Grahame Millwater:
So, I mean, the biggest success out of that team in the shortest term has been them working on business opportunities, and it's fantastic to see. I'd just like to spread that as much as we can.

 

John Pelle:
Grahame, do they have a name? Did you give them a fun, cool name, the 35?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Well, it's not a cool name. It's called the advisory group. I don't know whether they think it's cool.

 

John Pelle:
Could we... Just like, "The 35?"

 

Grahame Millwater:
I'm sure I could employ some branding agency to give me something really cool, but frankly we'll stick with that for the time being, because it's working.

 

John Pelle:
And you're very passionate about talent. You're very passionate about upskilling the current workforce, as well as looking to grow and sustain the workforce in the future. So my question to you is, what is your sales pitch for a career in insurance today?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Well, it's interesting. I see more work needs to be done on this in the U.S., and I think needs to be done in... Certainly, I can speak from UK experience.

 

Grahame Millwater:
By the way, go back 25 years, very similar in the UK. Insurance tended to be thought as a little bit, the sort of, the last bastion of the financial services if you were looking into investment banking, consulting, fund management. But interesting enough, insurance has very much come to the fore in the UK, as a real talent that young people want to get into.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And why is that? I think it's clicked over there that, actually, it's got so many dimensions to it that make it a very interesting business. Relationship skills, analytical skills, negotiation skills, and the subject of risk itself is a really interesting topic. I mean, it impacts all of us. It impacts every commercial entity, it impacts individuals, it impacts government. The management of risk, and the laying off those exposures, is actually a fascinating business. There's all forms of routes into this industry.

 

John Pelle:
So is there anything, Grahame, that you'd want to tease out in terms of talent and investing in talent? Programs that you're thinking about in your role?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Yeah, there are. I mean, I think the first one that we're looking at, frankly, the first initiation of this is possibly looking at some form of young leaders program. The dynamics I see with those 35 AP, principals, are the same dynamics I'd love to see with emerging leaders of the organization.

 

Grahame Millwater:
So that they can understand our organizational weak... The input from every level within the organization is always very useful, so I'd love to have more input from people who are coming up. And that plays into, how do we make this as an attractive organization as possible for future leaders and recruits?

 

Grahame Millwater:
But also the bonding of those individuals, so take the 35 APs, principals. To have 35 future leaders, all knowing each other, all working with one another, sharing stories, sharing experiences, is a great thing for the organization. So I think that's where I'd like to start, in terms of some more formal development programs.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And possibly start to think about also some raw talent recruitment at a young age that we can bring into the organization, and start to put into APs. We can start to put them into corporate departments. But start to really develop our own Acrisure people. We've had fantastic people come through the APs, in terms of the partnerships we've created. I'd like to also have another source of that talent, which is an Acrisure source of talent.

 

John Pelle:
Right, and to underline that point, I feel like there's definitely the implication of like young, fresh talent coming in, learning sort of the Acrisure way of how of successful we've been. But I think there's also something to be said for people who are in the middle of their careers, and there's always a chance to learn and grow. And I think we all do that every day.

 

John Pelle:
So it's really across the board, across the generation divide, right?

 

Grahame Millwater:
And I'm also a huge-

 

John Pelle:
We're all looking to improve.

 

Grahame Millwater:
... Huge fan of... I mean, formal education is one thing. It has its uses. But learning from your peers, and learning from those more experienced. So I think we do those every day. I certainly do.

 

Grahame Millwater:
But I think also, mentoring has a role in that. I'm a massive fan of mentors. Somebody outside your direct line management. Never liked that term, line management, but let's just use it for this purpose of this. Outside of your line management. Having somebody that you can turn to, who has got experience, can guide, can advise, I think is enormously powerful.

 

Grahame Millwater:
It's down to us to make sure that we retain the best talent, and that takes many forms. Yes, a lot of people will always refer to compensation. An awful lot about it is giving people the ability to develop, to progress.

 

Grahame Millwater:
I remember when I was in my... I was on a development course. Let's call it a leadership program, early in my career. And everybody was asked what really they thought was the biggest tick, in terms of the most important thing of their career. And I was surprised that everybody ticked a lot of things, but they didn't tick having a good boss. I ticked having a good boss, because, ultimately, I think an awful lot of things flow from that.

 

Grahame Millwater:
So if you've got somebody who creates the right culture, creates the client team, make sure that they respect the talent within the organization. That goes a long way, actually, to having a successful career. You got to make that change. I've had four bosses in my career.

 

John Pelle:
Do you want to rank them for the podcast?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Well, John, that puts me in a pretty difficult position, doesn't it? But I am going to actually answer honestly. Part of the reason I brought my business, Beach, into this organization, was because from the moment I started having discussions with Greg Williams, that I just thought, "This is an exceptional story, but it's an exceptional person." And I think I said earlier, I ticked working for the best boss, to me is fundamental. And that was the biggest tick that I was looking for, and I found it within Greg.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And I think one of the things that... I have to say, all the bosses I've worked for have been good. All of them, I think, have been people I like, because I don't see how you... It's very difficult to work for someone you don't like, so I've liked all of them. And most of them I've worked for, really, for a long time. And it's also very much, you got to be on the sort same page.

 

Grahame Millwater:
I think with this situation, Greg himself has built a remarkable organization. Spotted real talent. I mean, I see that every day as I get to work with the APs. But also phenomenally trustworthy.

 

Grahame Millwater:
He's been very, very forthright from the day he and I started talking about him acquiring Beach. There were things that he said he could do, which he always delivered. And there were things he said that he couldn't do, which was absolutely what you want to hear. You want to hear what's possible, what's not possible. And then there were things that he had said, "Well, I'll do that if I possibly can, but I can't guarantee it." So that sense of trust is fundamental to me, and I think it's fundamental to the culture of the organization.

 

Grahame Millwater:
So, I mean, truthfully, I would say this wouldn't I? But he is the best person I've worked for, from the point of view of dynamism, work ethic, but most importantly, that sense of values and trust. And I hope I've earned some, as we would say in the UK, I hope I've earned some brownie points from that answer.

 

John Pelle:
Yeah. I was going to say, Grahame, Greg Williams is definitely a friend of the podcast. Guest of the podcast. In many ways, the originator of the Limitless Possibilities phrasing for the podcast, so definitely some brownie points.

 

John Pelle:
So it sounds like we have to have you back. It sounds like there's a lot in store for you for 2022, Grahame. I want to end it off with a question that you could take in any direction you'd like. The name of the program is the Limitless Possibilities podcast. What does limitless possibilities mean to Grahame Millwater?

 

Grahame Millwater:
Well, at the moment it feels like overwork, because there is so much to do, and literally so many opportunities and potential. So I mean, it truly is, I think, limitless. And therefore one of the things... I literally am, having spent the past four working days traveling around the U.S., I'm literally sitting here today trying to work out real prioritization, personally. Because there is so much opportunity for this group. So much opportunity for us to drive growth, and we need to avail ourselves with as many of those as possible. But at the same time we do, sometimes we do have to make sure that we're focusing on the really, really important ones first.

 

Grahame Millwater:
But I think when I look at the opportunities for us in the insurance space, they're massive. I mean, we've got a, sixth, seventh largest insurance broker in the world now. As I said earlier, complexity of risk is increasing the whole time. Values at risk are increasing the whole time. Uncertainties increasing the whole time. And I think we've got massive talent within this organization, and I frankly think some of our peers are there to be competed against.

 

Grahame Millwater:
So opportunities in the insurance space, but also at the same time, what we're doing in terms of the wider, actual global FinTech. I mean that just opens yet more doors. That's what limitless possibilities mean for me.

 

Grahame Millwater:
And the only other thing that I'd say is really important for us to achieve everything that we need to achieve is, people need to believe in what we're doing. And if you're missing in any way that belief, engage in what we're doing, because you can only believe if you engage. And if then, still there's need to sort of really understand it, then there's ways to find out more. Send me an email. I'm more than happy, quite busy, but I will respond. So believe, engage, ask questions.

 

Grahame Millwater:
But we're in a good place, and I'm really looking forward to working with everybody, making this even better.

 

John Pelle:
Awesome, Grahame. Everybody, thanks again for listening to this episode of Limitless Possibilities podcast. 

 


 

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