National Interstate’s new headquarters is a monument to workforce development

In a Richfield business park full of unremarkable structures, National Interstate Insurance Co.’s brand new B building, muscled in between the company’s two other facilities, is also unremarkable — aesthetically speaking. Symbolically, however, it stands as a physical and fiscal promise the commercial automotive insurance company has made over the past five years to the growth and development of its workforce.

National Interstate has taken the steady 18 percent revenue growth it’s realized over the past five years and invested in its employees through programs addressing their trajectory from career cradle to career grave. The company is recruiting and training college graduates while working to bolster the current and next generations of National Interstate officers.

President and CEO Tony Mercurio talked, aptly enough, from within the B building’s Starbucks-driven coffee shop on the ground floor of the $25 million, 120,000-square-foot, five-story headquarters. The building is a culmination of sorts of a series of initiatives that got their spark in 2013. At the time, National Interstate saw dramatic market changes manifest in more distracted driver incidents and a significant shortage of commercial drivers in the U.S., negatively affecting the quality of the average driver. These issues, as well as a climate of greater litigiousness, led to higher losses, making it more difficult to produce the results the company was used to.

Seeing the threats, the company asked how it was going to deal with them and essentially shook its head. National Interstate just wasn’t prepared.

“We had always been an enviable organization, in my opinion, relative to our key competitors, relative to what we did, but we weren’t as good as we used to be. We weren’t as good as we wanted to be, and we certainly didn’t have the brand awareness, the identity, that we wanted to have in Northeast Ohio,” Mercurio says.

Healthier, happier employees

In taking a critical look at itself, the company began to re-evaluate its practices. Underwriting, IT and the state of its then-senior management team were all up for scrutiny. But regardless of the area of practice, every department shared one thing that needed to be addressed.

“It is a people business. We sell a contract. We sell a promise. We sell a relationship,” Mercurio says. “It can’t just be about price. It has to be about customer service. It has to be about relationships. It has to be about integrity.”