An overachiever is an overachiever, no matter in what profession he may find himself. When hiring someone for a job that requires quick thinking, good customer relations and an eye for detail, it probably doesn’t matter much that he’s unfamiliar with your business, as long as he’s willing to learn.
Jim Bonner, vice president of The Graham Company, is a prime example, as someone who entered into the insurance business after a career in nuclear engineering and hit the ground running.
Smart Business talked to Bonner about the skills he brought from his former profession and how being detail-oriented is a key part of being an effective insurance professional.
How does your background as a nuclear engineer translate to skills used in the field of insurance?
I was an officer on a nuclear submarine, and on submarines, almost every procedure involves two-person control, in that two people are checking on any one operation in order to prevent human error from sinking the ship. When I came to The Graham Company, I was surprised to see that in a very similar fashion, every insurance policy is checked by two people before it goes out the door. We don’t leave anything to human error. We want to minimize the chance of any errors by having two-person reviews of our work product. The insurance policy is a contract that’s going to be relied upon when disaster strikes. That is not the time to find out you have a problem with your insurance policy.
Insurance and nuclear submarines are different fields, of course, but in both cases you have to pay attention to the details, and at the same time be aware of the big picture. In a submarine, it doesn’t help you to know that you’re heading in the right direction if there’s a sea mountain right in front of you. With insurance, you have to be meticulous about the details, but also look at the big picture of whether the coverage is correctly aligned to our customer’s operations.
One of my tours of duty was on a submarine during new construction. We actually lived on the submarine as it was being built. So both from a construction standpoint as well as a manufacturing standpoint, I have a very good understanding of construction sites as well as the manufacturing processes, which has helped me understand the many challenges our customers face on a daily basis.
What is an example of a similar system used in both of your professions?
The two-person check system really works. With the audit process in the Navy, there was always a self-assessment by outside organizations to quantify the effectiveness of the crew. At The Graham Company, we have an auditing procedure that’s done on all of the account managers during their insurance renewal process to quantify their effectiveness at following procedures and providing the best work product for our customers.
Why would someone from a different background be a good fit for the insurance profession? How is one assimilated into the business?
Our company hires people who have the aptitude for the job and have demonstrated success in their prior profession. We are able to train them on the insurance and merge that with the culture of detail that we have here. We also have a nice mentoring program to help with the transition. When I joined The Graham Company, I had six months of classroom training, which was followed by three years of mentoring by an account manager who had more than 11 years of experience. We have continually refined and developed that account manager training process.
As an officer, did you learn about working with people?
Certainly. A submarine crew is a pretty tight-knit group of people. I learned how to communicate effectively and how to work with people who come from all kinds of different backgrounds. Every person is different and has a unique way of learning and working. As different as we may have seemed on the surface, we were united by the same mission in building and operating our submarine.
The environment in my current job is similar we all come from different places and have different educational and vocational experience, but we are united by the common goal of serving our customers. On a daily basis, we deal internally and externally with all kinds of different people from a laborer on a construction site to the chief executive officer.
Working with clients is an enjoyable aspect of the job because you see so many different ways of approaching business. We are fortunate to work with some of the top businesses in the country; our customers are top performers, and they expect the same from their insurance broker.
How else did your background prepare you for your current position?
JIM BONNER is vice president at The Graham Company in Philadelphia. Reach him at email@example.com or (215) 701-5294.