Nearly 30 years after he graduated from the Maine Business School, Larry Shaw, president and chief executive officer of MMG Insurance in Presque Isle, Maine, continues to fall back on a valuable lesson he learned as an undergraduate.
“I use what I learned in my organizational behavior course all the time,” says Shaw who earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1981. “That’s where I came to understand that a business’s culture can drive its success.
“Over the years we have made sure that our company’s culture is high-tech, high-touch. We use state of the art technology, and we have great products, great service, and a great claims department. But we have a competitive advantage because we take a high level of personal service to the market place. We still use a live person to answer the phone, even though most companies use an automated attendant. We take time to talk and visit with customers and build trust so they know we value their relationship, will be there when they need us, resolve problems quickly, and do everything we can to keep them satisfied.”
MMG Insurance provides property/casualty insurance services from 153 agencies in 381 locations in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Pennsylvania. Later this year he also will be doing business in Virginia. Shaw says within the next 10 years, he aims to serve a total of 6-8 states and to double written premiums to $250 million in revenue.
“It’s quite a challenge we’ve set for ourselves, but it tracks with what we have produced over the last 15 years,” he says.
Hired by MMG in 1982, Shaw spent his first two years “helping out everywhere and doing everything, from sorting mail, to filing papers and pulling staples.” Prior to becoming president and CEO in 1995, he held a number of positions, including chief operations officer, vice-president, secretary, assistant vice-president, and assistant secretary. He also held various positions in the Underwriting Department.
He credits his employees for helping the business succeed. “We pride ourselves on being an employee friendly organization and understanding each employee’s needs. We value each one as a person as well as a worker. That’s why our staff members are enthusiastic and motivated and really enjoy their jobs. They are interested in high performance and really want to do well. This is tough to compete with.”
The company’s strategy has indeed paid off. MMG has been named “Company of the Year” in Maine three times, most recently in 2009, and “Number One Performing Company” in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. The industry awards were given by each state’s respective Independent Agents Association.
Another key to running a successful business is to embrace change, according to Shaw. “We do a lot of predictive modeling, or creating a statistical model of loss experience, which has been a big part of the evolution of rate making,” he says. “Also, because we’re smaller and do most of our own software programming here, we’ve been able to be nimble and responsive to the needs of the marketplace.”
He says the Maine Business School started him out on the right foot by giving him a solid business foundation. “MBS challenged me, broadened my thought processes on a whole host of topics, developed my relationship building skills, and, most importantly, sparked me into becoming a lifelong learner,” says Shaw, who earned a master’s of science degree in business from then Husson College in 1993.
With all the electronic communication these days, business schools need to place an emphasis on teaching students to understand the importance of building relationships by sitting down face to face with people, he says. Newly minted business school graduates should have good social skills, know the mission and purpose of their company, and understand that they may have to start at the bottom and work their way up.
Heading up an insurance company is a wonderful career, he says. “The insurance industry is central to the economy and provides an essential financial service. It allows people from many different disciplines to be successful, whether it’s in marketing, underwriting, actuarial, finance, or claims. It really is a business open to just about every skill set out there.”
Image Description: Larry M. Shaw