Passing the Torch

Cheryl MacDowell (centre) takes the lessons of her parents, Walli and Bert, to heart as she takes over MacDowell Insurance.

MacDowell Insurance Brokers Ltd. preps itself for a new era as Cheryl MacDowell takes the reins from her parents

Common wisdom often cites that the ability to meet or—even better—embrace change oftentimes defines whether a business enterprise succeeds or fails. If this is the case, then MacDowell Insurance Brokers is more than prepared to move forward as it transitions from parent to daughter ownership.

As of April this year, Cheryl MacDowell took over the reins of the insurance brokerage that has been under the leadership of her parents, Albert (Bert) and Walli MacDowell, since 1985. What might have been cause for turmoil in other organizations proved barely noticeable among MacDowell followers.

“Because my parents have been letting me run the business on a day-to-day basis for the past five years, the switch was relatively smooth,” Cheryl says. “They have allowed me to spread my wings and fly, so to speak.”

As part of the transition process, Cheryl personally hired many people currently working at the firm. She also negotiated with the firm’s insurance carriers and facilitated the legal and financial elements that enabled her to take the helm. “There were no surprises for anyone,” she says.

As the new president of MacDowell Insurance, Cheryl readily credits her father for her excellent preparation. “I absorbed his vast knowledge, insight, and decades of experience in the industry,” she says.

For his part, Bert praises Cheryl like a teacher who adores his brightest student. “She’s very competent,” he says. “I did my best to provide her with a firm understanding of the industry as it stands today, as well as what insurance brokerage may look like in the near future. I knew the firm would be in very good hands with her at the helm.”

The fact that Cheryl also shares her father’s industry sensibilities has proved hugely beneficial, too. Both appreciate the sensitivities involved in insurance work. “Quite often a client will come to us following a disaster—anything from a storm-damaged home to the death of a loved one—and they will be upset,” Cheryl says. “It is our role to calm them down and, at the same time, provide them the best service possible. In many ways, we serve as their advocates in times of need.”

Cheryl has dedicated herself to high standards of customer service since coming onboard at MacDowell Insurance in 1990. It was a model she learned from her father. From the start, she immersed herself in the brokerage’s full line of property and casualty products, including policies for coverage of homes, automobiles, boats, recreational vehicles, benefits, and life insurance.

Cheryl soon discovered the keys to running a successful brokerage. “It comes down to finding the product that is the best fit for meeting a client’s needs,” she says. “And sometimes this means being able to help people even though they may not be sure what they really need.”

At such moments of client indecisiveness, Cheryl calls upon one of her father’s skills that she admires most. “I listen,” she says. “I try to get at the heart of what the client really requires out of coverage. By encouraging a customer to talk, we can help them choose the policy that is just right for them.”

Exemplary coverage doesn’t end there, however. The firm tracks what is happening in each of its clients’ lives, to keep abreast of any changes. This is where the advantage of a family-run insurance brokerage comes into play, as it permits a more nurturing environment. Cheryl and her team are able to do a better job keeping in touch with clients and, by extension, delivering accurate and effective insurance.

Among the changes that the firm is considering is a greater focus on electronic outreach. “Younger customers are very Internet focused,” Cheryl says. “So, in looking to play more in their playground, we have Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.”

Yet another initiative features a company Facebook page, where Cheryl provides relevant information about her firm’s products, as well as general insurance trends. Her goal in all of these affairs is to provide both her clients and any visitors a more complete understanding of how smart insurance decisions can enhance their well-being.

Cheryl is also guiding MacDowell Insurance’s planned forays into smartphones and iPad applications, with the help of the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario, for even greater client access. Even with such ambitious digital ventures, however, Cheryl remains determined not to lose sight of MacDowell’s timeless qualities.

“We will always be a service-oriented business,” she says. “Clients will still be able to speak with a live staff member when they call—they will never be connected to voicemail. And if a client wants to talk, they will still be able to sit down with one of us so that we can determine the best way to help them with their insurance needs.”