More than 15 years ago, the Chairman of Chubb Canada set out to create an engaging corporate culture that would be a strategic competitive advantage. Her vision was that the focus should be on what employees want and need in their workplace, with emphasis on creativity and innovation in HR. This led Chubb down the path that it’s on today, and the outcome that has been nothing less than spectacular.
For the past 12 years, Maclean’s magazine has ranked the company among the 50 Best Employers in Canada. Criteria for receiving the Best Employer designation includes scores across the diverse aspects of what matters to employees: career management, managers and leaders, values and ethics, the work atmosphere, communication, skill development, compensation, benefits, and time off.
A key part of maintaining the culture is the firm’s HR department, headed up by Patti Ewen, senior vice president of human resources. She holds both a Chartered HR Professional certification and a Canada’s Chartered Accountant designation—an unusual combination that enables her to understand the business and translate it to strategy for human capital.
“Our people give us a competitive advantage,” Ewen says. “The insurance industry is always changing—influenced by the business needs of our customers and the changing landscape of technology, competition, risk, and economic forces. We have to make sure we are prepared to respond to this evolving environment by having the right people with the skills needed for success.”
Given that the Canadian insurance industry is heavily populated with soon-to-retire baby boomers, the war for talent is fierce. Ewen serves on an industry demographic task force looking to address those challenges. Her group constantly has an eye toward the future. “Ensuring that our workforce is sustainable, stable, and populated with the skills of today and tomorrow is a strategic imperative,” she says.
One aspect is broad experience. Instead of purely promoting people vertically, Chubb uses a more latticed approach that—aside from the traditional vertical career path—can provide development across areas in both technical and leadership streams, with augmentation by experiential development through short-term assignments, projects, or secondments.
By posting all jobs and knowing its people well, the company is able to transfer promising staff across divisions or geographies for development, yielding more fluid career management.
“We can teach promising people about insurance,” Ewen says. “So instead of just looking for insurance-based technical skill, we also look for people who display initiative, with strong leadership and interpersonal skills.”
That “big picture” approach also applies to her own staff. Ewen has a track record of bringing underwriters or operations people into HR to capitalize on their business knowledge and experience. “They’ve done the jobs in the field and can evaluate what we need to do now and in the future for structure, recruiting, development, and other programs.”
By the Numbers
Share of customers who rated their claims experience as “superior”
Share of Canada’s billionaires insured by Chubb
Consecutive appearances on Maclean’s 50 Best Employers list
Chubb always has industry superstars on its radar but doesn’t rely solely on the marketplace. “It’s very competitive out there,” Ewen says. “It can be expensive or difficult to acquire the level of performer we seek.”
So Chubb takes a dual approach. For decades, the company has conducted an ambitious on-campus recruiting program. “We visit a select number of schools where we aim to get our message out,” Ewen says, “and we are able to attract many strong students.
The insurance industry can have a bit of stigma to those who don’t know it,” Ewen explains. “People may have misconceptions about the careers we offer, think of it too narrowly, or only as a sales-oriented profession. To counteract this, we’ve done a lot of educating, internships, and worked to create a strong presence and develop Chubb’s brand on campus. The result is that students understand what Chubb has to offer and are interested in a career with us—one that they may not have previously considered. Unfortunately insurance careers are a best-kept secret.”
This approach creates what Ewen calls “cascading levels of talent,” which allows Chubb to be better prepared for demographic changes and future success. “We take a long-term view on our talent,” she says. “Our pipeline is always being stocked. The numbers may vary year-to-year, but we’re constantly bringing in great new talent that has the ability to grow and take Chubb into the future. ”