Most leaders understand how important it is to have a great culture. A company’s culture is the single most important factor in driving performance—it’s the only thing that consistently drives outsized organizational performance and long-term competitive advantage. But many people still struggle when it comes to shaping such a culture.

Most properly motivated leaders can create a world-class culture if they are willing to put the effort in, and the skills and capabilities needed to do so can be learned. Every leader should prioritize creating a great culture as a top individual objective. If your company already has a great culture, recognize that it requires constant work and attention to keep it there. If you don’t have one, you have a tremendous opportunity waiting for you to go after it.

Action leaders can take to build corporate culture

Here are seven ways to develop a fun, high-performing culture:

Walk the walk. Senior leaders set the tone for any organization. Your employees see everything you do—your work habits, the way you treat people, your consistency (or lack thereof), and the behaviors you demonstrate every day. While words matter, leaders’ actions matter far more. Culture is always set from the top and created by example—so strive to be an excellent one.

Be authentic. Nothing kills culture quicker than a lack of sincerity. If you are someone who can show you care about an individual and what’s going on in his or her life, you’ll build the relationships that will ultimately help your organization reach its goals. People are far more energized when they feel they are seen and valued as a person. However, nothing is more damaging than being disingenuous or insincere. Be true to yourself, and don’t force yourself into an inauthentic position. The more you can find real ways to connect with people in your organization, the better.

Play the long game. In the midst of the day-to-day, you may be tempted to hit the easy button or think about what’s needed immediately, especially if the short-term decision conflicts with the long-term. Adopt the mindset that you’re creating a company that will last for hundreds of years and act accordingly. Always try to do the right thing, no matter how painful it is.

Communicate, be transparent, and listen. Most senior leadership teams can do better at communicating with their employees. Almost all can improve their listening skills. When leaders are fully transparent about the good and the bad developments at a company, people are much more engaged and helpful because they know what and why something is happening. So why not tell them?

Recognize contributions. Recognition is important: It drives behavior by rewarding the good and discouraging the bad. People who feel appreciated end up experiencing more self-worth and positivity about their ability to contribute to the company. The result is a happier and more productive employee.

Be humble/admit mistakes. In a high-performance culture, leaders give credit and never take it, while also taking blame and never giving it. Admitting that you made a mistake (especially when it’s obvious) creates a culture of learning in which people are not afraid to try new things. This is imperative to helping an organization improve and grow. Successful leaders can admit their mistakes and see opportunities to anticipate the unexpected more quickly. They also share this wisdom with those around them. Don’t be too proud to recognize mistakes as valuable teachable moments for yourself and others.

Be accountable. As an accountable leader, you don’t blame others when things go topsy-turvy. Rather, you work to build an accurate understanding of where your organization excels and where it has opportunities to grow. Accountable leaders also step up to champion initiatives to help their organization succeed.


About the Authors


Edward Nathan Page is president and COO of Relation Insurance Services, an insurance brokerage that offers risk-management and benefits-consulting services through its family of brands across the U.S. He can be reached on LinkedIn.


This article originally appeared on the American Management Association (AMA) website here.





Here are seven tips to design your rebrand for success.

Any time you give something a new name, it’s a big deal.

While naming a company is very different from naming a pet or your first-born child, it still feels close to home because, ideally, you’re looking for a moniker that speaks to the very heart of how you do business.

In 2018, we successfully rebranded ourselves from Ascension Insurance to Relation Insurance Services. If you’re considering renaming your firm, here are seven things we learned that you should think about to help ensure a successful rollout with your team that will extend to clients and into the larger business community.

Involve the right people from the beginning. First, create a naming committee comprised of folks from all levels and facets of your business. Consider leveraging outside consultants where appropriate for support so the internal team can remain focused on the day-to-day business. New names also can create distractions and/or concerns for employees speculating about an ownership change. You can mitigate this by prepping the leadership team with key talking points and anticipated FAQs.

Know where you are so you can show the team where you want to go. Conduct an audit of company names already in use in your industry or tangential to your industry to help explain to employees where your current name fits in the ecosystem and why it needs to change. A helpful exercise is to plot out which company names in the industry are descriptive and which get turned into acronyms. Look at which names are constructed or invented and how many evocative names are out there.

Don’t be emotional about picking a new name. As you begin the process of reviewing potential names, strong feelings will likely surface, but remember: naming a company has to be strategic. To keep emotions to a minimum, establish the following guidelines for evaluating potential names:

  • No one else should be able to lay claim to it in your vertical
  • It has to distinguish you from competitors in the industry
  • It needs to complement your brand positioning
  • It has to be memorable, easy to say and spell, and look good on signage and marketing materials.

Take the time to get it right and push on. In order to find something that hits all of your criteria, you’ll need to construct or invent a name or find one that isn’t likely to be used in your vertical. Wherever you land, the new name will probably require some courage and vision to bring it to life. For us, at the core of every aspect of how we do business is our relationship and partnership to our clients. Once we landed on “Relation,” it became obvious that we needed to be bold enough to put that front and center on everything we did. We also knew that not everyone would buy into the new name at first, and we built that into our rollout plan.

Use internal influencers to help get the rest of the team on board. Identify groups of influencers within your organization who can be brand champions and brand ambassadors. The brand champions should be folks in leadership positions at each business unit who can help answer questions and address concerns locally while championing the brand to employees who may be attached to the old name/messaging. Gain their buy-in before the rest of the company.

The brand ambassadors should be associates in each office who can be continuously responsible for upholding the new brand standards at each office and making sure everyone has what they need. They can also be the first line of defense, letting leadership know of any minor issues before they escalate.

Keep the momentum and excitement building. Employees are influenced by leadership. All the way up until your external launch, your executive team should be demonstrably united and excited about the name change. Consider facilitating town halls, speaking one-on-one with any detractors, sending out regular progress emails to the whole company, and including updates on regular all-colleague calls. Drip-releasing branded collateral materials and merchandise also helps to build excitement leading up to the hard launch.

Don’t stop internal communications after launch day. After launch day, continue to send out weekly (or daily, if needed) email updates for housekeeping items. Consider devoting monthly all-colleague and sales team calls to give big-picture updates on branding and solicit ideas for new content and thought leadership. It’s also important to fold the branding into your employee experience initiatives for recruitment and onboarding, health and wellness, and employee engagement. Our national sales meeting happened to come hot on the heels of the launch, which gave us an additional opportunity to build pride in the new brand and begin a collaboration between marketing and sales on a new, comprehensive collateral system.

Changing your name can either generate a lot of interest in your work or make it harder for people to remember exactly who you are and how to find you. Your employees are the ones who can help set your firm apart from your competitors. Start from the inside out with them and let them build your advantage!


About the Author

Natalie Zensius is senior vice president for marketing communications at Relation Insurance Services. [email protected].

This article was originally featured in Leader’s Edge May 2019 Issue.


Written by Joe Tatum, CEO

Today we announced to the world that we’ve changed our name from Ascension Insurance to Relation Insurance Services. I’m personally thrilled about this new name–it speaks to who we are and the legendary service we strive to deliver, every day.

Our clients have always faced a wide array of operating challenges and we’ve been by their side as a partner and an advocate to help them manage risk. As we head into 2018, we’re facing an increasingly complex world. Media headlines on topics as diverse as cyber-attacks, blockchain/cryptocurrency, autonomous vehicles, smart cities, drones, and the difficulties in attracting and retaining employees in an ever-transforming business environment, were unheard of just a few short years ago.

Business leaders are wondering how these challenges will impact their organizations and it’s our job to help clients understand the risks. To help them connect the dots between data and analytics, and leverage our insurance expertise and strategic relationships to develop and implement solutions that mitigate those risks. The name Relation emphasizes our ability to do all that, and from here on out, we’re proudly putting it front-and-center, on everything we do.

Looking back, 2017 was a strong year for us. We had excellent year-over-year revenue and EBITDA growth, which was driven by a combination of factors:

  • Through Pan American Insurance Services, our wholly owned subsidiary, we made strategic acquisitions in the west and welcomed two outstanding firms, Yosemite Pacific Services and Agro Crop Insurance Agency, to our brand family. Both firms are leaders in what they do and we couldn’t be more excited to have them on board. These acquisitions combined have now positioned us as one of the largest agribusiness insurance writers in California.
  • We expanded our personal lines and small commercial lines reach by continuing to integrate our Greenpoint acquisition in the east, (made late in 2016, it broadened our North Carolina footprint and extended our operations into Virginia), and purchasing a commercial book in Hollister, California from The Liberty Company.
  • We invested a lot to make sure our production and service teams, which are some of the best in the business, had access to a full suite of sales techniques, tools, technologies and best practices to serve our clients. Our industry-leading retention rate is a result of their tireless efforts.

We also made executive and strategic regional hires with an eye toward managing our continued growth and aligning the business units with the evolving insurance and risk landscape. What follows is by no means an inclusive list, but our team grew even stronger in 2017 with the following, key additions:

  • Natalie Zensius joined us as Vice President of Marketing and Communications to identify opportunities to strengthen our brand, increase awareness of our products and services, and attract and retain top talent.
  • Scott Machado came on board as Vice President of Information Technology to implement customer-experience initiatives that build scale and drive value through employee and customer satisfaction.
  • Kari Doeckel joined as Vice President, Operations to Pan American, to lead account retention, carrier management, and client-service efforts.
  • Rob Bauer became our Corporate Legal Counsel to provide solutions in corporate governance, carrier and partner relationship negotiations, and regulatory compliance.
  • Michael Williams joined as Loss-Control Consultant in our eastern region to provide comprehensive risk-management and loss-control programs.
  • Kristine Fox brought account management and crop insurance expertise to the Pan American team.
  • Jennie Hunsberger added additional retirement services expertise to the western region benefits team.

In addition, we recognized some outstanding individuals with new leadership promotions:

  • Keri Lopez from President of western division employee benefits to President, employee benefits to manage our national Employee Benefits practice.
  • Kate Rager from Corporate Legal Counsel to General Counsel.
  • Greg Merrill from Senior Vice President to Executive Vice President of Pan American.
  • Michael Lorente to Sales Leader, Western Region.

Wherever they sit on the org chart, our people and the culture they create, are our greatest strength and are what contribute to making this a great place to work.

We were also honored to be included alongside our esteemed peers in the industry in 2017:

  • We were named as an “Elite Agency” by Insurance Business America for the third year in a row.
  • We were named to Insurance Journal’s 2017 Top 100 Property/Casualty Agencies.
  • We moved up from #47 to #42 on Business Insurance’s Top 100 Largest U.S. Brokers.

While we appreciate the accolades, at the end of the day it matters most to us what our clients need and we know that they need their broker to stay ahead of the curve and to provide intelligent, tailored solutions backed by deep experience. They need a broker to apply data-driven technology solutions to drive efficiency, innovation, and a competitive edge and to bring strategic carrier partnerships to collaborate with them. As we look forward to 2018, our new name Relation underscores all of the connections we make for our clients. This is always who we’ve been. Now we have a name that better reflects it.

I wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to continuing to create great things in 2018!


Written by Kelly Tonsing


Traditionally, personal umbrella insurance policies have been reserved for the rich and famous. Today, however, “personal umbrellas” are becoming a standard purchase for many middle-class insurance buyers who understand their risk in a litigious economy. Adding significant personal coverage at an insignificant cost, umbrella policies offer an extra layer of liability protection on top of one’s home or auto policy. Just as the name suggests, personal umbrella policies are designed to shield you from a very rainy day.

Are You at Risk?

Here are a few hypothetical—but realistic—scenarios that might prompt you to consider the value of an umbrella policy:

  • Scenario 1:
    You hire a professional painter to paint the trim around the top of your house. He falls off his ladder and is killed on impact. Even though the painter is found partially responsible for his fall, the case results in a $1.5 million settlement to his survivors. In this instance, would your current homeowner insurance policy provide you the necessary protection?
  • Scenario 2:
    Your daughter is turning 16 and wants to celebrate by having her friends over for a pool party in the backyard. One of the teens, showing off, decides to do a backflip into the shallow end of the pool. His face collides with the bottom of the pool, causing major damage to his jaw, teeth, and eye socket. You learn from his parents and the doctor that the boy will require months of reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage. Would you be prepared to write a check to cover his medical expenses?
  • Scenario 3:
    While driving to work, you accidentally bump your thermos from your cup holder. As you reach for the thermos to prevent hot coffee from spilling all over your lap, you strike a bicyclist in a crosswalk. The bicyclist, who also happens to be a doctor, incurs injuries including a concussion and a broken pelvis. As a result, he must undergo extensive physical therapy and is not able to work for four months. His annual income is $350,000, which means, as a direct result of the accident, he loses $120,000 in wages and accrues more than $500,000 in medical expenses. What level of liability does your auto policy include? Do you have enough equity in your house to cover this? How about in your retirement account?

These situations are commonplace and can happen to anyone. Just one lawsuit from an injury or accidental death could cost you millions of dollars—enough to wipe out your savings and retirement accounts. Because you are liable for a court-ordered settlement, even your future wages are at risk.

If you have assets (e.g., homes, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, and/or cars), you are at risk to lose everything, as basic policies only cover a small portion of these possessions. Ask your agent to fill out an asset worksheet to determine whether or not you could benefit from a personal-umbrella policy. Because when the clouds roll in, you’ll want to stay dry.

Technological breakthroughs in self-driving—AKA autonomous—vehicles are dramatically changing life on the highway. The transition to machine-led driving is affecting how consumers and the auto and insurance industries view auto coverage. As this market continues to develop, the Ascension Transportation Practice is monitoring developments and sharing our take and the observations of others, with you.

We are currently seeing two ways autonomous vehicles are affecting the risk-management and insurance landscape:

Effect #1: Risk is Shifting

Autonomous vehicles are proving to be safer than human-piloted ones. Crash rates for Teslas have dropped 40 percent since the company introduced Autopilot technology. This trend is starting to directly affect the cost of auto liability insurance. In response, Farmers Insurance recently reduced premiums 25 percent for a ride-sharing firm that uses Teslas in its fleet.

Commentators note that over time, driverless cars will shift liability to the manufacturer. Accenture’s Head of Global Insurance sees greater products liability and cybersecurity exposures ahead.

Effect #2: The Way We Buy Auto Insurance is Changing

In a recent Berkshire Hathaway briefing, Warren Buffet indicated that the increased prevalence of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence is a threat to the current business models of traditional players like its auto-insurance subsidiary, Geico.

New players like Google, Apple, Amazon, Verizon and Tesla are in an excellent position to disrupt the industry and corner as much as 20% of the auto insurance market. Tesla is already selling insurance with its vehicles in Australia and Hong Kong.

Why Does This Matter to the Transportation Industry?

With the introduction of self-driving cars, humans inside the vehicles will essentially become passengers. Who will be held responsible for accidents and malfunctions—the driver, owner, manufacturer, or all? Much of the focus of that debate, to date, has been on cars. However, Google subsidiary Waymo has begun quietly testing autonomous vehicle technology on Peterbilt semi-trucks. In the transportation sector, self-driving won’t mean driverless. It’s likely a trucker will still be in the cab, most likely sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to take control if something goes wrong. In that scenario, insurers will need to consider potential risks to the drivers, their loads, and other passengers and cars, as well as who (or what) is ultimately held responsible.

This post is brought to you by the specialists in Relation’s transportation practice group. Do you have an interest in this topic? Get in touch.

Written by Kelly Tonsing

Kelly Tonsing manages Ascension’s Personal Lines Practice in our eastern region. Although she spends each and every day examining insurance policies, managing claims processing, and ensuring the best available protection for our clients, she hadn’t yet examined the fine print of her own car insurance. Until the unthinkable happened. Read below to learn more about Kelly’s dangerous auto accident, and how she wished she would have read this crucial advice before starting her ignition that morning. Hindsight is often 20/20, but perhaps, with Kelly’s testimonial, foresight may be as well.

Months ago, I had my first real automobile accident. Having been in insurance for years, I had always approached the auto claims experience from an academic perspective. But there is no better teacher than real life. After my accident, I gained some insight that I hope you never have to learn the hard way.

My auto accident occurred at an intersection, when a vehicle collided with my passenger door at 45 mph—and I was deemed “at fault.” Consequently, my liability insurance had to pay out approximately $46,000. Every one of my six airbags deployed, protecting my face and head from injury, but shattering my left hand and wrist. My vehicle was totaled and carted off to the proverbial auto cemetery, never to grace the roads of Charlotte again. God rest her soul—she gave her life for me!

This experience and subsequent claims process provided me valuable insight that, had I known it before, would have saved me time, money, and headache. Here are some things you might want to take a look at on your own policy before you have a claim:


Always, ALWAYS buy gap insurance on a newly purchased vehicle that you finance—even when you purchased used and believe you got the deal of the century. The total paid out by my insurance on the depreciated vehicle was not nearly enough to pay off my auto loan. Had I not had gap insurance at the time of the accident, I would have faced a new-vehicle purchase without a trade in, which would mean paying off my prior auto loan and adding a new replacement-car payment. Ascension does not offer gap insurance, so I would recommend speaking with your financial institution about your options.


Airbags really do save lives. As I mentioned, my airbags shattered my hand and wrist, but they saved my life. Because broken is always better than dead, I will always choose autos with as many airbags as possible going forward.


If you have a vehicle fewer than three years old, ask your agent about new-car-replacement coverage, which allows you to replace your vehicle regardless of the depreciation. Check the fine print with your carrier, as carriers differ on the age allowed for this coverage. It is a great bang for your buck if you happen to total your vehicle, which, as I discovered first-hand, is not hard to do when airbags deploy.


I am used to driving an SUV, which is typically not a rental option under the standard $30/day allotment. For $10 per year (less than a dollar per month) additional premium, your daily rental allowance will be bumped to $50/day, which makes all the difference if you rely on a larger vehicle for daily transportation. To maximize comfortability and return on investment, check your policy to ensure you do not decline this coverage or choose a lower limit, as an extra dollar per month could mean an added monthly allowance of $600 ($900 with the $30/day allowance versus $1,500 with the $50/day allowance).

  1. MED PAY

Med Pay is the coverage on our auto policy that can be used for anyone in your vehicle who might be hurt in an accident to use toward their health-insurance deductible, including yourself. Luckily, my accident occurred in the final three months of the calendar year, and I was less than $1,000 away from meeting my health insurance out-of-pocket maximum on a high-deductible plan.

However, what if the accident had occurred in January? My ambulance ride to the nearest hospital ran $1,500, and my associated emergency-room costs neared $8,000. My wrist surgery was $20,000. Not to mention physical therapy twice weekly for several months at more than $100 per visit. I was quickly racking up medical expenses, but luckily for me, my Med Pay on my auto policy exceeded my health insurance deductible. This was the most significant lesson I learned from my accident; in an age where high-deductible health insurance plans seem to be the norm instead of the exception, make sure your Med Pay coverage will help you meet that deductible. If you, like me, have a high-deductible health plan, resist the urge to cut corners to save a few dollars on your Med Pay coverage. It is not a huge expense to raise that from $2,000 to $5,000, but, I assure you, paying a few extra dollars a month for higher Med Pay coverage is worth every extra dollar you spend if you are in an accident during which someone gets hurt.


What if the other person in the accident had been the one to go to the hospital in an ambulance with broken bones instead of me? My liability would have had to pay for her property ($50,000) and her medical expenses (already more than $60,000 for me, and still rising). Limits of $100,000/$300,000/$50,000 would have been completely exhausted in about two weeks and I would have had to cover the rest personally through whatever means I had available, even future paychecks if necessary. What most people don’t understand is that the limits of your policy don’t determine what you are liable for, only what insurance will pay out toward your liability. The state of NC only requires us to have $30,000/$60,000 in liability coverage on our auto policy, and that is devastatingly inadequate.

Meeting those state minimum requirements leaves all of your assets exposed and you could find yourself in serious financial trouble. A court can go after your future wages, children’s college funds, your savings, even your investment portfolio, leaving all those years of putting away for retirement evaporated because you saved $10 per month to have lower liability limits.

At the end of the day, we are all required to have auto insurance to drive a vehicle, and I’ve never been in a serious accident before this one. At fifty-something years old, I thought the current limits of my policy were adequate, but we don’t get to schedule bad luck for convenience and budgets.  After this experience, I immediately raised my med pay coverage to $5,000. I don’t plan to be in another accident, but if I am, I want to know that my minimum out-of-pocket for injuries in my vehicle will be covered by my combined auto and health insurance, and that my auto policy will pay the bulk of that health-insurance deductible.

During my years of working in insurance, I have never had someone complain after a claim to say they had too much insurance coverage. Usually clients get upset that something is not covered even if that coverage was offered and declined. But for just the cost of a nice lunch each month, you too can have the peace of mind knowing that you’ll have everything covered if you should ever need it.

These are the thoughts I had after my experience, and I hope you will find them useful. Talk to your agent today to make sure you have the right coverage limits.


If you are considering making a career move to Ascension Insurance, Inc. (and I hope you are!), allow me to offer you the insider’s perspective from someone who has six months under her belt.

First, a little bit about me. Like most millennials, I want to be part of an innovative, cutting-edge organization. When the opportunity to join the Ascension Human Resources team came up, I initially felt as though I’d be taking a huge leap. I wasn’t actively looking for a new opportunity, and I was happily working from home, at a job I was good at and enjoyed. And to be honest, when thinking on the insurance industry, “innovative” and “cutting edge” weren’t the first words to come to mind. Besides, I knew it would take a lot to make me feel like driving into work, every day, again.

But after spending some time in the Ascension world, my perspective shifted. Ascension seeks out people who complement its company culture, so the interview process is thorough—mine comprised two phone interviews followed by two in-person meetings. One thing I noticed, which is what ultimately led me to accept the job offer, was present throughout the interviewing process: the employees’ caring attitude, at every level of the company.

A few weeks into my new role, I attended a sales-leadership meeting at our corporate headquarters in Walnut Creek, CA. Upon arriving, I was given a tour. Every person we ran into stopped and greeted me as they would a longtime friend. The President & COO, Ed Page, and the CEO, Joe Tatum, waved us into Ed’s office as we passed by. I introduced myself, but they already knew who I was, and asked me about my March Madness brackets. Later, at the sales meeting, Joe asked me, with sincerity and a genuine curiosity, what my thoughts were on key initiatives, pain points, room for improvement, and various other topics. Does that kind of welcome and soliciting of input happen everywhere?

Here are a few other things that have stood out to me in the last six months:

  • People here really care about one another. They’re dedicated to each other’s success, and they work hard to help one another.
  • We celebrate small victories on a day-to-day basis, which keeps morale high.
  • Birthdays, work anniversaries, and/or retirements don’t go unnoticed by colleagues, who quickly become friends.
  • If you’re lucky enough to work in the Overland Park, KS office as I do, you’ll never go hungry!
  • Ascension IS cutting edge and innovative.
  • Everything you do and every initiative you see through, results in a measurable, meaningful value-add that gets traced back to you.
  • Even with 450+ employees, the executive team is accessible and transparent. I can pick up the phone and call any one of them. They know who I am, and they take the time to listen and help if necessary.

Many of my coworkers have been here for thirty, forty years, and that makes this a special place. We aren’t looking for warm bodies to fill roles here. We want “A” players, the best of the best. And once you’re in the Ascension family, you’re in. To me, that’s worth jumping in my car every day. To fully understand what it means to be a part of the Ascension family, you’ll have to join us and find out for yourself!


Click here to visit our Careers center and learn more about how you can join us!

Written by Ed Page

More than twenty years ago, when I completed business school, my parents gifted me a Coach briefcase as a graduation present. It was beautiful and it was also very expensive—more than $500 at the time. I loved this briefcase, both because it was beautiful and because it came from my parents, and I used it every day as I embarked upon my new career as a consultant at Bain & Company.

I’d owned the briefcase for about two years, when the handle broke. I took the briefcase back to Coach and they informed me they could repair it and it would take several weeks—or, they would happily give me a brand-new replacement of the same briefcase. As it turned out, the exact same briefcase wasn’t available, so they gave me the option of selecting another item of equal or lesser value. I chose a computer briefcase/shoulder bag that was both functional and beautiful. Because it was less expensive than the original one, they also gave me a $50 refund. I was thrilled! Not only did I use that bag for years, I’ve been telling this story with a smile ever since. I still have a fondness for Coach as a result of that experience and have since purchased many more items from them. I walk away every time with a happy feeling because of what I know about their superior customer service.

Fast forward to last month. I was traveling for business and arrived at my hotel in Los Angeles at around 11:00pm after a day that started in another city at 5:00am. I was in a rental car with my luggage in the trunk and pulled up to the valet stand. I got out of my rental car and started to get my bags out of the trunk, while three valet attendants stood there, talking amongst themselves. None of them offered to help me. I’m a pretty self-sufficient guy and don’t mind getting my own bags, but they should have made an effort or offered to help. It was a big enough disconnect that I mentioned it to the hotel management when they asked me about my experience during my stay. The management was kind enough to comp me on the nightly parking charge, but even a month later, the whole experience has left a bad taste in my mouth. Suffice to say I am now open to try a new hotel the next time I’m in Los Angeles, even though—for the past five years—I have stayed there whenever visiting L.A.

I know which one of these experiences I’ll still be talking about twenty years from now. It’s simple: Great customer service matters. Here at Ascension, we all take great pride in going above and beyond—not only for our clients but also for each other. And it shows. Our customer-retention rates are among the highest in the industry—some of our business units even approach 99 percent. We have worked hard to create a culture in which we empower everyone to do the right thing and to go a step beyond to create exceptional experiences for our customers.

Even with our strong track record, we believe the key to continued success is to continually strive to better, which is why I am very excited about our new “Legendary Service” initiative. Legendary Service, written by Ken Blanchard, is a fast and easy read that helps “involve your people in developing an exceptional customer service experience.” We’re in the process of rolling out a training program based on the book to further empower employees to take ownership of driving improvements, innovations, and cost savings at Ascension. Every one of our 480 employees has now received a copy and will finish reading it by the end of this summer.

What is most gratifying about this effort is that it was initiated by two of our North Carolina team members, Jill Zewalk and Kelly Tonsing, and not by members of our executive team. The latter likes to joke that if we had come up with this idea, we probably would have royally messed it up. Instead, Jill and Kelly, along with other members of our service team, are leading the charge, and the leadership team is along for the ride. I feel confident that it will ultimately have a much greater effect because of it. Stay tuned for updates as we move through our training.

Ed Page is President and COO at Ascension. Read his bio here.

by Natalie Zensius
Vice President of Marketing and Communications

I recently made the decision to leave a successful marketing communications consulting practice to join Ascension, full time. It wasn’t triggered by a desire or need for a career change. I was comfortable where I was, and doing what I loved.

Almost a decade’s experience, consulting with some of the top for-profit and nonprofit organizations in the country, has given me lots of challenge and variety. It’s made me a rapid problem solver and has had both an entrepreneurial and altruistic aspect to it. Why then, return to a “job,” and “limit” myself to just one industry?

For one thing, I’ve come to learn that the insurance career path offers myriad opportunities for smart professionals to combine their skills, talents, and interests and apply them in different ways to help serve a wide range of industries and clients. I still get to work on a variety of projects and industries. I’m focused on learning fast and solving the problems big and small that will help my team create world-class marketing products.

And, because what Richard Branson said.

Ascension is much more than just a job. It’s an organization that places great emphasis on culture and teams. It recruits people at the top of their game who highly prize respect, courtesy and relationships and then takes good care of them. As a consultant, I collaborated with the extremely talented professionals at this company. Now, it’s an awesome place to come to work every day–I get to grow and be challenged alongside those same client contacts I established strong relationships with and I’m personally excited to have joined a leadership team that values not just results, but all the team members who create them.

Ascension is continually looking for the best. We’re hiring. Visit our careers section, to learn more.

Natalie Zensius is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Ascension Insurance, Inc.

Ascension Insurance, Inc. is a premier insurance agency that offers superior risk management and benefits consulting services across the U.S. It is ranked within the top 50 largest agencies in the country, by revenue, with more than 450 employees in 35 locations nationwide. Ascension is a privately held corporation; together with its private-equity partners, Parthenon Capital and Century Capital Management, the company expects to continue its strong growth trajectory through additional acquisitions and organic growth.

Nut theft is no joking matter—it’s a significant and growing threat to California’s $9 billion+ nut-tree business. With more than 30 nut-theft events in 2015 compared to just one in 2009 and four in 2014, what once warranted only local agricultural area media coverage now garners national mainstream attention. The 2015 price tag? $4.6 million.

That’s enough of a hit to a vital California industry to make the state’s legislature sit up and take notice. Last year, both houses passed a bill—in record time—to establish a statewide, cross-jurisdictional “Agricultural Cargo Theft Working Group.” This funding mechanism would have activated and aligned numerous law-enforcement agencies in helping target these crimes, but Governor Brown unexpectedly vetoed the legislation on September 21, 2016. Additional legislation is in the works to increase criminal penalties for thieves from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Tailoring Insurance Coverage
In the event they are the victim of nut theft, growers should have a strong post-loss solution. As such, it’s important they work with an agent or broker with specialized expertise to ensure they have properly structured insurance placements. The analysis starts with contract review: Who bears the risk, and are there “handoffs” along the path from tree to processor to final end-user? Only when these terms are understood can insurance coverage be negotiated and implemented.

Why Steal Nuts?

  • They’re valuable: A truckload of nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, and pistachios, can range from $100-500K.
  • They’re in demand: Touted health benefits and drought have strained supply.
  • They’re not easily traced: Unlike electronics, nuts don’t have serial numbers!
  • They vanish quickly: By the time a theft is discovered, the nuts are often already on a ship or broken into smaller loads and dispersed to out-of-state destinations.

The following approaches are available to growers and distributors:

  • Commercial-Package Policy
    There may be some coverage for Business Personal Property Stock in Transit under the basic policy form. However, this transit coverage tends to cover only a limited number of perils, so relying on this extension could lead to an uncovered loss.
  • Cargo/Transit Policy
    Once the shipment is in the correct trucking carrier’s control, ensure the trucking carriers’ cargo policies do not exclude theft for any reason other than employee dishonesty, which is excluded by most cargo policies (this can be easily covered with a separate crime policy). Many trucking cargo policies will exclude or limit theft coverage if the vehicle is unattended or if a trailer is dropped. Additionally, consider requiring a crime policy to cover theft by employees of the trucking carrier (including theft by the dispatcher and/or the driver).
  • Stock-Throughput Policy (STP)
    An STP offers growers and distributors the most comprehensive protection: Goods are covered at all times whether they’re being moved, processed, or stored. An STP can be an “all risk” type of insurance policy that provides seamless coverage from end to end and protects against perils including earthquakes, floods, and contamination.

Pre-Loss Risk Control
Growers and distributors should do everything possible on their end to prevent a theft situation, but orchard premises security (i.e., fencing, cameras, a guard service, etc.), is not an end-all-be-all solution. Nut theft is more commonly an act of fraud rather than an act of force.

Perpetrators are often part of organized crime groups, using sophisticated technologies to hack into trucking firms and utilize Department of Transportation databases. “Drivers” show up with high-quality, legitimate-looking paperwork. These forged documents incorporate burner phone numbers and enable thieves to steal shipping information and to quickly move the product to the black market stream of commerce. The thieves, and their loot, become immediately untraceable.

Growers/distributors can take any of the following precautions to prevent theft:

  • Develop a relationship with a few select trucking carriers with whom a consistent protocol can be established to confirm the correct drivers are picking up the loads.
  • Ensure your computer systems’ security is state-of-the-art, and ask carriers about their data integrity.
  • Call the carrier on the phone number provided during the originally contracted shipment and not the phone number given on any shipping documents (given their potential fraudulent nature). Require those firms to advise detailed information at least 24 hours in advance of pick up.
  • Get each driver’s license number and thumbprint.
  • Photograph both the driver and his/her truck.
  • Consider using radio-frequency trackers to ensure the loads end up where intended.

Because of the potential high profits and low risk, nut theft continues to be alluring for thieves and a challenge for growers/distributors. Taking a 360° risk-management approach—contract review, insurance program design, and pre-loss prevention can go a long way towards minimizing or, at best, avoiding exposure to loss.


About the Authors

Greg Merrill is Senior Vice President and Director of Crop Insurance Services of our Pan American business unit. Greg has been helping agribusiness clients manage a wide range of operating risks for more than 13 years.

Andy Sharpe is Regional Transportation Leader for Ascension’s Transure business unit. For more than 15 years, Andy has focused on transportation risk management and insurance, and is a renowned industry specialist.