Interview: Harsha V. Agadi

The power of reinvention

Following the impressive financial performance that Crawford achieved in 2016, President and Chief Executive Officer Harsha V. Agadi discusses how he sees the firm building on that momentum

2016 proved a transformational year for Crawford, as the company firmly positioned itself for a return to top line growth. Over the 12 months, it delivered consistent financial results – a feat not achieved in recent years – and its success was recognized by investors, employees, customers and analysts alike.

This progress, however, has been hard won. It has demanded a rigid focus on expense reduction, stringent cost discipline and a recognition of the need to reduce the firm’s dependence on severe weather-related events – all against a backdrop of what continues to be a highly challenging revenue environment.

“Our full year results provided a clear indication of the significant advances we have made on many fronts,” says Harsha V. Agadi. “We are operating in a difficult revenue environment, but we have still been able to deliver strong operating margin and earnings growth, and moving forward we are in a much better position to deliver the financial predictability you need as a publicly-listed company.”

Delivering the numbers
In fact, for 2017 and onwards, Agadi, as CEO, has set the financial bar at five percent revenue growth per annum. “We need to be hitting that five percent target as an absolute minimum if we are to maintain a healthy business – one which is driven by new business and stimulates growth, opens up opportunities, creates jobs and generates more room for progression for our employees.”

To achieve this target, the company must be built on a strong foundation, and to create this, Crawford has identified six distinct strategic pillars to effect growth and earnings on a consistent basis.
“The first of these pillars,” he explains, “is to establish strong financial foundations. Second, we must ensure an entrepreneurial culture pervades every level of the organization as we forge new opportunities.

Third, we need to increase and enhance our global capabilities, both from a products and services, and a geographical perspective.” The fourth pillar, he explains, is excellence in execution, a pillar that will require a fanatical focus on maintaining the highest standards of service delivery, as well as being able to accurately measure that those standards are being met.

“We also need to be committed to delivering innovation in products and services across the board,” he adds. “We must be looking at opportunities to break new ground each and every year. And finally, we need to be a fully sales-driven organization. That means we must be constantly looking at ways to provide more products and services to more insurance carriers and Global 2000 companies.”

Expanding the touch points
Agadi is not a CEO who is looking to drive this change from afar. He is very much hands on in executing his vision at Crawford, meeting regularly with employees from across the organization to gain a ground-level understanding of the multiple levers that power the Crawford machine. And that desire to connect extends beyond the company walls.

“It is essential that as CEO I am involved in the conversations we are having with our customers,” he stresses. “I want to be out there in our market, meeting face-to-face with our clients to better understand their specific needs and how we can help.”

“You have to remember that Crawford operates in a service industry,” he continues, “which means it is no different to any other industry that must pay very close attention to its customers. My career in the food and hospitality business has ingrained in me the importance of being customer-centric. So, we can’t be afraid to ask our customers frequently for feedback on how we are performing. It’s about becoming a trusted partner, sitting at their table to discuss the challenges they face and the solutions we offer.”

There is now a strong push across the organization to demonstrate the interconnected nature of the multiple services the firm offers. “We have to be better at connecting the dots within our own offerings,” he believes, “and translating that into how we can add more value to our clients. We service thousands of companies across the insurance sector and the Global 2000 but, in many cases, we are delivering only one or two sections of our services. There is a tremendous amount of room for us to cross-sell the breadth of capabilities we have.”

A critical component to the successful execution of Crawford’s growth strategy is the recent recruitment of Andrew Robinson, who joined the company in January 2017 as global chief operating officer, a new role for Crawford. “With each of our four business segments reporting to Andrew, we will be focused on optimizing our operations and further expanding our client centric organization and growth culture,” said Agadi. “I am excited to have Andrew on board as his skill set and experiences are well aligned with the renewed strategic direction of Crawford.”

Disrupting the game
On January 5, 2017 Crawford acquired a majority holding in WeGoLook, an on-demand field services provider. The move marked a step change in the company’s ability to conduct high frequency, low complexity inspections.

Capitalizing on the gig economy model – where companies contract independent workers for short-term engagements – WeGoLook provides access to over 30,000 field agents or ‘Lookers’ who are able to conduct on-site inspections of claims-related incidents at short notice.

“WeGoLook offers us a revolutionary new capability,” states Agadi, “that greatly enhances our ability to conduct claims inspections for smaller losses. With Lookers across the U.S. and beyond, these agents can swing into action to collect and verify information on demand.” “It is the Uberization of the inspection process. It gives us the potential to radically improve the costs, efficiency and effectiveness of our claims handling to shorten cycle times, and is a perfect complement to the services provided by our technical adjusters.”

As important as the acquisition is from a technology and innovation perspective, Agadi also cites the entrepreneurial spirit by which the company operates as another major benefit – a culture that he looks to replicate in other areas of Crawford. “Led by CEO Robin Smith, the WeGoLook team is structured to adapt to market changes and bring new services to market to meet evolving customer needs with an agility that you don’t find in many other companies.” “The potential WeGoLook offers is expansive. They already provide services outside of the insurance industry and we are developing opportunities to extend the on-demand service into adjacent types of claims such as property, disability, product recall and workers compensation.”

Seeing the potential
“You have to be able to meet the fast-evolving needs of the customer,” he adds. “There is now much greater interest in instant access platforms, automated processes and on-demand services, and we have to be able to deliver on these fronts. That’s why we are actively involved in the insurtech revolution, looking at those technologies and processes that can positively disrupt the insurance space.”

This was at the forefront of the company’s decision to make another strategic hire with the appointment of Hilton Sturisky, global chief information officer, who is already making an impact on how Crawford leverages its technology and data to support clients. “The addition of Hilton to our team is transformative, as he deploys his vast experience in leading IT organizations and creating modern technology ecosystems.”

Also central to the company’s transformation is the creation of Crawford Innovative Ventures, LLC, led by Ken Fraser, Crawford chief strategy and development officer. “We formed Crawford Innovative Ventures specifically to invest in strategic acquisitions and partnerships that will be disruptive to our industry and introduce Crawford to more adjacent services,” Agadi explains. “We want to stay at the forefront of change, enabling us to diversify our services, and quickly adopt new technologies or service models that will positively impact our customer experience.” WeGoLook was the division’s first acquisition.

Crawford is accelerating fast along the insurtech highway, exploring technological and process routes that have the potential to vastly improve its service capabilities. These range from capitalizing on telematics that enable almost instant first notification of loss without the driver needing to contact anyone; to employing user-based apps and mobile technology to enable faster reporting and inspections; to using wearable tech, drones and 3D-imaging to not only speed-up data gathering from the frontline, but also helping to protect clients from future risks.

Agadi also sees the ‘insurance direct’ market as offering vast potential. “In the U.S. alone, this is a $25 billion market,” he says. “Let’s take an example of a homeowner who has had a flood in the basement. To repair the damage will cost $6,000. So, the insurer sends the check and leaves it to the homeowner to choose the contractor to complete the work. We want Contractor Connection, our network of managed contractors, to be the first company they call.”

The human touch
No matter how extensive the technological capabilities that Crawford brings on board are, the caliber of its employees will remain the primary force behind its continued upward trajectory.
“When I took up the CEO role at Crawford, what really struck me was the level of passion, commitment and loyalty that I saw across our employees,” he points out. “You only find that level of dedication in mature companies such as ours. We have a 75-year heritage and some of our employees have been with us more than half of that time.”

However, he recognizes that the talent arena is a key battleground for the firm, and believes that the insurance industry is only now acknowledging the skills deficit it faces. “As an industry, we need to be much better at absorbing young, leading-edge talent into our skills pool, rather than simply watching it disappear into sectors such as investment or technology. We need to ensure we are recruiting and retaining the best possible people. How do we keep our employees motivated and satisfied? What is the best way to incentivize new talent? It’s not just about salary – it is about challenging them, giving them the opportunity to grow, and recognizing and valuing their contribution.”

It is not only about attracting the right skill types into the organization, but also those with the right approach. “I like to say that we are in the business of loss resolution rather than loss adjusting,” he continues. “We need to be able to show our customers that we truly care about the situation that they are in, so that they recognize that we are there to get their lives or their businesses back on track. It’s that empathy and that dedication to the customer’s cause that we look for in the DNA of the people we hire.”

There is no doubt that Agadi has set stiff targets for Crawford, but based on what has been achieved over the last 12 months, it is clear the momentum is there. These targets are not just financial. “Our aspiration is to get into the top 100 most admired companies in the world,” he concludes. “Those that break into that elite group tend to be high performance organizations, and that is exactly what Crawford needs to be.”

 

April 2017