When Jamie Reid, co-founder and chairman of the board of C3 Risk & Insurance in San Diego, decided to go out on his own with partner, Gabe Erle, co-founder and president, they knew they wanted to shake up the staid insurance industry.
They wanted a different look, branding, offices, and overall vibe. So they created an atmosphere where team members were free to work from whenever they want, have unlimited vacation, use flex schedules, etc. This vision was implemented pre-COVID and the company has every intention of keeping it that way, forever.
“C3 happened because Gabe Erle and I partnered up in 2007 at another firm and we eventually represented about half the agents’ revenue in the agency,” he says. “And we were the youngest guys there by probably 40 years. It was the epitome of the drab ‘insurance brokerage’ environment. When we decided to branch out on our own, we wanted to build the opposite and that’s what C3 is.”
From its chic, vibrant website design that looks more like it would be for an art gallery or hot new restaurant, to its offices, which, as Reid describes, are equally as bold and welcoming.
As you walk into C3’s office, your first thought is ‘wow.’ Polished concrete floors, exposed ceilings, live music, a bar, a huge living room. It doesn’t look like an insurance building – it feels like an art gallery. All offices are glass – “because we don’t want there to be segmented class in our company,” Reid says. “We want everybody to feel empowered, regardless of title and roll.”
Reid found the designer — Bailey Bishop — through friends opening restaurants in San Diego’s Little Italy. “At first she refused, saying she doesn’t do offices,” he says. “But I persisted and told her ‘I don’t want this to look like ‘regular’ offices.’ She said, ‘What industry?’ I said, ‘Insurance.’ She said, ‘I definitely don’t do insurance.’”
Reid’s persistence finally swayed Bishop. Shortly thereafter, Reid found his branding expert and graphic artist in Sweden who primarily designed packaging and logos for Italian clothing companies. “I explained that’s why I wanted him and he was in.”
In 2017, C3 opened its doors with 22 people and $3.5 million in revenue. At the start of 2022, they will have over 100 employees and more than $20 million in revenue.
The founders wanted to open their own brokerage since their time together in 2007, but timing wasn’t on their side for purchasing other firms. They had a very strategic reason for wanting to launch when they did. Several acquisitions that had taken place during their ‘experience-building’ years resulted in no independent brokerage firms left in San Diego. And they also knew that the non-compete agreements from those mergers were due to sunset in 2019. They hired the person who built Qualcomm’s venture fund and he helped build out their financial modeling.
“If we could open in 2017, we’d soon have the opportunity to attract many the best people,” he says. “We believed we could create the absolute best place to work where we make work integrate into our lives and not the other way around. All our employees have complete freedom. All have laptops and home workstations and anyone can flex out and do what they need to do. They don’t even need to tell us. And we have teams that ‘cover’ each other so they can take vacation, pick up their kids, or do errands, whatever they need.”
He related a story that his “right-hand lady,” named Lady, came into his office the other day and told him she was moving to Hawaii. He asked if she was staying with the company and she replied, “Of course.”
C3 offers all types of commercial insurance and covers companies globally from locations throughout the United States. Currently, it is concentrating on building out its construction and surety division and recently added four new industry veterans to run it.
“There are many layers of need in construction,” he says. “For instance, the company must have workers comp insurance for all its employees and contractors, who might get hurt on the job. It must carry general and product-liability insurance for equipment and features like elevators, you need auto insurance for all vehicles in your fleet, plus you have your flood, earthquake and other coverage any business in California would have.
“Commercial insurance is way more complex, especially in construction. We have hundreds of contacts with insurance companies most people may have never heard of. It’s a brokerage’s responsibility to interact with the client to really understand the ins and outs of the business and their top-to-bottom needs so we can match them with the insurance that will work best for them.”
One of the elements C3 employs to get its team to dig deep and understand clients is leveraging a video production team that interviews a client’s entire leadership team down the line so underwriters can hear that client’s goals and concerns, as they’re expressed.
“They hear what’s important to the leaders of the company, how they create culture, how they differentiate their products, how they mitigate risks,” Reid says. “They hear all of it live, direct to an underwriter from our production facility.”
Word is out in the industry: Reid’s colleagues from other companies are telling him they’re struggling to recruit solid talent. “We’re getting more than 100 applicants for every Indeed ad,” he says.
“We’re the ones who are leading this change in our vertical, people know and it is attracting them to us,” he says. “And beyond that, we are a partner firm – like a law firm – so when a broker/agent builds their book to a certain size, they become an equity partner and owner in the firm. That’s something a big national firm can’t offer. That’s something that only a locally held regional player does and it helps everybody participate in the wealth creation opportunity and, more importantly, it aligns everybody to row the boat in the same direction.”
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