The Roots of Leadership at Continental Underwriters, Inc.
By: C. Preston Herrington III
I spent the first five years of my career in the Navy, three of those as a SEAL, and the lessons I learned about the power of people aligning towards a common goal have guided me through every endeavor since.
Training to become a SEAL was both the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I had to dig deep and learn a lot about myself, and this is where I discovered firsthand the importance of teamwork.
My SEAL Training Class known as BUDS, consisted of 97 people at inception with 15 original classmates finishing. It became clear to me during training, each member had to deliver on their specific role as well as collaborate and work together as a team. This mindset was critical to ensuring success in our missions.
Working as a team has been a foundational tool for me throughout my career, especially with the formation of Continental Underwriters, Inc. in 2013. Today, I’m sharing my insights on teamwork because they extend beyond the armed services and insurance to all areas of life.
My first professional experience in the insurance industry was at a large insurance company where I was exposed to underwriting, risk assessment and technical insurance coverages. Several years later I left the insurance company side of the business and joined a family business focusing on forest products insurance. My combined insurance company and agency experience led to my drive to form an organization focused on attracting and retaining high-quality people, with a goal of trading with the right people, under the right circumstances, with the right partners consistently.
In starting Continental Underwriters, I sought to create an environment where different perspectives, experiences and voices are valued. A culture of inclusion, where thinking out of the box is encouraged and welcomed. It is this type of setting that allows culture to thrive and evolve.
We say it a lot around here: When you do the right thing with the right people, good things will happen. That is actually how our “WE” Proposition came to be. Our “WE” Proposition was developed through a series of workshops over a period of six months, with each team member participating in the process. When I read our “WE” Proposition, I see the visual manifestation of the different voices, backgrounds and perspectives that went into the exercise, each voice with a common vision of defining our organization’s culture. In other words, every member of the Continental Underwriters team does have a seat at the table.
The standard of only working with the “right” folks doesn’t apply just to our employees: We embrace this approach with our clients and carrier partners too. You must be hungry, humble and smart. That means genuinely caring about what you do, paying close attention to detail and never letting the quality of the work get sacrificed out of convenience or cost. As an organization, and more importantly, as the humans who make up our organization, we are always here to help. We have your best interests in mind, so if our services are no longer a good fit for your business, we will be honest about that and let you know. This process takes courage – the courage to have difficult conversations. But it makes us all, and the industry we serve, better in the long run.
In looking back on my 20-plus years in the forestry products insurance industry, I think less about how I got here and more about why I’ve stayed. As thought leaders in our field, we understand nuances and anticipate emerging trends as we provide strategic counsel to help our clients and their businesses flourish. Our focused perspective allows us to bring value to our clients in ways that general insurance agencies simply can’t.
The fallback, of course, is you’re inevitably dictated by the rise and fall of your specific market. For me, I love this industry and the people it has allowed me to work alongside: family-oriented businesses, entrepreneurs and extraordinarily hard workers who genuinely care about what they do. The forest products industry is a deeply meaningful space, and it provides the world so much, both literally (supplying the entire housing industry, for example) and ecologically (with environmental movements gaining traction).
Another unique aspect of the people in the forest products space is our alignment to a common vision, and sustainability plays a tremendous role in this, allowing us to feel good about the industry we serve and the work we do. The forest products industry is unique in that every aspect of our product and material is put to use; there is virtually zero waste. It’s also one of the few industries where the product actually sequesters carbon. Think about that for a moment. Our clients’ products are helping take out one of the world’s biggest threats against global warming. That’s exceptionally remarkable.
In just the last few years, harvesting practices have evolved, re-forestation has become a tremendous initiative and innovation in plant-based packaging has served as a significant needle-mover (and it’s still just in the infant stages). When we talk about re-forestation, we’re talking about creating more opportunities to clean up our planet’s atmosphere. So what used to be considered a “saving the trees” drive is now more accurately described as a “saving the world” mission. The innovation that has followed the shift from petroleum-based packaging such as plastic and Styrofoam to plant-based packaging is beyond comprehension. There are even researchers in Maryland and Colorado developing transparent wood materials to become the windows we look through tomorrow.
Our Continental Underwriters team is excited to be a part of an industry that’s at the forefront of these brilliant transformations and solutions happening for the world.
At the end of the day, every person and every business needs insurance as a protective measure. Choosing your provider and the right coverage is a big decision, so I’ll underscore again an important lesson from early in my career: When you team up with the right people to do the right thing under the right circumstances, success will always follow.