I hired a fire marshal back in 2007 from Kerrville Fire Department. He had a solid background and experience, but had only worked on fires in Texas. He was bilingual, which for me was key, as you’ll find out later. I began introducing him to prospects and clients in Mexico and other places in Latin America.
We inquired about how the local competition in Mexico and Latin America was conducting their fire investigation work, what standards they were using, how scientific was their approach, and we were delighted to hear that the client’s perception was that the quality of fire investigation work in Latin America done by the local competition was very poor. They also commented on the poor quality nature of the “international fire investigators” they had previously worked with on one occasion or another because those firms would not send a Spanish speaker to conduct the interviews in Spanish and/or they would not provide reports in Spanish.
We were routinely conducting live burn demonstrations in South Texas, so we invited our Mexican prospects and clients to attend as well. We were also hosting various technical seminars in South Texas, so we hired a translating company so that we could present in English, but the Spanish speakers could wear earpieces that would simultaneously translate the presentation into Spanish. We also took the time to translate all the written materials into Spanish. Within a couple years, he developed a few excellent relationships and created raving Fans.
We also had the opportunity to serve a few other clients, and things didn’t always go so well. One time we hired a local translator to translate his report from English into Spanish because he had several reports to write, and it was a terrible translation. The Mexican client called us completely irate and asked how in the world we expected him to accept this report. He was on a plane down to Mexico City later that day, and stayed up until 3am re-writing the report in Spanish. We apologized for our error, explained what had happened, and promised that we would not allow that to occur again.
We attended all the local insurance conferences so that we could learn what was “top of mind” and also to learn how the local culture interpreted insurance and how they dealt with it. We learned an incredible amount about how the local population thinks about adjusters, insurers, etc., how they work together with their insureds, and identified a way that our work can complement that “style” while remaining committed to providing the highest levels of quality investigation, above-reproach ethical decisions, and providing a product to the clients that they appreciate and find more meaningful value in it than in our competitors.
He always enjoyed being involved in the local fire investigator associations and the national one as well. One of our employers was not as supportive to his desire to serve in that capacity. His current employer is very open to his desire to serve and supportive of his efforts. News flash for companies: If there is something that your employee really feels led to do (especially if it is in their professional capacity such as serving on a board, doing training, etc.), you SHOULD be 100% supportive of those efforts. Otherwise, the employee will do it anyway on their own time, and they will resent that you were not supportive of their efforts. A perfect example was a recent Board meeting that was to take place in London. The Board was paying for his expenses; all the company had to do was grant him the time to attend the meeting. So I made it a win-win situation. When he finished with his Board meeting, I had him fly to Spain to meet with the home office of a large international client, and then fly back to London for a few more days of meetings with various syndicates. He got to attend the Board meeting, and I was able to schedule time with him to meet with several key international prospects and clients to further our business.
We opened an office in Mexico City, and hired several local employees. This gave us the additional credibility of investing in the local market, having local persons available for immediate response, and more people to assist on these large losses that already spoke the language.
We scheduled and executed the first ever “live burn demonstration” event in Mexico City. It was a resounding success! The feedback we got from the attendees was incredible, and the word has spread that other prospects and clients would like for us to conduct the same type of event in other countries in Latin America.
He has now testified in Latin America on three occasions, two times in Mexico and one time in El Salvador. He is recognized as the go-to fire investigator for large fire losses throughout the region. We have been blessed with the opportunity to work on more than 100 fire losses with individual losses exceeding $200 million in damages. He is now recognized internationally for his expertise, the quality of his work, and the excellence with which he conducts himself.
So how do you create a world-class leader? For me, I consistently put him in that environment, in front of those clients and prospects to learn what was important to them and have him determine how to best provide quality service in a manner that they would appreciate. I supported his efforts in his desire to serve those associations, even though his time was non-revenue-generating, because in the long-term it will all pay off. I removed barriers for him to succeed, the lack of local presence and support personnel, and other smaller items. I gave him the ability to set his own schedule, but also the needed financial support to travel down there as often as he felt appropriate. I never made him feel like he was going it alone, because I worked tirelessly alongside him, for weeks, months, and years on end. I have lost count of how many fire scenes we have worked together where we have been completely drenched in sweat, dirty from head to toe, and exhausted from working until 10 or 11pm at night. When he was unavailable for one reason or another, I went. Most importantly, I asked for his input and his creativity on how to go about making this successful.
So how do you create a world-class leader? You provide the opportunity, you support, cajole, guide, involve, carry on your back when necessary, love them like crazy, and never let them lose sight of what the goal is. And you know what they reward you with? They give you their hands, heart, mind, creativity, energy, enthusiasm, and time.
Tim Christ is a Business Strategist, Sales/Marketing Expert, and Coach to a number of businesses and individuals around the world. He has excelled in numerous positions, including CEO. His clients include international corporations and many Fortune 500s. He loves working with businesses and individuals and helping them to have a better tomorrow than yesterday.