We love reading the stories of the successful once their journey has reached a point that they can drop bombs of wisdom on us about how they reached a level that we can admire. But what does innovation look like at the ground level, while it is still happening? What does it look like when you have an idea, you connect with a few people who get it, you begin to collaborate and build towards conquering your dreams? Tony Canas and co-author Carly Burnham (read our interview with Carly HERE) have found a piece of the puzzle that they are skilled and passionate about, they have collaborated to create InsNerds and co-authored a book, Insuring Tommorrow, to share their insights and story. To interact with Tony is to engage with an aspect of innovation that is gaining momentum through hard work, creativity and collaboration within an industry (like all industries) that is in need of innovation. Tony is digging into a subject that many are reticent to touch, the recruitment, development and retention of Millennials. In doing so, Mr. Canas has become a known blogger, author and speaker on the topic with his session "Recruiting and Retaining Millennials" being delivered at the CPCU Society Leadership Conference and Annual Meetings for 2014. Our thanks to Tony Canas for taking the time to share with us.
(Jon Isaacson / IZ Ventures): When kids are asked in high school what they dream of becoming, the insurance industry is not one of those top 10 career choices, what brought you into this field?
Tony Canas: Like almost everybody else I fell into insurance by accident. It was 2009 and I was living in Des Moines, Iowa, one of the top insurance cities in the US, and got downsized from my job as a fleet manager with a transportation company when the economy crashed. I started applying to a bunch of jobs and it just so happened I landed at the Farm Bureau Claims Call Center and immediately fell in love with the industry.
What aspects of insurance are you currently engaged in, what does your day-to-day look like?
In my day job I’m a middle market underwriter for a major national carrier and I manage the state of Mississippi. We have a lot of verticals (energy, public entity, construction, healthcare, etc) so I end up underwriting a lot of manufacturing, retail chains, wholesales, restaurant chains and hotel chains.
You are building quite a presence through blogging at InsNerds.com, having written Insuring Tomorrow and with your speaking engagements, what are your goals with these entrepreneurial endeavors?
I spend a lot of my free time growing and promoting InsNerds, our two podcasts and marketing our book Insuring Tomorrow. I also have keep evenings a week devoted to “micro-mentoring” other insurance professionals. I help them figure out where they want to go and how to get there and see if I can open some doors out of my 10,000+ LinkedIn connections. I’ve been doing it for a few months and some of my mentees have already scored better jobs which is incredibly rewarding! Anyone can grab some time on my calendar at ChatWithTony.com, although at times the wait can be a couple of weeks.
On the writing side I work on bringing in new authors to InsNerds and writing some of my own articles (mostly about career growth) and we’d like to write a second book. On the speaking side I speak at insurance conferences about Engaging Millennials in Insurance as often as I can. The speaking invites have really picked up since the book came out and I love it!
I've talked to several people that have ideas or some level of desire to write a book, for you what was the catalyst that brought you to writing Insuring Tomorrow?
I waited five years for somebody to dedicate a book to the important topic of how to engage Millennials in our industry, and nobody did. Finally one day my girlfriend came home and told me “It’s time to write the book”. I called Carly (my co-author) and said “it’s time to write the book”. Then we just did it. I’m not saying it was easy, but after years of being passionate about the topic and collecting reference material actually getting it done wasn’t too bad. We wrote it in about 90 days and sales have been better than expected and the reviews very positive.
In that process of formulating your thoughts into a book what was easier than you expected and what was harder than you expected in that process?
It was both… What I mean is that while it was hard to sit down and write a table of contents to plan the different chapters, once that was done it was easy to write the draft for most chapters. The tough part was having to cut some of the chapters we originally planned for because we couldn’t find enough data and outside resources to really back them up. We wanted the book to leave the reader with a pretty airtight case, not just our opinion, but rather ideas backed by tons of outside research. Overall it took a LOT of time, and we stayed up late very often during the process, but it was mostly enjoyable and incredibly worth it.
What have been some of the positive responses to your book? The topic of Millennials is rather charged, has there been much opposition to your publication?
While there is absolutely a lot of “millennial fatigue”, the response has been almost completely positive. I think most people in the industry recognize that while we have talked a lot about the topic, we really haven’t solved it and we MUST solve it. Some of my favorite reviews said, “It is truly outstanding.” “Every insurance CEO should read this.” and “Essential reading for insurance executives.” One early reviewer called it, “The best book on understanding culture since Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.” The book is available at InsuringTomorrowBook.com
The subject matter that you are speaking to centers around the topic of Millennials in the workforce, as such what is one key piece of advice that first you would give to leaders working with millennials and then to millennials who are either entering the workforce or seeking to better themselves?
It’s hard to digest five years of research into a 250 page book, let alone a one hour talk and even harder into a couple of sentences, but I’d say the best way to understand Millennials is think of them as a different culture. Not better or worse, just different. And try to understand them in that context. Also, look at the numbers and realize that this will be a MASSIVE change for our industry. The business world in general has been dominated by Baby Boomers for decades, there were 25% fewer Gen Xers so they will always remain a minority, as the Boomers retire business will have to reinvent itself to survive in an era where Millennials will be the bulk of the workforce for at least a couple of decades.
What is next for Tony?
Now that’s a hard question! My plans have changed a lot over the last few years and I’m sure they will continue changing. I do know that I’m staying in the insurance industry for the rest of my career and will continue running InsNerds. Chances are many other projects that I haven’t even imagined yet will emerge from the InsNerds umbrella. I will continue being a positive voice of change for our industry and will continue my efforts to help us recruit and retain a new workforce.
Tony Canas regularly writes for InsNerds.com, he is on LinkedIn and tweets as @TonyCanas4. Insuring Tomorrow has many applications outside of the insurance industry and is available for $20, you can find our review of the publication HERE.
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