Agent Spotlight: Lyle Fulkerson, HPM Insurance
President & CEO, HPM Insurance, Amherst, NH
Insurance is not the first career for HPM Insurance President & CEO Lyle Fulkerson, but the industry has allowed him to combine his interest in contract law and relationship building to grow a successful agency. “My career path is a bit different than most in the agency world. I worked in the investment business, went to law school, and ultimately became a sports agent for professional cyclists and event promotor producing large cycling events. I spent a great deal of time traveling around the world which ultimately grew stale,” he said. What would he do if he weren’t in insurance? “Honestly, I am doing what I want,” he said. He maintains his passion for outdoor athletic pursuits, however, including skiing, cycling, lacrosse and coaching girls hockey and lacrosse.
Why should people consider a career in insurance? There are few industries with as much depth to it as insurance. A person can work at a small local agency, a large national company, or many insurance-related professions in between. Insurance has a position for nearly every skill set. Though it is subject to automation efficiencies like every industry, it won’t lose the necessity for human connection altogether, given the vast sector it serves.
What excites you about the industry? The exciting thing about insurance is its ability to adapt. Not too long ago, cyber security didn’t exist, there was only one flood market, and finding a company willing to insure someone who rented out a portion of their home to a short-term renter was nearly impossible. I love how insurance adapts relatively quickly to fit the needs of the consumers. Of course, this means we are always learning.
How did you get into the industry? Who mentored you? My father introduced me to the industry, and I have been fortunate to have many people help me along the way, especially the talented team at HPM Insurance.
What are common misconceptions about the industry/as a career that you don’t agree with? If you ask the average agent what makes their agency different, nine times out of ten, they will say their customer service. Good customer service is a given; otherwise, the agency would have very few clients. But, at the end of the day, an insurance agency is a sales organization because it has to be. Without a sales-driven culture, the client base will erode faster than it grows. If everyone on the team understands this, then everyone can work towards its growth.
Where do you see the industry in 10-20 years? I am sure the industry will continue to evolve to meet the client’s demands, as any business should. However, I suspect there will be better pricing capabilities from the carriers, given more access to data and mapping. In theory, this should also improve profitability for the carriers and agents while pricing risks more fairly for the public.
The pendulum is always swinging, but 20 years ago, many business experts thought that the independent agent was doomed, yet here we are. I believe the insurance agency will continue to thrive if agents can continue to communicate in a way their clients want and participate in their community while remaining a trusted advisor.
What are your goals for the agency? My goal for the agency is to continue to grow and evolve. We remain committed to growing both organically as well as through acquisitions. Since purchasing my first agency in 2006, I have enjoyed helping agency principals realize their goals. This could be for a retiring agency owner who wants to step away completely and know his clients will be cared for, to an agency principal who thrives in sales but gets bogged down by HR issues. Since I began my insurance career, I have acquired eight agencies. With each, I allowed the principals to do what they really wanted, while the employees could count on their customers being cared for with a predictable process and workflow.
What is the most used tool/resource that has made you the most successful? Data. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. You need to commit to pulling and reviewing the agency’s data regularly, as it will tell you where you are succeeding and where you can use improvement. Data does not exaggerate or make excuses; it is just the facts and with those facts, you can make appropriate decisions to plan for the future.
What is the most important leadership lesson you have learned, and how is it valuable to you today? Leading an organization is challenging, but if you communicate clearly and honestly with people and are transparent about goals and expectations, you can overcome so much. A critical component is to build a leadership team.
Building a leadership team with different skill sets from your own is paramount because you can’t do everything, at least not very well. When you have a leadership team you can trust, you can share the successes and learn together when you stumble. The team mindset empowers employees to take their careers to the next level while building trust with each other. Without my team, I would not be where I am today.
What is your industry involvement outside of the office? Currently, I serve as both the President of PIANH and the National Director for PIA National. Additionally, I serve on the National Agents Council for Main Street America, Chair of the New England Region Council for Main Street America, Chair of the New Hampshire Agents Council for Merchants Insurance and on the Agents Council for Plymouth Rock Assurance. Formerly, I was on the National Agents Council for SAFECO and Chair of their Northeast Region Agents council as well as on the Twin States Council for Acadia.
Additionally, I am a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association.
What was your first job? Like many kids I had lots of odd jobs, but consider my first real job when I turned 18. I became an EMT and drove an ambulance for HS Medical Lakeside ambulance based in Wolfeboro, NH. For those in New Hampshire it is now known as Stewarts Ambulance Service. The S in HS medical was Bob Stewart.
Do you have a favorite book/podcast for fun and/or for self-improvement or career?
- Simply Brilliant by William C. Taylor
- The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
- The Ron Burgundy Podcast starring Ron Burgundy (humor goes a long way)
- The Economist
- Escape your Limits
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