Innovation Group Managing Director, Drew Schnehage believes in people. Her passion for what she does is contagious, and people easily buy into her vision.
At the core of her being, she is an entrepreneur and creator.
Schnehage gets up every morning with a positive outlook and tackles the day with several conversations and plans to create an inclusive work environment.
‘My mantra is execution, execution, execution. I don’t settle for second place, I want to be the best,’ she says.
‘My team knows where I’m coming from — it’s from the heart, from who I am and what I want to achieve for this business and my staff.'
THE ART OF SERVICE DELIVERY
Schnehage says Innovation Group Australia has great people and an accomplished, predominantly female executive team.
‘Women are emotional but practical individuals,’ she says. ‘We understand the art of service delivery and have the compassion to understand what our clients need.’
As a young person starting out in insurance, Schnehage admits it was disappointing to discover how extremely male dominant and aging the industry is.
‘It is a privilege to have the wisdom and insight of my male counterparts, but it sometimes become stale and programmed,’ she says.
‘We need more female leaders who are in touch with their feelings. Subordinates crave the recognition and acknowledgement they get from these types of leaders.’
THE BIGGEST DRAWBACK
Schnehage insecurity is the biggest drawback in a woman’s career and advises them to speak out and make their point, even if it seems daunting.
‘Be strong! You need to sell your personal brand and get it out there, to uplift your profile,' she says.
‘Chatting to yourself on a regular basis allows you to be more deliberate, more aware, which grants you the time to process your thoughts and feelings and get to know who you are.’
Her own leadership philosophy combines being direct and leading by example. She also maintains communication is at the top of her list as it really pays off.
‘You need to be able to listen actively and hear what people have to say,’ she says.
‘The biggest downfall of leaders is an inability to share clear messages and make complex ideas easy to understand for everyone.
‘A leader must have a clear vision for what drives and creates success. Clear communication of expectations and resources for continued learning are core values and steps I take when developing a strong team.’
For Schnehage, robust leadership also means developing staff.
‘We are moving in times with rapid change, and it will be important to take people on the journey every step of the way. People don’t like change.’
She adds that she enjoys delegating tasks and taking the lead on projects, but also likes to stay involved and inspire her team by showing that she’s working hands-on to help them.
‘I am always willing to have open and honest conversations with my teams and staff. Being honest establishes a sense of trust with your team, I find that this promotes respect and a willingness from them to follow my lead.
‘Your staff will feel valued when they know that you take the time to communicate with them and tell them the truth.’
Schnehage’s thirty-year insurance career in South Africa started after she finished year 12, as unfortunately, at the time, her parents did not have the means to pay for tertiary education.
‘My first insurance job was in claims, and I worked for two insurers and a broker before I joined a third-party administrator,’ she shares.
At the age of 32, she became a director of the business and soon after, joined an underwriting agency to develop a new niche insurance product for high-net worth individuals.
In 2008, Schnehage was offered the opportunity to start an underwriting agency of her own to grow the first ever high-net worth portfolio. In 2013, this business won the Underwriting Agency of the Year award.
OPPORTUNITY IN AUSTRALIA
Seven years later, Schnehage sold her underwriting agency to Hollard Insurance in South Africa and joined its personal lines division to assist the development of new personal lines product offerings.
She was later head-hunted to join Innovation Group in South Africa as Commercial Director and in 2019, took the opportunity to travel to Australia to support the business in the region and eventually take the reigns as Managing Director.
Schnehage says moving her family was a traumatic experience but coming up to their second anniversary in Australia, she says they know they did it for the right reasons.
‘Today, we are closer than ever before, especially after several months of lockdown. We have not looked back one day,’ she says.
KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS
In a time of increasing regulation, Schnehage is clear that customer service and a great customer experience is the key to a successful business.
‘Customers will tell you first-hand what you are doing wrong or right and the ones that don’t tell you are the ones you need to be concerned about,’ she says.
‘Your customer is always right even if they are wrong, never tell them that unless it goes against your principals. Never compromise on what you stand for and believe in.
‘If you are able to find one way to improve your customer’s experience, you will find that you probably fix a number of issues with the rest of your clients. Always keep it simple.’
A FARMER MAKES A PLAN
To further illustrate the culture she strives for, Schnehage quotes an Afrikaans saying: ‘n boer maak ‘n plan’, which means ‘A farmer makes a plan’.
It refers to the ingenuity farmers use when supplies and resources are scarce. The English equivalent might be ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’.
‘We make a plan and see how this business can get to the level where everyone feels it’s the company they want to work for,’ Schnehage says.
‘And more so, clients need to say that Innovation Group is the company they wish to outsource their claims management to because we care, and we are the best at it.’
Having witnessed consumer-focussed regulatory changes in the South African insurance industry, she says the process is beneficial and necessary.
‘We need to gear up our compliance and risk departments to manage and navigate the regulatory requirements coming down the line,’ she says.
AUTHENTICITY IS NEEDED
When it comes to attracting young people to insurance, Schnehage believes authenticity in the industry is still missing.
At ANZIIF’s Rising Stars in Insurance Seminar, she plans to remind professionals who are starting out that they don’t need to try to be someone they think others want them to be.
‘The insurance industry will become a more attractive option when more people can demonstrate their true selves,’ she says.
She also points to the need for educational programs that sponsor and encourage youth to join the industry with promotions at high schools and colleges.
‘Existing companies need to provide more mentorship programmes from inspirational leaders who can get youth excited about the insurance industry.
‘As an industry, we also need to provide flexibility. In today’s connected world, it’s often not crucial to physically be in the office from 9 am to 5 pm.
‘In addition, we must ensure an inclusive hiring process. Young professionals seek companies that are committed to diversity and inclusion at all levels.’
LEARN AND ABSORB
Equally, Schnehage suggests new starters place themselves out there like a sponge — absorbing and learning as much as they can as soon as possible.
‘Find a mentor that can support you on your journey. Investigate and understand the educational path you need to follow to become a qualified insurance professional,’ she says.
‘Always know your worth and don't worry if you look different, or feel you look different from most other people.’
Having recently been forced to take stock of her life after a serious health scare, Schnehage is also a champion for a healthy work life balance.
‘We promote virtual social activities like cooking classes and our kids’ club is very popular. We participate in virtual physical activities like yoga or walkathons.’
‘During the hectic, sweaty storm that is everyday life, this allows you a moment to track your feelings, to reflect and refresh and relax.’
ADVICE FOR FUTURE FEMALE LEADERS:
- Have a ton of confidence in that person in the mirror.
- Take up a form of exercise.
- Invest your time in people who want to see you do better.
- Don't judge.
- Go with your gut when making decisions.
- Read more than you're currently reading.
- Don't think of yourself as secondary to men.
- Be bold and go big!
SUGGESTIONS FOR ATTRACTING YOUNG PEOPLE TO INSURANCE:
- Be creative. Think about ways to bring your work environment, people and corporate culture to life virtually.
- Use video conferencing tools to interview new and soon-to-be graduates and keep your hiring efforts moving forward.
- Consider hosting virtual career fairs.
- Connect your company on social media.