Insider Quarterly speaks to Shepherd Compello chief executive John Shepherd and director Holly Shepherd about running a family business in a global market.
Insider Quarterly: John, you’re a well-known London market figure but for those that don’t know you, can you sketch out your background and how Shepherd Compello started?
John Shepherd: I’ve been in the market for many years. I arrived in insurance by good fortune, really. I left school at a tender age and started at large broker, JH Minet, in their reinsurance department and I gradually progressed from there. Over time it became clear that my abilities were in networking and client management, through which I started to produce and build business. Through various career changes, a few bumps and many highs, I decided to form a new independent brokerage in 2003 which received Lloyd’s accreditation soon after. Aligned with an American business specialising in innovative insurance products, I was determined it would provide an entrepreneurial platform for young like-minded people to flourish, which I think I can say with confidence it has. EPG subsequently evolved into Shepherd Compello. The name comes from the Latin ‘Compello’, to drive forward, so really it was perfect for us.
Holly Shepherd: I joined the company in 2006. My original plan was to enter compliance, as I had completed a law degree. Well, that was the original plan, but it didn’t last long! I realised that I wanted a bigger challenge. John agreed with me and set me the target of building and replicating our US business across Europe.
Insider Quarterly: You talk about Shepherd Compello being a family. What does this mean to you?
Holly Shepherd: Having family values at the heart of the company breeds a family focus on work. Yes, we set very high standards, make demands and expect everyone to pull their weight, but equally we recognise the efforts and sacrifices the team makes.
Insider Quarterly: How did your life as a director change after you had children?
Holly Shepherd: I keep the two completely separate. If I try and do both at the same time, it doesn’t work, it’s only half a job. So if you’re with the kids, you’re with the kids, and if you’re at work, you’re at work. You can’t mix the two. This has meant life-changing sacrifices. In fact, for about the first three years I lived out of a suitcase. We started in a one room office in Leadenhall Street with four people. It was challenging but also very rewarding, I will never forget it. Since being a working mum, you appreciate how hard it is and you gain a real respect for your parents. I always think there’s a perception about working mums that you’ve chosen your career over your work, but I really want to challenge that. As a working mother with a young family, I understand the demands outside of work and if we can’t support individuals then they will suffer at home and at work.
Insider Quarterly: Describe your business philosophy and how it compares to others in your market.
John Shepherd: The easiest way to describe us is as a family centred business. This close-knit model drives the way we develop long-term relationships in the workplace, with our people, as well as with coverholders and underwriters Our philosophy centres on finding the right people who understand our culture. Just being a big producer who is amazing but does not buy into our ethos will not work. They must want to contribute to the company’s activities. We like to think we have a different way of doing things, and want people working for us who can avoid stale thinking or the latest buzz-words and Harvard Business School techniques. We aspire to achieve our goals through good, honest hard work in a fast-paced, rapidly changing, global market. Family relationships extend beyond Holly and me. We have clients and underwriters’ sons and daughters in for work experience. Also, we have many examples of staff bringing in other family members into the business. It’s a family business that attracts families! We embrace this tight knit relationship. Be that families coming to enjoy Xmas, parties, our summer BBQ or this year we are all going to the races. Even people who have left come back to catch up – leaving the business does not mean leaving the family.
Insider Quarterly: How does a father and daughter relationship work in practice?
John Shepherd: I think Holly and I are a great team – when we’re together we think anything’s possible.
Holly Shepherd: John and I really respect each other’s abilities and we really respect each other. We both spark off each other in a way we don’t necessarily with anyone else: there’s an unparalleled trust there.
John Shepherd: I think it’s fair to say that working with Holly has reinvigorated me and there is a clear succession plan. We are in it for the long-term and when one of us is flagging the other can stand up and run with it. We support one another and foster a strong sense of encouragement and team collaboration around us.
Insider Quarterly: How do you run a family business in a changing market?
John Shepherd: We are a haven, people know who we are, we own ourselves and there is a clarity that is not always there at other brokers. Shepherd Compello is not backed by external forces, we are building for the future. Some businesses do not know what is happening from one day to another and this can be very unsettling for staff, clients and carriers. If Holly wasn’t here, I may be looking to sell the business, but that’s not our plan, we have succession.
Holly Shepherd: We are also different to others. Yes, we are running a business, but margin is not the primary driver. We have broader goals, investing in our people and charitable work such as Great Ormond Street Hospital and schools in Africa. In this respect, we encourage our staff to go above and beyond, and buy into our philosophy.
[Our] close-knit model drives the way we develop long-term relationships in the workplace, with our people, as well as with coverholders and underwriters.
Insider Quarterly: Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a hot topic, what are your views on the subject?
John Shepherd: We welcome anyone who is the right person for the job. In practice this means many flags and nations are represented. Our people are invaluable, and the diverse range of employees has been integral to our success.
Holly Shepherd: Diversity and inclusion is more than just a catchphrase to us. Look at the figures: we have 42 percent of women in a senior management position, which compares well with Lloyd’s and our peers where the target in their charters is typically 40 percent. But why stop there? We believe that we can go further and achieve a 50/50 split.
Insider Quarterly: Tell us a little about your clients.
John Shepherd: Clients come first and are king. Our strategy has been to nurture a small number of clients who we can work with very closely, who we can trust and who trust us. We try to work with one client per territory, there is an exclusivity. We treat them like royalty and have seen loyalty in return.
Holly Shepherd: We specialise in niche business. Even where we do handle mainstream risks, they are non-standard. I love the risks that other people think can’t be done. We thrive on such challenges, there’s always a way to do it.
Insider Quarterly: What do you see for the future for your markets?
Holly Shepherd: We are in a highly regulated industry where it is proving impossible to write completely new business. Conduct risk means many fear new business, so our strategy is growth with existing clients first. This means proactively taking new products like cyber, intellectual property and contingency to our existing client base.
John Shepherd: Holly is right. We have created a strong foundation and with this approach we can achieve organic growth. In terms of business development, we have a strong production base other than myself and Holly. It is spread across the firm which provides a good, healthy balance with others having an ownership of business. Looking more broadly we have an enormous database and it’s about getting our products to match that book of business so that organic growth is achieved.
Insider Quarterly: What next for Shepherd Compello?
John Shepherd: We have to keep moving and evolving, this means getting the right structure, rounded and primed for growth. You could say we are in a perpetual start-up mode, constantly reinventing ourselves rather than risking becoming stale. Like a good restaurant, we must create new menus and challenge ourselves as chefs do. This means satisfying existing clients and whetting the appetites of newcomers. Also, there is a clear succession plan, Holly is already taking on many of the challenges and leading the management team, opening the next chapter for Shepherd Compello.
Holly Shepherd: John has built a vibrant and successful business. I am proud to have been on that journey with him and determined to take Shepherd Compello to even greater heights. Our philosophy will continue to be driven by developing our team, to let them know that they are valued and have a future which they can shape. We also welcome new talent. If there are readers of this article, with a drive and a desire for more, they should talk to us – you could be part of our family and help us drive forward together.
This article was originally published in the IQ Summer 2018
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