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COMMUNITY IN A CORPORATE CULTURE

Brian Sypher

Dave Veale’s interview with Brian Sypher, Sr. Manager, TD Insurance.
As published in the Telegraph-Journal in March, 2012. (Photo: Cindy Wilson, Telegraph-Journal)

Brian Sypher, senior manager at TD Insurance in Saint John, says people want to be part of something bigger. “It really does boil down to recognizing that we have to be more than a collection of individuals who are just showing up at the same address in the morning to earn a paycheque.”

Brian Sypher knows members of a successful organization want to be part of something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. He incorporates this leadership philosophy in his role as president of ContactNB. It is what helped him grow his organization from 27 people in 1998 to 470 people today. As I toured the client service centre for TD Insurance in Saint John, it became clear what created this growth. Sypher, whose official title is senior manager, places importance on creating a culture that values community.
Early in his career Sypher, a selfproclaimed “East Coaster,” moved to Toronto to accept an assignment. From the moment he arrived in the ‘Big Smoke,’ he began looking for an opportunity to return to the Maritimes. That opportunity presented itself through Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance. Sypher was hired to set up a contact centre to look after a national client base in Canada. He set up shop in Saint John.
Q. Describe the growth of the Saint John office over the last 14 years. 
A: When we started, we had 9,800 square feet and I hired 27 people. Today we have 470 people and 60,000 square feet. Six years ago TD Insurance bought Liberty Mutual’s operations in Canada and we changed from Liberty Mutual to TD
Q: What do you think it is about New Brunswick, or Saint John, that has attracted this growth?
A: I know that it sounds a little too simplistic but it remains true – it’s the people. It’s not unusual to hear someone ask, during the course of a client phone call, “Where are you located, anyhow?” We’ll respond “New Brunswick” or “Saint John” and they’ll say, “I thought so. You guys are so friendly out there.”
Q: What qualities do you seek in an employee? 
A: We’re an employer of choice – it’s a brand-name organization. We have an excellent employment offering and we purposefully look to hire nice people because I believe you’ve got to hire nice – you can’t make nice.
[Tweet “I believe you’ve got to hire nice – you can’t make nice. – Brian Sypher”]
Q: Customer service is critical in your business. What is your approach to ensuring customers have a positive experience? 
A: When you’ve got a good employee offering and you take the time to hire the right talent, then you’ve got a pretty magical situation. The lower your turnover, the more continuity you have when it comes to delivering good customer service. We’re very focused on the customer service, but we also realize that it’s largely dependent upon the employee experience.
[Tweet “Customer service is largely dependent upon the employee experience. – Brian Sypher”]
Q: When you look at where you started and where you are now, what stands out as a defining factor in the positive growth? 
A: I had the benefit of being able to start this from scratch and it’s a lot easier to build something right from the beginning than it is to go in and fix it afterwards. It really does boil down to recognizing that we have to be more than a collection of individuals who are just showing up at the same address in the morning to earn a paycheque.
With 470 people working in this office, we’re bigger than many towns in the province. It was important to create a strong culture. We rally around certain things and one of them is being a good corporate citizen.
[Tweet “We rally around certain things and one of them is being a good corporate citizen. – Brian Sypher”]
Q: What are examples of TD Insurance being a good corporate citizen? 
A: We have a focus on giving back, of volunteering, of being active in the community. It creates a great deal of pride. Some examples are us having 800 hours of volunteer work going to Romero House, we’ve raised $60,000 for United Way this year, over $10,000 for the local animal rescue, and the IWK receives about $10,000 from the employee base.
Q: In what ways is giving back beneficial to your organization?
A: People who work here will tell you that they’re proud to say they work here. I believe that a lot of this pride has to do with our reputation in the community.
This culture translates into other benefits – up to 90 per cent of all the people we hire have been referred to us by people who already work here.
Q: Over the last 14 years, what have been the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make as a leader? 
A: I think the most challenging, most important decisions that I make are the ones around who we are going to ask to join the leadership team. It impacts everything that we do. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. The leadership team is front and centre all of the time and it’s just so important that you get this decision right.
Q: What are the qualities in your employee base that you feel have helped the growth of the organization in Saint John? 
A: People who take responsibility, who are frequently among the first to put their hand up and say,”I’d like to take that on, ” people who embrace change, who don’t resist change, who genuinely enjoy seeing their team win.
Q: How would you finish the following sentence? A leader’s job is to … 
A: A leader’s job is to be a talent manager.
[Tweet “A leader’s job is to be a talent manager. -Brian Sypher”]
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to leaders who want to create a strong,healthy organizational culture? 
A: Find out what’s important to the people you are working with. I would recommend that you create some sort of a rallying point that everybody can become passionate about and buy into.
Q: If you look over the last 14 years, what are you most proud of? 
A: I think we have, if not the most respected office within our organization, certainly one of the most respected operations that TD Insurance has in Canada. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve got 470 nice people working here and we’re recognized for that.
[Tweet”We’ve got 470 nice people working here and we’re recognized for that. – Brian Sypher”]
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @Dave_Veale.

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