A Clarity of Purpose – Insurance Broker Profile

Written by: Categories: Schill Skinny

Insurance Broker Profile – We had the privilege of being featured in Insurance People Magazine last month… not a bad little write-up about who we are and where we came from 🙂

A Clarity of Purpose

By John Lekich

Al Schill is president of Schill Insurance Brokers of Coquitlam, B.C., east of Vancouver. Like his two younger brothers, Matt and Jarett, he grew up around the insurance business. In 1972 their dad, Dave Schill, co-founded the brokerage. From 1993 to 2010 the firm was known as Schill Robinson Insurance.

Al joined the business in 1989. “In the early years I wasn’t quite sure how I’d fit in,” he recalls. “I thought I’d work there for a few years and then move on to something else.”

The industry proved to be a good fit, however, and Schill became a partner in 2001. In 2005 the brothers purchased the firm.

“We knew we had a good brokerage with a strong reputation,” Schill says. “I wanted to see if we could take something good and make it great.”

He adds, “That desire to take things to the next level fuelled the fire for the longest time. It still does today.”

Their efforts have paid off handsomely. Today the brokerage has close to 70 employees and seven locations throughout the province’s Lower Mainland. Matt and Jarett are senior partners, while junior partners include Ann-Michelle deReus and Kari Schill, who are related to the family through marriage.

“We’re getting bigger,” says Schill, 44, “but the business still has a family spin to it.”

What’s it like to work with his brothers? “It’s been great. Although we’ve had some passionate debates, we’ve never had any serious arguments. There’s never been a problem that way.”

Schill and wife Wendy have three children: Samantha, 22; Emma, 16; and Ben, 14. He remembers the challenge of balancing work and home life in the early years of owning the brokerage.

“The kids were young when we bought the business. There were lots of days when I would leave home early and come back late. Wendy would be standing at the door ready to hand me one of the children, and say, ‘Your turn.’”

The experience drove home the fact that the success of the business involved patience and sacrifice on the part of the entire family.

“Balancing the demands of business with the obligations of your personal life can be very tough. But Wendy was great. She gave me time to get the business go- ing in the right direction.”

Schill, who grew up playing several sports, has coached his kids’ volleyball and baseball teams.

“Growing up, the three of us learned to appreciate how many people sacrificed their time to make everything happen. It was ingrained in us that nobody was getting paid to coach us. Everybody was doing it to keep a worthwhile thing going. So now we give back to our community – whether it’s coaching, the local hospital or the food bank.”

Schill says the brothers agree on the importance of fostering a company culture that stresses cooperation.

“I think it comes back to our sports backgrounds. All three of us believe in the concept of teamwork. I think everybody feels included in what we’re doing and what we’re trying to achieve. From the front line team to the owners, there’s a clarity of purpose that seems to work.”

He says he has given a great deal of thought to company dynamics.

“When I became a partner in 2001, I started taking more of an operations role, overseeing people and systems. That’s when I really began to hit my stride. I found I really enjoyed dealing with our people, doing strategic planning and charting a course for the brokerage.”

His philosophy? “Give people a chance to grow, expand and get better and they’ll make you better by doing so.”

While the business has come a long way since the ’70s, Schill gives full credit to his father for laying a solid foundation.

“He was a very good insurance person with a strong technical side and excellent with clients. He gave me a lot of flexibility to explore different aspects of the industry.”

While Dave Schill has been removed from the business for the last decade or so, his sons still rely on him for occasional guidance. Says Al: “He may not offer an opinion, but he’ll always ask the right questions. It’s nice to bounce things off him because he’s been there.”

He adds: “I think it’s fun for Dad to be a kind of sounding board for us, not only because he knows where we’ve come from, but because he’s part of the discussion when it comes to what’s on the horizon.

“We’re coming up to our 44th year in business, and the big question is, how can we continue to make it better?”