This is a series of stories told by leaders in the Doncaster area (City of). These stories have been curated by me (Kurt Ewald Lindley) as part of a collaboration between Doncaster Council, Doncaster Chamber of Commerce and other Team Doncaster member to showcase, not just the best of Doncaster, but to inform the development of Doncaster’s Economic Strategy and
“make it the best place to do business.”
As I climb the stairs to the first floor of One Call HQ in Doncaster, I can hear the buzz of business filtering through the doors of the main office. Katie (Nik’s Personal Assistant) opens the door – its like walking into a busy hive. Staff making and receiving calls, live chat and emails being crafted, customers being served.
Katie takes me to Nik’s office; there’s no hiding here. It’s a glass corner space, the team can look in and Nik can look out. Retrospectively, having listened to Nik’s story, I can see this connection to the wider team is significant, to quote;
“It’s important I know everyone. I get upset when I don’t know someone’s name…”
I think Nik can be forgiven for this. It’s a large open space hosting many desks of working staff who operate in a hybrid fashion (sometimes in the office and sometimes at home). And it’s a growing business, so there are often new faces.
Welcome to Nik Springthorpe’s story, CEO of One Call Insurance. By comparison a small insurance broker sitting firm at the table with some of the bigger players out there. Employing over 700 Staff from within and beyond Doncaster and a turnover last year of around £240million.
The Journey – Success of the YTS (Youth Training Scheme)
Nik started life in Insurance aged 18. He shared, “Some people fall into Insurance; I chose it.” It was in the family, it had served his grandfather and sister well. Nik joked as he explained this was part of a YTS for school leavers, “…something you wouldn’t remember,” he said.
At 32 years of age, Nik was presented with an opportunity – a role at One Call. At that time the business was transitioning from a ‘high street’ broker with 20 branches across Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, to a call centre approach (employing 27 staff).
At his interview, Nik met with John Radford, the then CEO. Nik expressed to me,
“I saw something interesting in John, he was an ambitious entrepreneur.”
I wonder if this ambition was the hook that has kept Nik with the business since 2003? He joined, working within ‘Training and Compliance’ and now, 19 years on, sits as CEO. The philosophy of ‘promoting from within’ rings true here (something we talk about later).
Challenges in Business – Diversify or Die
Just like many businesses (mine included), there is a need to evolve with the times. It seems this has become a natural approach for Nik and the executive team at One Call. Nik was clear to mention there have been failings. That said, below are two important growth points for the business.
2008 and the advent of the insurance ‘Comparison Site’. This could have been the death of a less forward thinking company, but for Nik this was an opportunity to sit firmly at the table with some of the bigger brokers. They were the first of their size and nature to feature on ‘confused.com’.
“Before this we would work 8am to 8pm and count our sales through the day. This was the first time we went home at 8pm and arrived back in the office to see we’d sold 50 policies without anyone being in. Over the next 18 months we went from £4million to £10million turnover.”
In 2010, Nik and the team recognised that whilst they were gaining new customers, they weren’t competitive enough to maintain existing ones. Insurers were undercutting the prices they could offer through other large volume sellers. So what did they do? They set up their own insurance company called ‘One Insurance Limited’ (OIL). Not an easy feat, but one that is now allowing them to be competitive. Where they can’t broker a good deal with the existing insurance panel members, they can offer their own.
One Call have since gone on to provide a kind of ‘one stop’ offer to customers, establishing a claims and break down service as well as body shop repair sites.
My question to Nik was – How have you mitigated for the risk of ‘growth without guarantee’? His response – “We elevate from within, we balance the use of good internal staff with external partners until we are ready to hold 100% ownership of the new area.”
Lessons for others – Hire School Leavers and Promote from within
When I asked why One Call specifically focused on recruiting school leavers, Nik expressed:
“We wanted to develop our own culture, I guess.”
He felt school leavers often arrive fresh, untainted by past work experiences (unhealthy cultures). He added;
“They may not have done well at school, but we want them to see they have a career here.”
The philosophy of promoting from within is strong at One Call. Pretty much all the directors (approx. 16 across different departments / boards) have worked their way up. This could, in part, be down to the in-house ‘Course of Excellence’ they run. A 6-month rolling initiative where the most talented staff are trained to the next level of their development. Over the course of the programme they are required to work within every part of the business, with 3 core questions underpinning what they do:
- Where are there efficiencies to be made?
- How can we improve the customer experience?
- How can we be better?
They then meet with directors every 2 weeks to explore and, where appropriate, implement change on the shop floor.
Advice to a younger you (and the ones who didn’t choose so well)
“Listen to the support of the good people around you.”
This has cropped up before. It makes me wonder, how do we remain open to advice when we feel vulnerable, or are too focused on going forward to stop and listen / hear the words of wisdom around us. I guess it starts with surrounding yourself with good, ‘trustworthy’ and ‘credible’ people – your personal boardroom perhaps.
The Legacy – a career vs a job
Something that kept coming up in our conversation was the idea we should be inviting employees to see their role in work as a ‘career’ and not just a ‘job’. A place they can remain and grow over time. The cost of losing and hiring staff is an expensive leakage for all organisations. One Call’s approach is to “Have succession at every level.” In its most basic form, Nik asks of his team – “develop someone to do your job.”
The Call to Action – how are you recruiting
When One Call was young, they would use the job centre to find their staff. Now, with their expansion, they have incorporated the use of online sites, like ‘Total Jobs’ and ‘Indeed’, but still the numbers are low.
“There’s more jobs than people in this market.”
A call to action for Nik is to have an open conversation about recruitment. How are businesses in Doncaster finding their talent, how are they developing the right attitudes to work and what is it they do to create staff loyalty?
In addition, Nik would like to explore how others are safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of their teams. One Call have invested in external training to help managers support their staff and run various social events to ensure people feel part of the family, but still this is an area he’s keen to improve upon.
Your one ask of ‘Team Doncaster’
This was a simple request – “Help connect us with schools.” Nik is keen to continue with recruiting school leavers. He wants to get in early, work with secondary schools and the various academies to improve the transition of school leaver to first time employee.
When talking about the insurance world, Nik stated;
“It’s not glamorous, but perhaps that’s its failing.”
We didn’t have time to dig deeper into this statement, but I wanted to share it here, as I guess it gives us the opportunity to consider our own thoughts (and biases) when we hear someone say “I work in insurance”… what does it make you think?
Nik (and the One Call team) is one of many who are making Doncaster the best place to do business. And it’s from his story and the stories of others that ‘Team Doncaster’ hope to create a robust, prosperous Economic Strategy for our City.
Do you have a story or know of a Doncaster Leader with a story to share for #DNBusinessTalks? Get in touch here.