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Great culture can exist in a corporate environment – if it’s built on exceptional leadership.

Roger Abel, Managing Director, Rothbury Insurance Group, New Zealand.

I recently met the Managing Director of Rothbury Insurance Group, Roger Abel. I’d heard good things about Rothbury – it rated an 85% satisfaction score from employees in the Great Place to Work survey and achieved similar results on Glassdoor. With staff benefits like free travel insurance, $1000 per year to spend on learning and development related to the role, Southern Cross health insurance and free quality merchandise, what’s not to love?

These are nice perks, of course, but we know that lots of companies give their employees stuff. If gifts are the extent of the employee engagement strategy, then it doesn’t have much depth. As much as it’s a good start, it’s a superficial gesture and doesn’t create strong foundations for the type of employee engagement that is meaningful.

What is more interesting, and indicative of great company culture, is the structure of the workday enjoyed by the teams at Rothbury. Employees are encouraged to take breaks during the day and have a full lunch hour, away from their desks where possible. They are also encouraged not to work late or check their emails after office hours, or on time off. While there are exceptions to the rule, as at the end of the financial year, on the whole, this is the working model that is adhered to.

This standard moves beyond surface level and is getting into the details that make a significant difference in company culture: truly valuing your people and looking after them.

Rothbury shows consideration for their employees’ wellbeing, recognising it’s essential for people to have time away from their desks to rest and recharge, so that they can return ready to be productive and innovative. They demonstrate an understanding that employees are human beings who have a life outside the business – and those lives should be respected.

The culture also reflects its understanding of the value of relationships and the importance of playing as well as working together. Friday drinks and nibbles (cheese plates, no cheap snacks, here) is a weekly event and once a month the employees at and leadership team at the Auckland office, enjoy morning tea together.

This is a casual monthly meet up where everyone who is in the office gathers around a central console (with more high-quality snacks) to welcome new employees and celebrate staff birthdays, as well as other significant events. Both gatherings are a great opportunity to make connections and have some fun - an important Rothbury value.

The company values might appear somewhat generic at first glance – client focus, integrity, professionalism, passion, excellence, innovation, fun. What isn’t generic is that those values are embodied, even when it’s tough. Cyclone Gabrielle, caused devastation for many of Rothbury’s clients, particularly in Hawkes Bay. Roger Abel went down to the area and went on a tour of the region with his branch manager, so he could appreciate the extend of the damage and understand what his clients and team were dealing with.

The value of integrity came into play in supporting these clients. Some had lost their homes and livelihoods, making it necessary to make substantial claims on their insurance.

To add insult to the considerable injury suffered, some of these clients found that their insurers were not prepared to renew their policies. Abel interceded for them, advocating their right to have their homes, businesses and possession protected – and the insurers conceded.

It takes courage as well as integrity to act on your company values and demonstrates that these values have emerged from a greater depth than a mere branding exercise. The response of the insurers also shows the respect and strength of relationships Rothbury has with its business partners.

Roger Abel is confident, intelligent, and articulate, as you would expect from the managing director who has founded a successful corporate company. What is a little surprising is the degree of humility he demonstrates – not the most common trait I’ve common across in my time as a leadership development consultant. It’s clear his values and vision of creating a company that protects what matters most to Kiwis is a genuine passion.

When so many companies are cutting back on employee benefits and eroding engagement and company culture, in the fallout following the global COVID-19 pandemic, it was very encouraging to meet a leader like Roger Abel. In these challenging times, both in business and society, we need more leadership role models of this calibre. I hope his peers and those who aspire to create similar success are inspired to follow his ethical example as well as his business acumen.

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