22 June 2023ArticleFeature

Putting people first: Mosaic Insurance

Many companies pay lip-service to the idea of putting their employees first, but Mosaic Insurance may be one of the few that really mean it, not least by making sure all its employees are also shareholders.

Mitch Blaser and Mark Wheeler (pictured), the co-chief executives of the specialty insurer, say this is no accident.

When the two long-time colleagues and close friends began planning Mosaic, they determined early on what kind of culture they wanted the company to have.

Blaser explains: “When we thought about Mosaic with the proverbial blank piece of paper, which is a fantastic opportunity, it came down to three main areas of focus: talent, structure and technology.

“We felt that we had to be unique in all three categories, in order to put something together that took what we would consider the best bits of the insurance business structures and combined them as one.

“We had a very strong view about the alignment between the businesses we wanted to be in, and the people who had the talent and technical skills to be able to deliver. The challenge for us was to be able to deliver on that promise.

“Technology is a big part of our model, but relationships are what develops these connections,” he says. “We were fortunate in being able to attract the people we had identified who could lead these businesses and support the leaders. And we came very close to having every single person we wanted to have on the team joining us.”

Part of the reason for that success was that every employee is an owner of the company, Blaser notes.

“Every single person we hire has a share of the ownership of the company, so there’s a perfect alignment of interests in terms of what we’re all trying to achieve to help each other make the pie as big as possible and be as successful as possible.

“When you add people, you have that base, you’re like-minded in the way you think about those things.”

Wheeler adds: “The fact that everybody’s a shareholder is really critical. It’s not entirely unique—but there are few companies our size where that is the case. And it does drive a connection and the way people work together.”

People at the core

“One of the unique things about our business model and why we’re in a hurry is that we’re the only firm that makes syndicated product available in global centres around the world. Nobody else does that,” Wheeler adds.

“We’re not a managing general agent. We have a proprietary underwriting business. We have underwriting partners that allow us to create the syndicated product. There’s big market demand for that.”

Wheeler says he and Blaser recognised that if their syndicated model was to be successful, the company’s partners and clients had to have confidence in the people they were dealing with.

“Mosaic doesn’t have a culture—Mosaic is a culture, and it fuels everything we do,” says Wheeler. “It’s about the people here. The thing we’re absolutely proudest of is the people we brought together in the firm. The reason I say that is that we underwrite on behalf of others, so other people trust us to deploy their capital for them. Our team that sits right behind that is what they’re buying into ultimately.”

For jaded employees of other companies, much of this might sound like so much management-speak, but more importantly than Blaser and Wheeler’s obvious sincerity, Mosaic has the data to prove it.

Says Blaser: “Our values are to be bold, to work together and to have fun, because we want to encourage people to bring their best selves to the office, to be able to express themselves freely and to add value as a result. Diverse people coming together to make things happen is a crucial element. We want all of our people to think and be that way.”

Blaser jokes that a recent employee engagement survey was so good that he never wants to do another one, since it can’t be topped. He could be right—of the 96 percent who responded, 98 percent were proud to be a part of Mosaic and would recommend the company to their friends. Ninety-four percent understood the company’s unique business model, while 90 percent understood its strategic vision, 97 percent were motivated to perform their roles and 91 percent agreed they had visibility to leadership, which was gratifying to the co-chiefs of the 150-strong company.

Nor does the company pay lip-service to diversity, as a quick review of Mosaic’s website, which features photos of all employees, shows. Blaser notes that of his five direct reports, all in C-suite roles, three are women and two are white. Forty percent of the staff are women, a high number for an industry dominated by white men for decades.

Wheeler adds: “I’d love to say we had that as an underlying strategy. But it’s not the case; we’ve appointed on merit. But we didn’t have any pre-formed prejudices.

“We have a pretty clear view of what a ‘Mosiac person’ looks like. While everybody says their people are their most important asset, for us this really is true because that’s what sits behind the motivation of others to give us their capital.

“We distil it down to two things. One is judgement, the other is behaviour. Judgement, in essence, boils down to their experience and technical knowledge. The engagement really speaks to our model. If we don’t have people whose behaviour reflects collaboration and communication, it will be very hard to do what we’re doing successfully.”

Training values

Part of the challenge as the company grows from a startup into a global operation—Mosaic now operates across seven lines of business in seven countries—is how to maintain those values. Towards that end, the company has launched a junior development programme this spring.

Lisa Fontanetta, Mosaic’s chief of staff, explains that about 20 of the company’s newest hires, some of them recent university graduates, are now entering a two-year programme which will see them rotate through the company while also pursuing professional qualifications.

“The expectation is that at the end, they’ll have full underwriting authority, they’ve taken their courses, they’re fully trained on Mosaic and all of our products. They also have a network coming out of that,” she notes.

“Ultimately, we’d like to see that every year we’re hiring 15 to 20 people into the programme and developing our junior talent.”

Mosaic has co-CEOs, a structure that rarely survives a major conflict. But Wheeler and Blaser—known variously as “Blaze and Wheels” or “M&M”—insist it works for them. The duo has worked together since 2008, first at Bermuda-based global insurer Ironshore, then at Liberty following its 2017 acquisition of the Robert Clements-founded company. “It’s not our first rodeo,” as they like to put it.

Blaser says: “It’s part of the collaboration aspect of our culture—we represent that to our people by demonstrating that we work through problems together. It’s not as though we have an issue and say ‘okay, that’s your problem’. We’re working through these things together, to get a solution that we think has the best of what we have to offer.

“That might involve bringing in other people with expertise and helping us get to that point. Being open to it, and demonstrating collaboration helps underpin our culture. And it comes naturally for us because we’re wired in the same way,” he concludes.