Eric Herbelin is not one to stay idle. With over three decades of experience in the insurance industry, including 20 years of international leadership roles as strategist, business developer and CEO, he brings a wealth of experience in building and growing new businesses. He also brings transformational leadership to the table, guiding large organizations through periods of significant change.
Take for instance his role as CEO of Elips Life, where he built a new insurance company from the ground up with a differentiated value proposition, or later for instance, when he ventured to modernize a siloed product organization into a customer-centric, data-driven and employee-empowered business. Then, there is his role at QGel Biotech Limited, where as an MBA student he helped the organization find its product-market fit, later becoming an investor in the company and then a board member.
Through thick and thin, Herbelin has maintained that his approach to leadership and his strategies for guiding organizations through change have helped him achieve tremendous results.
He recalls when he was working for Zurich Insurance Group in 2001. As a dedicated project manager and later the head of strategic and operational planning, he helped build the global platform for large corporate clients.
Eric Herbelin excelled and as a result was later appointed to work in France, fixing legal entities and the credit rating of another unit entirely, and was responsible for producing tangible results in a short period of time.
“It was a sort of mission impossible,” says Herbelin.
“They said: Eric, this is what needs to happen and you have X days to do it. It was very result oriented, so I got the team together and said there’s one thing we’re going to do and this is what we’re going to do, and this is the time we have available.”
The result? “We did it,” says Herbelin.
At the time, it was impressive, but looking back, Herbelin says his success can be attributed to his strategies for guiding organizations through change.
Eric Herbelin took the same approach in building new business ventures and looking for opportunities to invest into new markets. While he was working for Zurich Insurance Group in 2008, he was offered the role of Global Business Development Manager and asked to help build and grow a newly formed global insurance practice within the Group. Together with the Head of the practice, he went on defining the markets and segments to focus on and articulate a value proposition. He later convinced local market leaders through influence to trust them and invest. The result: several hundreds of millions of dollars of new business produced within just a few years.
“It was a strategic decision from the group to build up this new practice but it was a bet. We had no budget and had to convince the market first and our local country operations second, for them to invest in the business and trust that we would be delivering results for them,” says Herbelin.
Eric Herbelin believes that business is all about people, and that the right people, in the right job, at the right time, with the right culture and attitude will eventually produce results.
“The ingredients to our success were our clear market focus, our passion for the business and belief in success, but more importantly the ability to be entrepreneurial and hire dedicated development underwriters in select markets,” says Herbelin.
Eric Herbelin took that same approach a few years later when he was asked to relocate to Chicago, Illinois, to build a new innovative insurance company in the U.S. that competed against some of the largest insurance companies in the world.
“We had tremendous successes in building our operations and attracting some of the best talent in the entire industry. The market was very competitive and tough but we had some good traction going for the business. Until Covid hit us all. Incumbents no longer applied technical rates throughout, underwriting margins got depressed and unexpected loss developments were to be expected. We had to take the difficult decision to stop writing new business and we had to let people go, which was very unfortunate,” says Herbelin.
In business and in any executive role, you have wins and losses, major accomplishments and sometimes even failures, but what separates a true business leader from the rest is the ability to pick yourself back up and create an intrinsic motivation within yourself and within your team to bounce back.
“I believe that we get better results that way that are more sustainable and certainly lead to better outcomes over time. So ideally. The way I lead the best is to be in a position where I create the vision and the overall direction and assemble talented people who can execute.”
Eric Herbelin says that it can be somewhat challenging when you’re tasked with leading an organization through a period of change but are not provided with the resources to make it happen.
This, according to Herbelin, is why it is so important to empower your team and the entire organization as a whole to make decisions, so that it can execute, pivot and innovate in a sometimes unforgiving and ever-changing market.
Herbelin advocates for the capacity to build teams, which are the foundation of any organization, and he maintains that while there is initial cost and time sink required to bring new members of an organization up to speed, there is long-term profitability in the end. This is especially true if you lead by empowering your team to make decisions.
“I believe in shared leadership, which means everyone in the organization needs to be a leader whether that is the CEO, the head of function or the specialist in marketing or or the customer service representative. We are all leaders in our various levels of responsibility and all have contributions to make,” says Herbelin.
There are many components to shared leadership for it to function effectively. Some of those components are the internal team environment, which is shared purpose among the team, a clear vision from top to bottom, social support, voice and cohesion.
Herbelin clearly outlines that the goal of shared leadership is much different than the old school management approach of overseeing every move of your staff. It’s also different from the typical nine to five jobs that people may have traditionally thought of.
“It’s about a vision. It’s a vision where we all join in on a mission, and rather than seeing our job as a means to live, we have fun, we get inspired and we lead.”
There are several strategies to get this to work, but with the competing demands of an executive, it can sometimes be difficult to implement and communicate the desire for such cohesion and unified purpose, let alone make it a reality.
Regardless, it’s no challenge for Herbelin who has been tasked with this goal on many occasions and draws from his previous experiences and many litmus tests. At this point it’s just pattern recognition for Herbelin to create transformational change within organizations.
Herbelin says you need to make your team feel like they belong. You need to build an environment where people can be their authentic selves and have the ability to execute on their specific tasks, using their specific strengths and skills. But this can also at times require change with people and for them to see where their best fit is, and this can at times be challenging.
“We are in charge of the business at various different levels. What that does is ensure we can trust and rely on each other,” says Herbelin. “We can complement each other’s skill sets and leverage the skills of the individual.”
This feeds perfectly into Herbelin’s next recommendation for guiding organizations through change, because it all comes down to the management and the value created by the people within the organization to affect positive change. It’s about sparking growth and taking the organization to new heights by leveraging the talent pool you’ve been privileged with.
You also need to make your team feel like owners. For leaders to take initiative and share a cohesive vision, you need to empower them with a sense of ownership. If they feel like they own the ship, they’ll do their best to make sure the ship keeps sailing.
Herbelin says it’s about aligning work goals and purpose without micromanaging. Constantly seeking input and ways to get things done and to be better always is at the heart of any transformational strategy at the executive level.
Ultimately, it’s also about differentiating your business through the service that it provides.
“I would argue the only way to differentiate and sustain a business is through service. You need to understand what the expectations of your customers are, how they are being served and what the gaps are.”
Eric Herbelin says that in sharing this information with audiences, he’s more concerned about how organizations should be driving change deliberately so that it has a net positive effect on the organization as a whole, rather than how organizations can coast through periods of change and survive.
For Herbelin, change is a period of immense opportunity to grow, to get better, to align your team and to tailor your services in a way that maximizes customer satisfaction without sacrificing the integrity of the organization and its growth trajectory.
It’s also not just about business. He welcomes change in his personal life as well and is constantly searching for new opportunities to grow. Never short of ideas, Herbelin is looking forward to new projects on the horizon and the challenges that come with them.
“My role has always been about setting ambition and direction, and I have a duty to maintain that responsibility.”