Vicki Warne - AIB Insurance
Alumni of TEC 35, Chaired by Jon Lindsay
The insurance industry is one that is defined by the need to find solutions to unexpected events and contingencies. It is perhaps fitting then that Vicki Warne, owner and Managing Director of AIB Insurance, is a shining example of how the best business leaders can successfully emerge from the deepest of crises.
- Rising from a personal tragedy
- Implementing a people-centric culture
- Dealing with nature's volatility
Personal tragedy and an unforgiving industry
With approximately 35 staff members in its ranks and turning over close to $40 million each year, AIB stands as one of the true giants in Australian insurance brokerage. However, over the three decades since she co-founded AIB, Vicki has not always found it easy.
She first started the business in Alice Springs in 1982 with her life and business partner, who was already working for an insurance firm. Vicki admits that at first, she "had no idea about insurance", but it didn't take long for her to learn the ropes.
Having steadily built the business up with her partner over the years, tragedy struck in 2006 when he sadly passed away, leaving Vicki to run the business alone. This came at a time when AIB was already struggling, presenting a true test to Vicki's strength and fortitude.
In addition, as anyone working in insurance will know, the industry is extremely volatile at best, with the very real possibility of the future of entire businesses changing overnight. As such, AIB can never afford to rest on its laurels, and this is something Vicki is well aware of. She cites recent natural disasters such as the 2011 Queensland floods as some of the "most challenging business events in the last few years", and something that certainly keeps her and her business on their toes.
Harnessing the power of people and relationships
There's no denying that Vicki's personal success is tied to that of the business - so just what does AIB do so differently that makes it stand out from the rest?
According to Vicki, the core of AIB's brand and operations revolves around putting people first - whether it's customers, its own staff or other stakeholders.
"Being friendly, professional, efficient and providing a prompt service is what helps us win and maintain clients," she explains.
"We've had a lot of our clients for many years, and we've got a very stable core of people who have been with the business for a long time. We focus on giving the correct service and advice - we solve problems and we try and be proactive wherever we can."
As an example of AIB's commitment to customer care, Vicki points out that employees are constantly on the road, travelling the breadth of the country to cater to clients.
"It's our job to be out there, to assist clients with their needs."
This people philosophy is one that Vicki translates to every area of the business - for instance, she defines good leadership as knowing how to "hire the best people, to train them, equip them with the best products and services and to just let them do their job".
She's also found actively interacting with other like-minded people through TEC "enormously" invaluable to her leadership development.
Recognition that eclipses all else
The successes Vicki has subsequently encountered, at both a personal and business level, are testament to the immense courage she has displayed since the tragedy. This culminated with the highly deserved Telstra Business Women's Award she picked up last year, which she won in the Queensland Business Owner category.
"It was wonderful and totally unexpected," she recalls.
"It's a very well recognised and respected award. It was an honour particularly for me because I was nominated by a fairly new business relationship [from Commonwealth Bank], so that came as an absolute pleasure and a complete surprise."
Vicki emphasises that the award means a lot to her, as the scale and profile of the Telstra awards "certainly eclipses everything else".
The merit of joining a supportive network of business leaders such as TEC also becomes clear in light of an unpredictable industry. Perhaps it can be best summed up with an excerpt from her acceptance speech as she collected her Telstra award.
"Without TEC, I wouldn't be standing here," she said.