As part of our series about the “**Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Galen M Hair.
Galen M. Hair, Owner of Insurance Claim HQ, is a property insurance attorney. His firm operates in more than seven states including Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Georgia among others. Galen and his team have helped over 800 families rebuild their homes and businesses. He has been rated a Super Lawyers Rising Star, and voted one of National Trial Lawyers Top 100. To learn more about how Galen and his partner, Alexander Shunnarah, can help protect property from disaster, please visit: https://insuranceclaimhq.com
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started working at the age of 13. My family could not afford to pay for college, but not resigned to letting circumstances hold me back, I capitalized on my vocal talent and decided to major in opera to finance my studies through scholarships. My initial plan was to study music in preparation for a career in the field of arts but Hurricane Katrina changed everything for me. I felt drawn to the city, the people that had lost everything. After being moved by the heartache and loss experienced by New Orleans residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I joined fellow students in providing on-the-ground assistance through the Student Hurricane Network (SHN), which also led me to Tulane University Law School. I wanted to be a positive force for change for fellow Americans and help them during their difficult time. This turned out to be an experience of a lifetime and in the process I underwent change too. I gained a real world understanding of the insurance industry as it functions. It opened my eyes towards the treatment of policyholders by deep-pocketed insurance companies, who were focused on profits over people. With a few years of property damage experience after the BP oil spill I started my own firm in 2011 with a colleague. This firm quickly grew and soon cases took up most of my time, leaving little opportunity for advocacy that I was so passionate about. My prior firm earned Inc 500 and Goldman Sachs 10000 business awards, and I have been named to Super Lawyers’ Rising Stars list every year since 2016. However, throughout this period, I felt something was missing. Winning awards wasn’t what I wanted to do. I launched a new firm with fellow attorney, Alexander Shunnarah, in August 2020 — Insurance Claim HQ. I started to help clients in Louisiana and Texas by viewing their homes and assessing the issues they were having with their insurance companies when the hurricane season pummeled the Gulf States. Now we are all over the Gulf South.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Read everything! When I was a younger, more aggressive lawyer, I often would let passion get the best of me. I went to this deposition where I was just going to pummel the insurance carrier representative. I had even pulled other examples of terrible behavior. It turned out the other examples were all from a different insurance company that had literally one letter differently in their names. We ended up getting a great result, but I was beyond embarrassed. This taught me that analyzing everything is crucial. With my onground experience, I realized fairly quickly that insurance companies are not looking out for their clients. Their business model is such that they pay as little as possible to retain profits. Hence, it is difficult to fight them alone and no-one should be put in that position especially after facing devastating circumstances. Through my company, I am always trying to help my clients to get the best they deserve and hand hold them through the process.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
His name is Obie Obermark (seriously). He owned a barbecue spice company and was kind of like a father to me. Obie was over 7 feet tall. I called him the silly chili man when I was growing up. He gave me one of my first jobs chopping chicken all day. Yes, I just chopped chicken and put pieces on toothpicks. But, I got to learn. I heard him sell. I learned what it means to sell, which is essentially to identify something someone needs (whether they know it or not), fill that need in a meaningful way, and let that person know they are special. I also learned to cook, which I can single handedly credit the success of almost every relationship I have ever had.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Like I mentioned earlier, I started my company to assist others in the best way possible so that they don’t have to pick up the pieces alone. My vision was to start a firm that provides holistic services to help homeowners in rebuilding their homes and businesses in a personal way. This doesn’t really exist anywhere else. The carriers should be doing it already, but it gives us a real opportunity to excel.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I always lead from the front and I am committed to on-ground services when a disaster strikes. I direct all the resources in my capacity to the front line teams and work collaboratively with everyone involved to ensure the most appropriate assistance is provided to my clients. This works itself out in weird ways. It is a running joke that my birthday is always a work mess. I will never forget the time we had to move offices as a baby firm. We moved on my birthday and the back door of the Uhaul broke. Someone had to orchestrate this move with an open Uhaul rear door. I remember biting my nails as I hoped all that stuff didn’t fall on top of me as I walked behind it down a crowded street. Is my time better spent than walking behind a Uhaul? For sure. Does my team realize that I will do anything for them? I hope.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
If we are being candid, this work is really cool, but it is very disheartening. I have more days than I care to admit where I question whether I can get through. Keep in mind most days start and end talking to people struggling with carrier underpayments. Carrier underpayments cause homelessness, domestic violence, divorce, joblessness, and even suicide. But, the fact that I am doing everything in my capacity to help others sustains my drive. I am passionate about helping others and making sure that they are not intimidated by insurance companies.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
During challenging times, it is important to lead from the front and work closely with everyone involved. This also helps the team to stay motivated and do their best to overcome these circumstances.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The best way a leader can inspire their team is to encourage collaborative work and like I mentioned, lead from the front. As a leader when the team sees you taking initiative, they pick up on those traits and do their best. Also, don’t be afraid to be silly. Sometimes humor is exactly what the doctor ordered.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I feel the best way to communicate difficult news is to be honest with the team and the customers. At the same time it is important to also work with them to find the best possible solution and find the light at the end of the tunnel. Here is the real catch: Don’t ever be afraid to say that you have no update.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
As a leader, it is essential to anticipate any kind of problems that will come your way and it is best to always have a contingency plan in place to counter these problems. The future will always be unpredictable but one must always lead with their best foot forward and uphold your vision. Every day that goes by, we know something we didn’t know before. I bet most readers did not know how to manage an office during a pandemic back in January of 2020. Here we are. Just make plans and then adjust them as necessary. A frozen leader is not a leader.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Unconditional love. That sounds ridiculous for a workplace. But, I tell my team I care. I tell my clients that we care. I tell our vendors that we care. When things get tough, it is amazing how people that have been treated well will simply accomodate you. They will do this because you are genuine in your unconditional love for others.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Oh man, can I? So the first thing is layoffs. Never layoff too early. Things are replaceable, people are not as replaceable. You can get new bodies in the door, but you have to train them, make sure they are a personality fit, and give them time to perfect their roles.
Marketing scale backs. Do not scale back marketing efforts in turndowns unless you truly believe from a data-driven standpoint that the returns are diminishing. I get my best cases when others get scared.
Know your team. When things get difficult, owners start hiding things from their team and that only serves to disconnect them. This hurts business operations.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
The best advice is to row with the disaster. If a disaster is a river full of rapids, you want to go in the same direction the disaster is going. When something happens, don’t think about how badly it is going to hurt your business, think about how you can capitalize.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be Upfront with Your Staff — When the pandemic started we told them that money was going to be tight, but if they would fight for us, we would fight for them. The same thing when I started a new firm in August of 2020. Our turnover rate speaks for itself — zero.
- Develop Honest, Trusting Relationships with Your Customers — Loyalty cannot be bought, but it can be earned. Our cost per case is markedly lower than it has ever been because I have clients that actively go find me new clients. I don’t pay them or compensate them in any way for this. I just treat them fairly and honestly.
- Realize That There is a Person Behind Every Entity You Deal With — I am known for saying that I don’t represent claim numbers, I represent people. But that goes both ways. That means everyone I deal with — friend or foe is a real person. We try to convey that we realize that. As a result, our business relationships are stronger, our client relationships are unbreakable, and even our “enemies” grow to like us eventually.
- Money Actually Grows on Trees — More simply put, there is always a way to make money. We never sacrifice our morality to get it because there is a ton of it out there. By taking the money grows on trees approach we also encourage everyone on our team to identify entrepreneurial opportunities.
- Row With The Disaster — I cannot emphasize this enough. Every bad thing that happens leaves an opportunity to capitalize on it. Don’t fight what you cannot change — row with it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have always lived by one quote from Anne Frank: Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.
If you don’t believe that, it is hard to run a purpose driven company.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Feel free to pick up a copy of my book “Picking Up the Pieces: Surviving Your Property Damage Claim” on Amazon or check out Insurance Claim HQ on Instagram and Facebook.