The Colorado Springs Business Journal will welcome Matt Coleman, president of HUB International in Colorado, at the Journal’s COS CEO Leadership Lessons event, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. May 10 at The Mining Exchange. Coleman will share his thoughts on leadership and how he translated his military experience into business acumen.
Following is a Q&A the Journal conducted with Coleman for the event.
Matt Coleman is not who you would expect to be the president of HUB International in Colorado, one of the largest insurance brokers in the country with more than 400 offices in North America.
Coleman didn’t start working in the insurance industry until after his first career as a nuclear engineer in the Navy.
After military service, Coleman took over his dad’s insurance company, Coleman Bennett Shellenberger Insurance, in Colorado Springs in 1987 and became president of the company in 1992. Two years later, his dad, Norm Coleman, passed away, and Coleman eventually moved through several different insurance companies until he was recruited as the president of HUB in 2009 to oversee the Colorado offices.
He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Luisa Graff, owner of Luisa Graff Jewelers. Together the two have five kids and seven grandchildren.
Coleman operates the company out of both Denver and Colorado Springs, and is an advocate for his fundamental values: integrity, honesty and trust.
Did you know you were going to take over your father’s business?
Absolutely not. It’s a well-known joke inside the insurance industry that 99 percent of us were backed into the industry somehow. With no data, I would say the vast majority of kids are not thinking about going into the insurance business — that means they’re normal. I was privileged to be in the Navy. My specialty was nuclear power, nuclear engineering, I just finished a master’s degree in nuclear engineering … and I was intent on staying in the Navy or maybe pursuing a nuclear engineering degree. In the middle of graduate school was when the Chernobyl disaster happened and that was a major event for me personally because my thesis adviser said, ‘There will not be another nuclear power plant built in the United States in your lifetime. Go do something else.’
How has your leadership style evolved?
I’m a lot more mature in my business judgments. You learn from your mistakes — I’ve made lots of mistakes. I’m a much better listener today than I was 30 years ago. I have high expectations, but I’m more patient. My father had a great phrase: ‘Make haste slowly.’ That was a cautionary way to say, ‘When you think you’ve got it all figured out, you’re running real fast and you plunge your way through the wall, you may miss a lot of the peripheral issues. You may have not thoughtfully considered what you’re going to do.’
What are some of the most difficult challenges you’ve faced as a leader?
The family business I took over after my father passed away was financially distraught. Those were hard, hard times. At that time in my life, I’d come back, but not too long after leaving the Navy, was divorced. Through an unusual set of circumstances, I became a single parent. So I had three small kids and I was inheriting a family business that was financially under water in an industry I did not fully understand. Those were tough days — but they were also a chance to learn.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Paradoxically it starts with having the challenges, whether you’re raising kids, whether you’re trying to succeed in business or plowing your way through graduate school. A regular diet of challenging yourself — sometimes that’s intentional, sometimes life happens — is what develops persistence, focus, understanding and a confidence that the issues and challenges of the day are not going to overcome you. You learn when you’ve been doing it long enough that the event of the week that you think is terrible … is not going to blow up your career, it’s not going to blow up your family, it’s not going to overcome [you] — you gotta keep putting one foot in front of the other and get through it.
How would you define success?
Having confidence you really made a positive difference in other people’s lives. It’s not a financial definition at all. In business we have lots of financial metrics … but I think it’s more [about] making a difference. That sounds warm and fuzzy, but it shows up in many different ways. I always relate this to what we do in business when we get into dry, boring subjects like what our target budget [is], and I make the point of saying, ‘It’s not about the numbers on the page,’ it’s about, ‘This is our commitment to an organization and to the degree we exceed that.’
What advice would you give to other CEOs?
I’m not passionate about insurance. Insurance is a vehicle. It happens to be the business I’m in. If you’re going to be in something then, darn it, be good at it! The passion is around the people and the business. When you’re on a team, if you’re not all in, people are going to know that, they’re going to sense it very quickly — you have to be committed. If you’re not, you kind of need to look in the mirror and say, ‘You need to do something else.’ Because it’s not fair to yourself, but more importantly, it’s not fair to the people who are trusting you.