The SPP Spotlight: Tanya Harmon Balances Insurance, Family & Community

 

This is The SPP Spotlight, a new feature on our blog that spotlights women who have become leaders in the community, made a positive impact on people’s lives, or is a great role model for women in some way.  Our first guest is Tanya Harmon of All Insurance Inc.

Shanna Paxton Photography: Tanya, thank you for being with us. It’s a pleasure to inaugurate this feature with you.

                Tanya Harmon: I’m so excited. Thank you for selecting me.

You’re the President of All Insurance Inc. Tell us about your company.

                All Insurance Inc. is a local insurance agency that is in our profession considered an independent agent. So what that means is we’re able to represent several different agencies at once. We have represented over 15 companies for most of the existence of All Insurance. All Insurance was established by a gentleman by the name of Scotty Bruceeiger in 1972. In fact, All Insurance was located in the old Yard Birds where the Olympia Farmers Market is and that was their first office. Then my mother started working for the agency in 1978 as an insurance agent, had to leave the agency due to my father’s deployment, he was in the army. When they returned, my father retired and my mother and father purchased the agency from Scotty Bruceager in 1992. I was well on a career in the Human Resource industry and my parents called me in 2000 and asked me if I’d be interested in working in All Insurance, working my way up in the agency, and eventually purchasing it so they can eventually retire. I was not expecting that at all, I did not think insurance is where I was going to be. However, I found it intriguing, so we sat down as a family – my children, my husband, and I – and we marked all the positives & negatives and found out this path was giving us more positive as a family than my position with the Tacoma Police at the time. So, I started with All Insurance as a receptionist in 2001, making receptionist pay, and I was a receptionist for almost a year. And then my parents said it was time for me to go to schooling, so I went and became an agent and was an agent for several years. And then my parents made me an Office Manager and I worked my way up and eventually purchased the agency in 2006.

Insurance can be a confusing and off-putting product and service for many people and because of that there can be a lot of misinformation out there that preys on people’s disinterest in the matter.  What are some of the biggest misconceptions you see regarding property insurance?

                Some of the biggest misconceptions that I deal with on a daily basis are the confusion on terminology. For example, when we’re talking about Auto Insurance and someone goes to a dealership or a bank and gets a loan to purchase a vehicle, the financial industry [the bank] that provides the loan tells the person they need to have what they believe is ‘Full Coverage’. That is a HUGE miscommunication because ‘Full Coverage’ is actually, to the insurance industry, everything the insurance company offers. ‘Full Coverage’ does not just mean Comprehensive and Collision, as the financial industry describes it as, and so I constantly try to educate my clients and others with regards to that miscommunication.

Right, because it does have that implication and it’s not necessarily what people are wanting or they might not even know what that is.

Right, right. When somebody comes to me from another agent saying they have Full Coverage, I ask them, “Do you have everything the insurance agency offers or just Comprehension and Collision.” [They’ll say] “Oh I didn’t know. Oh my gosh, I do, I only have Comprehension and Collision. I thought I had everything! Full coverage.” So, therein lays the difference.  It’s terrible that so many people think they have all these coverages when they don’t.  And so, it’s important that we get that education out there.

What are a couple of the biggest things people should avoid – or stop – doing regarding their insurance?

One of the biggest things that points out to me immediately is to stop claiming small things on their Homeowner Insurance. Homeowner Insurance is designed for larger losses, so take the benefit of lower premiums by having your deductible much higher, because you’re going to be most likely surcharged – especially on a homeowner policy – just the same on a small claim as you are on a large claim, so it won’t be financially feasible for you to do that. Why give an insurance company more money than you have to (when you can) benefit from the lower premium by opting for the higher deductible? That’s something I always try to point out.

That makes sense. How did you become president of a 30-year old company? I know your parents were planning on retiring.  Talk a little bit more about that. Was it a straight-up hand-off or how did that work out for you?

                Well, I worked hard for it. (laughs) It was an extreme career change for me. I was well on my way in the Human Resource industry; I was the Human Resource Manager for Tacoma Police. And so it was a significant career change, not only industry-wise, but monetary-wise. I went from being a Human Resource Manager for a city to being a receptionist with minimum wage. I believe why my parents did that is they felt I needed to earn my way up to make sure that their decision was a smart decision, that I could prove it to them their clients were taken care of. And so they made me earn it, just like anybody else would’ve. And so I did. And I wanted to make sure, in front of the other agents that I really stood out. I put forth extra effort and did everything I could to be the best in every position than anyone else ever in this agency. So, as a receptionist I did extra to make sure that I not only met the requirements, but exceeded the requirements. When I became an agent I studied even after classes to make sure my knowledge base was as good – if not better – than senior agents in the agency to make sure that I not only took care of my clients just as good, but to earn the respect of other agents. So, I worked ten times harder.  Even at night I studied a lot about the insurance industry, read a lot of industry magazines to try to stay up on the insurance industry as a whole. And when I came up on Office Manager, I put myself through extra training to make sure that I was not only a good manager, which I knew how to do before, but that I was a good manager in the insurance industry, so I understood sales people, for example, what makes them tick. And when I became the President of the agency, I went even further and had every employee evaluated on their hot and cold buttons and what type of personality they had so I could understand the dynamics of the office to make it better. So, I worked hard to get to that position and earned it and then purchased the agency from my parents through a contractual agreement.

Was some of that work you put yourself through because of the field itself, because it can be such a precarious field and so you wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing? Or were there some other pressures that you found to go through all that and achieve as much as you did?

Very good question. It’s two-fold. Definitely because the insurance industry is changing so fast that it’s important to stay up on industry changes and be up on them to better serve your clients. You have to do that in the insurance industry, in my opinion, because it’s crazy how fast it changes. Like technology, where before we needed this huge room with these servers to do what can now be done on a tablet. But another reason was because there were people in the office who were, age-wise, senior to me, as well as my parents worked in the office.  So I had some other expectations I put on myself to do very well and to exceed and perform well.  But it’s kind of been in my genes anyway all my life.  All of my family does their best to be the best in whatever position they’re in.  So it’s been a long-term family [thing] in me to do whatever I can to be the best I can.

Okay, so you had that perfectionism in that way, you had that achievement gene in you. But also, you faced both the pressures of the field and your peers, too, to be able to legitimize yourself, as well.

Right. I also understand that nothing can be perfect and if it’s 80% there it’s okay to go ahead and launch something. (laughs) If you wait until it’s 100% you’ve lost it and are far behind the rest. So, I also stick by that 80% Rule, as I call it.

Now, you’ve also been involved in a few organizations over the years and co-founded at least one other. Tell us a little about your experience and that organization you co-founded.

The organization that I co-founded is called BRING Networking. I co-founded it with Joe Miller, Kevin Gordham, and James Davis. [ Note: Joe Miller is co-owner of Site Impressions, Kevin Gordham is a Realtor with Keller Williams, and James Davis was a financial advisor with Edward Jones] The four of us used to be very large networkers. We were in different networking organizations and the four of us just really clicked personality-wise, as well as goals and personal preferences, all those things, we just meshed really well together. So we started what we called a Mastermind group where the four of us would meet on a monthly basis and we’d focus on one of us each month. So, for example, April was Joe’s month and we would focus on how we could help Joe further his business for the entire month. And we did that every single month and we’d rotate.

What made you want to do that in the first place?

Just wanting to help each other. We all have that service personality and so we would help each other and to also help educate each other to make ourselves even more successful together. So, during the course of those meetings we decided we could do this networking better and so we took some things that we really liked from some networking groups and tweaked them with some of our own ideas and philosophies. We came up with this new networking group, BRING Networking, and launched it and it’s been a pretty huge success ever since. We’re getting calls from all over the country of chapters starting elsewhere. We have a call from Buffalo, NY and the Napa area of California and two gentlemen who visited and started a business in Las Vegas and inquired about starting a chapter down there. So, we’re really growing and really excited about that.

There are two chapters in the Thurston County area, as well.

Correct. We are launching a third chapter in Puyallup in September, so we’re really excited about that and seeing how that goes. So, the other organization that I co-founded is called Bring More Biz. It’s associated with BRING Networking with Joe Miller and myself. That’s a company where we educate and offer classes on networking, professionalism, leadership, things like that. That organization has been put on the back-burner, because BRING has really started to launch in the last five months and our focus really needs to be there.

You were born and raised in the Olympia area, correct?

Close. My father was in the army, so I was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky. We moved to Germany for a few years. Then we moved to Texas where my dad went to Sergeant Major school, so we lived in El Paso for nine months. And then his first station as Command Sergeant Major was at Fort Lewis. So, that was when I was in the second grade. I came to the Olympia area in second grade, went to Lydia Hawk Elementary and Nisqually Middle School. Then I went my freshman year at Timberline. Then my father got orders and we moved to Hawaii and I went to a Waialua High School. I was married in Hawaii to a gentleman in the Coast Guard. We moved to California and then our very first duty station was in Boston, Massachusetts. We lived in Cape Cod in a town called Falmouth for two years where I had my twins. Then he was stationed back in Seattle, so I got to come back home. Unfortunately, I got divorced.

How long was it between Hawaii and Seattle?

Let’s see… four years.

So, you stayed since then?

Correct. I’d either been in Olympia or Tacoma ever since.

What kept you in the Lacey area before working for your parents?

I love the Thurston County area. It felt like home more than any place I’ve been in throughout the United States and Germany. It’s just a wonderful community. People are very service-oriented here, which really fits who I am. The town is, even though we’re the state capital and the government is here and there are tons of people here, it feels like a small town to me.  So I really enjoy that.

Your husband is a state trooper and you just celebrated your 20th wedding anniversary. How did you meet? Did he pull you over for speeding?

(laughs) No.  I was a contract negotiator for the Washington State Patrol, as well as secretary.  I started out as a secretary for the Washington State Patrol and he was given a promotion and transferred from Seattle to Tacoma. I worked in Tacoma at the time. We became very close friends. I always told myself I’d never date anyone I worked with, but I couldn’t help myself.  After becoming such good friends for so long, I felt safe and we started dating and immediately got married four months later. Twenty years later we’re happier than we’ve ever been.  He’s been with the State Patrol for over 26 years.

Being a business owner and he being a state trooper, one might think that you’d be two Type A personalities. Is that the case?

Not at all. He’s the Type A. (laughs) Even though I have that drive… how do I describe that…?

Yeah, how do you keep from driving each other crazy with trying to overcome the other?

Good question. I don’t know. It just works. I’ve never thought of it that way before, believe it or not. We have a lot of the same interests, so I guess the drive isn’t butting heads, because our ideas, our beliefs and faith, as well as family has always meshed, so we’ve never butted heads, I guess. We’ve achieved great things together. He was Trooper of the Year for two years in a row, recently.  So, I don’t know, I guess we’ve just lifted each other up further and driven ourselves forward more positively for the community. We’ve honestly never even raised our voices to each other.

That’s remarkable.

Yeah. We communicate. We were married before and unfortunately ended up in divorces. Those relationships had the fighting and all that. When we got together we said there’s no reason for that. So, we promised each other we’d never do that. We never have.  So, it’s just really worked well.

Excellent. You also have 4 kids, now all grown up. What was it like being a mom to that many children and a business owner? They weren’t all grown up when you took on the agency, right? So, what was that like for you?

                Well, actually it bettered my ability to be a mother to the children and that was a key factor on why I started working here and left Tacoma Police. Tacoma Police did not have a Human Resources Department when I got there. And so I had to create the entire department, create all the policies. So, I was even working weekends with Tacoma Police taking a lot of time from the family. When this opportunity with All Insurance arose, we saw the opportunity of me being able to spend more time with the children, so we jumped on that. We are people that are more driven by family and time and quality in lieu of money. Obviously I was making more money with Tacoma Police than I was here.  So, we have different driving factors on what motivates us. The children said they wanted me to work with All Insurance so they could spend more time with me, which worked. I worked Monday to Friday here, 9-5:30p, I got home and studied after they went to bed. But I was home on the weekends. I was with them a lot more, so it was a much better arrangement.

As an agent you have to be available for your clients, because you never know. Accidents don’t just occur during the weekdays, they don’t schedule those. Was it hard trying to make yourself available for both your clients and your kids?

This is what’s different between an independent agency and a captive agency. In an emergent situation, the clients contact the insurance company directly and start the claims process. Once we get back into the office we get notifications of what’s happening and we contact the client and help them at that point. In a non-emergent situation, of course, they wait to talk to us before filing a claim, but it’s a little different, so I wasn’t on-call 24/7 like other agents are.

A captive agency, just to clarify, is being an agency for just one company such as State Farm or American Family Insurance, as opposed to being a broker for several companies.

Exactly.

What was one of the biggest challenges you were faced with along your journey as a female business owner?

Good question… I found no challenges that I was aware of because of my gender other than cultural differences. The only thing I found to be a challenge (is) we have a large Asian community and there are certain Asian cultures that still treat the female gender different than the male. What I found is a lot of our Asian male clients would prefer to speak with a male agent. However, I was able to overcome that by being extremely friendly to those clients, talking to them, and spending a little extra time to establish a relationship. Now they come to me comfortably. Believe it or not, that is the only challenge that I’m aware of as a female business owner.

That’s good. Over the years, who are some women you’ve looked up to, local or otherwise?

One of the biggest women I look up to is another agency owner. Her name is Claudia McClain. Claudia owns an insurance agency called McClain Insurance up in Everett. She belongs to another Mastermind group that I belong to, along with a few other agencies throughout Washington State. We meet on a quarterly basis to help each other succeed. She is an absolutely incredible inspiration. She has grown her agency with keeping the values I believe in and not losing that relationship with clients and making sure she stays community-based. She has more than succeeded. She’s an absolutely incredible woman, not only as a business person, but as a woman. She constantly gives to her community. She’s definitely a huge influence on me.

Tanya, I want to thank you again for your time. You can find Tanya Harmon at allinsurance1.com, as well as on Facebook at All Insurance One.

                Thank you.

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