Donna Yother | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Donna Yother

Background:  

Donna Yother and Michelle Jacobik bought Waterford, Connecticut-based Sava Insurance Group in 1998. Yother became sole owner three years ago, heading the 14-employee company as president along with her daughters, Debbie Kane and Diana Buscetto. Kane is vice president of personal lines while Buscetto is vice president of commercial lines.

Yother, a Meriden native who lives in Niantic, began in the insurance business as a receptionist at the agency she now owns. After working four years in customer service and as an accountant manager, Yother put together the money she needed to buy her half of the business.

Known for its involvement in many community service activities, Sava’s motto is “guided by heart.”

The Mistake:

I lead with the heart and, after looking back on things, I’ll see how sometimes that wasn’t the best approach.

I’m always looking for a little bit of hope. Taking on the motto of hire slowly and fire quickly would have avoided some mistakes but it probably would have changed me and the agency in ways that I wouldn’t have liked.

Failure means you’re learning and growing. I’m a big believer in taking risks, as there are very few you can’t undo.

Failure means you’re learning and growing.

The Lesson:

Technology helps you recover faster from mistakes. It speeds up the work flow so you can do more business. We work hard and try new processes or work flows to be innovative. Some work and some, well, we can count them as mistakes but that’s OK. We keep trying to find the best people, best technology, and best processes.

The most important thing is to fail forward. Mistakes in reaching for something better are usually good mistakes to make.

Don’t change the kind of person you are. I got into the business because I love it, especially working with people. And I still love it and I don’t turn that off. If you let the business change your character then that love you have will probably disappear, too.

I’ve got a big heart. That’s been a great benefit to me both for what I get emotionally from the business as well as the monetary rewards. We got 500 referrals last year. People know that we care about them and what we do for them. We’re protecting people’s lives and assets. That registers at a smaller agency like ours where we deal with people often and every day and customer service isn’t some far-away voice on the phone.

Staffing issues are a constant lament in the insurance business. For some reasons, a lot of places can’t find enough good people. The schools have got to change. Social skills need to be worked on, not just academics. Not everyone is college-bound material. We’ll train anybody. We’re going to community colleges and more job fairs to see if we can spot those that have the right social skills.

You’d think that Connecticut would be immune because of the insurance industry’s history and culture here but it’s not so. Every industry meeting I attend, there are always discussions about staffing issues.

Don’t be afraid to remain independent. The future is local. There is more opportunity than ever locally if you’re willing to invest in people and work with people. Our door is always open and that means a lot, especially these days when many things have become impersonal.

We never want to lose touch. You can always get bigger but that doesn’t mean you’re the best.

Sava Insurance is on Twitter at @SAVAinsurance.

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