Dan Abbate is a Contributor on the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston), whom you can learn more about at www.robotaton.com. He recently interviewed Rhonda Sciortino, founder of Child Welfare Insurance and author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through. Through her writing, speaking, online courses, radio show, and media appearances, she shares how others can mine the lessons out of what they’ve been through, and succeed because of them. Rhonda sold Child Welfare Insurance to Markel Insurance Company, and now serves as their Child Welfare Specialist. She is a spokesperson for Foster Care Alumni of America, Royal Family Kids, Global Center for Women and Justice, and is the chairperson for Successful Survivors Foundation.
Tell me about your firm.
Located in Southern California, our little 10-person specialty insurance agency worked exclusively with homes for abused children all over the country.
Having been in the foster care system myself, I understand the risks and realities of our clients’ work. Because of my single-minded commitment to protecting the protectors, I earned the endorsement of state and national child advocacy organizations and achieved 27% market penetration in my first 2.5 years in business. My motto was, “spend money on children, not insurance,” and that’s exactly what we did! We saved literally millions of dollars in insurance premiums annually for our clients.
Tell us about your workplace “horror story” – what happened?
The business was growing and was even more profitable than I had imagined. I set up a bonus program for staff so that everyone would share in the profit. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for my VP. The employee I trusted most was the one who cut the deepest.
Just before leaving on a business trip, my VP stole my American Express card out of my purse left on my desk while I was in the ladies room. Once I was out of town, she packed up client and prospect files, and left.
While other staff were still wondering where she was, she had charged up furnishings for a new office and a new wardrobe to set herself up to compete with me. Before I’d returned from that business trip, she had already contacted each of my clients in an effort to persuade them to move their business to her.
How were you able to solve this crisis?
Thankfully my clients were loyal and came to me immediately with the news that my former VP was trying to compete with me. I didn’t lose a single account! In fact, some people became even more supportive of my work than they had been before.
The news from Amex wasn’t as good. I was sickened as I received the statements showing the furniture and clothing she purchased using my card. The sense of betrayal I felt was devastating. I notified American Express and canceled the card. I had to wrangle with them a bit before they agreed not to hold me responsible for those charges. I hadn’t noticed that the card was missing, so I hadn’t reported it stolen.
I filed a police report and a lawsuit against the ex-employee. I won the suit but recovered nothing because she closed the business, skipped town, and was never heard from again.
What lessons, if any, do you derive from this experience?
This experience taught me many lessons, not the least of which was to never confuse a work relationship with a personal friendship.
I learned that not everyone who is “with” you is “for” you. Because I saw my work as a mission or ministry, I assumed that my co-workers felt the same way. I thought we were all working toward a good cause with the same motives–to help wounded kids who’ve already experienced too much pain.
On a practical level, I learned to organize my wallet so that anything missing is glaringly obvious. I photocopied all my credit cards so that in the event something goes missing, it’s easy to cancel the card and mitigate damage.
I learned that suing someone doesn’t necessarily reap rewards–even when you “win.” In hindsight, I think the better choice would have been for me to spend on kids the $100,000+ that I spent on suing that woman.
Do you know of other examples of such horror stories in your industry? Is this a common occurrence?
The insurance industry is a very competitive field, therefore, there are lots of similar stories of employees breaking away to compete against former employers.
I was a fool to think I was immune to this. I was sadly mistaken to think that every employee viewed the work as an important mission. I’m grateful for the ones who share my heartfelt commitment to protecting the good people and organizations that care for abused kids.
What’s the best way for someone to reach you, Rhonda, if they want to learn more about you?
Thanks so much, Rhonda, for taking the time to talk with us today. Workplace horror stories are common enough things, unfortunately, but there are definitely lessons to be learned from them to protect yourself and the business you have worked so hard to create.
Do you have an interesting workplace or employee horror story how you turned the situation around? Tell me about it! Email me at dan (at) robotaton (dot) com.