Norah Black—VP, Marketing & Communications, IBAO
Arian Ebrahimi—Managing Partner, KASE Insurance
Stanislav Kojokin—Managing Partner, KASE Insurance
Alexandra Enman—Talent & Culture Manager, KASE Insurance
Aneeza Ahmad—Client Success Manager, KASE Insurance
I first met Arian at a Young Brokers Conference a few years back. He was a charismatic, energetic broker with a big dream and a lot of passion. He’d just launched KASE Insurance with partner Stanislav and he was attending the conference to “take advantage of all the industry had to offer.”
Fast forward a few years, and KASE Insurance wins Brokerage of the Year with 10 team members and the same energy.
Fast forward through the pandemic to this interview where I hop on Zoom with Arian and Stanislav, and two of their colleagues—Talent & Culture Manager, Alex, and Account Manager, Aneeza. While the story could be about Arian and Stanislav, they want it to be about the team and the role it’s playing in their ongoing success.
“Since we won Brokerage of the Year, we’ve grown quite a bit,” says Arian. “Two of our team members have really been game changers at KASE this past year—Alex and Aneeza. As we continue to expand in the Canadian market, we’re doing it as a team. And Alex and Aneeza are a big part of that team.”
We’re proud of our growth. But we’re just getting started. Our plans are much bigger than what we’ve been able to achieve so far. They’ve always been bigger. It comes down to having the right people on the team.
It’s apparent in every interaction how much culture is at the forefront with KASE. Even Alex’s recent appointment to Talent & Culture Manager points to culture first.
“I started as Office Administrator just over a year ago and began getting into HR. Now I lead all recruitment, training and development, employee engagement and community giving,” says Alex. “We’re really trying to build a culture where everyone feels valued and aligned. We’re mostly able to do this based on the level of employee engagement we have.”
I can attest employee engagement is high based on their social feeds and this interview—not only do they have a dodgeball team, soccer team and podcast together, their enthusiasm and support for one another shines through.
“It’s honestly so much fun being part of this team. And part of this interview! I’ve been looking forward to this,” says Alex.
“We really appreciate the opportunity. I’ve been bragging about being in this magazine to anyone who will listen,” says Aneeza.
They carve out time to be together, like their recent KASEaversary where they spent the afternoon on Toronto Island to “take a step back, reconnect and make sure we’re all aligned on our goals.” And of course, document on social.
“We’ve definitely taken advantage of social media as a way to promote ourselves and promote the culture we’re building,” says Aneeza. “The key is to stay on top of trends. Everybody knows somebody who started a podcast. So what did we do? We started a podcast. It’s a great way to attract different markets and a younger generation. We want to draw new talent into the industry—social media is a great way to pursue that cohort.”
“This culture we’re building… it really comes down to making the team our focus, making sure they know we care about them,” adds Alex. “We want them to be happy, healthy and successful. We do that in a variety of ways. Recently we hosted a wellness series with a naturopathic doctor to discuss mitigating stress, boosting immune systems and acting in more mindful ways. It’s become very important we promote this kind of lifestyle if we want our team to stay healthy.”
Stanislav chimes in. “It’s a professional duty and obligation for me to share how great it is to work at KASE. I’m not trying to poach people, I’m just trying to be a nice guy.”
JUST GETTING STARTED
KASE has a great story. Co-Founders Arian and Stanislav first met in a call centre where they sat across from one another. “It was pretty uninspiring,” says Stanislav. “Which is what inspired us to start something new together. We had a vision of creating a fun workplace with a smart team. Five years ago, we started out just the two of us in a 50 square foot room. For privacy, Arian would stand in the corner facing the wall when he took phone calls. Initially we asked ourselves why we chose insurance, but we soon fell in love with it, working with so many people, so many business owners. From day one, we felt we were adding value.”
KASE won Brokerage of the Year with a team of 10. Over the course of the pandemic, they’ve added another 7. In the last three years, they’ve grown from $200,000 in revenue to $2M.
“There was a lot of luck involved from the beginning,” continues Stanislav. “We were lucky to bring a few key team members on board, including Alex and Aneeza who have made a huge difference at our company. We’ve been able to grow through the different partnerships we’ve created along the way. Our goal is to grow 35% year-over-year for the next 10 years to hit $100M in revenue. With our current team in place, I have no doubt we’ll get there.”
“We’re proud of our growth,” says Arian. “But we’re just getting started. Our plans are much bigger than what we’ve been able to achieve so far. They’ve always been bigger. And we’re right on track—it comes down to having the right people on the team.”
HIRING FOR FIT
Team is a recurring theme of the conversation, so I ask Alex how she knows it’s a good fit when it comes to hiring new team members.
“Alignment. If someone embodies our core values—drive, authenticity, integrity, innovation and fearlessness—we know they’ll be successful at KASE. People don’t need insurance experience. If they have the attributes we’re looking for, we can train them and give them what they need to be successful here.”
Arian agrees. “We want brokers if they think like us. If they want to be part of something bigger. But most of the people who’ve joined KASE come from outside the industry. We’ve become really good at bringing in people with no experience and giving them the tools to become great brokers. Anyone looking to take their career to the next level—that’s who thrives at KASE.”
“A lot of people on our team do their day job serving our clients, but then contribute in all kinds of other ways, which allows us to grow the company,” says Stanislav. “Aneeza is our Client Success Manager, but she also runs our Surety Bonds Department, which we established earlier this year. It’s another way to provide value to our Construction clients—obtaining bonding directly from us instead of having to go to another broker. We grow through our people. Everybody who joins us is ambitious and entrepreneurial and they’re counting on our growth to continue.”
Looking at KASE from the outside, it appears their culture is one of friendly but also very serious competition. I watched the KASE Hot Sauce Challenge on social between Arian and one of their Producers. It was a friendly battle that turned serious when neither wanted to give up. I died at how seriously they took it—both choking down what appeared to be unreasonably hot Fear the Reaper sauce—but maybe that’s part of what makes the KASE team so successful.
“We’re all very competitive individuals,” says Stanislav. “When we did a video challenge recently—everyone created a reel and the most viewed got a prize—there were a lot of people on the team who didn’t feel comfortable doing it. But they did it anyway to get out of their comfort zone. We don’t like being comfortable. For us to become successful and reach the goals we’ve set for ourselves, going to places we don’t have much experience in, we put ourselves out there even if we don’t want to, and see what happens. On our team, if you don’t like to swim, we throw you in the pool.”
Stanislav said I could quote him on that one.
“We’re definitely competitive, but everyone on the team’s really invested in everyone else’s success,” says Arian. “It works out for everyone in the end.”
A big part of the KASE team’s corporate culture is giving back. And even in this area they’ve found ways to make it about the team.
“We’ve been supporting Young Street Mission down the street from our office, donating $5 for every new line of business, and $10 for every cross sell,” says Alex. “But we wanted to get the team more involved, so we recently shifted the way we choose charities. Everyone on the team’s chosen a charity that means something to them in some way. Every month we draw a name randomly, and for that month we donate to that charity. It’s a great way to involve the team and give back.”
“Social responsibility has always been part of KASE, but as our company grows, we’re able to do more,” says Stanislav. “We’ve always wanted to be more than just a for-profit company and help however we can. It’s important we align our goals with giving back.”
HARD MARKET, SHMARD MARKET
“Things are still hard with today’s market. So we just keep working,” says Arian. “Somebody in another continent makes a decision that affects us here, and somehow we have to anticipate it and deal with it. It just comes down to being really creative and aggressive. And since we’ve always been like that, since everyone who joins us is like that, we’re able to navigate pretty well.”
“The hard market has allowed us to create really strong relationships with insurance companies and underwriters,” says Aneeza. “Because we’re going through these tougher times, when it comes to renewals and explaining things to clients, we go through it together and it helps make our relationship a lot stronger. When we finally have a soft market, hopefully these strong relationships will carry over to the other side.”
“A hard market is a really good thing for a company like ours because we’re in growth mode,” says Stanislav. “There are a lot of big companies having a hard time keeping up with today’s market, which means there’s much more opportunity for brokerages like us. We specialize in the hard Commercial stuff. We like to come to the table with solutions when things aren’t straightforward, when clients don’t really fit into a certain box. We just focus on what we’re offering our clients, not what insurance companies are offering them.”
BETTER THAN MORNING COFFEE
I often ask this question—nothing original here—but I come back to it for the answers and how telling they are of a brokerage’s dynamic. What gets you the most jazzed about being a broker? Asking the KASE team this question created a perfect example of their get uncomfortable motto at work.
“What gets me the most jazzed is working with amazing people and striving to make KASE the best insurance brokerage in Canada,” says Alex. “Doing whatever I can, whatever we can to make life at KASE better, knowing that everyone else wants the same thing.”
Arian asks me to repeat the question because his internet cut out and he missed it. Could I please repeat and then ask someone else to answer so he can think about it. Alex suggests he should have to go next because he said he didn’t want to.
“Fine,” says Arian. “It’s the people we work with. Some people work from home some days, some people come to the office. I might go in and Aneeza’s there, and it’s the day that Aneeza’s in the office. Or the day I get to work with Alex. Just seeing these people and having the opportunity to work with them is the best part of my job. When I work from home, it’s not as good a day as when I come to the office. Easy answer.”
“I consider myself very lucky working at KASE where we have Managing Partners like Arian and Stanislav who are so supportive of women in leadership roles,” says Aneeza. “They’ve always made a seat for me at the table. That’s what motivates me—seeing more women in leadership positions, more female CEOs, more women making the big decisions, more women of colour. To do that we need more role models for brokers entering the industry, to showcase pathways to success. I think KASE does a really good job of that and I’m grateful to be part of such an amazing team.”
“Seeing our Producers and our team do so well,” says Stanislav. “That’s what motivates me. What makes our business successful will never be the technology we implement or the new website we launch, it’s the people we have on our team. We invest everything in them. One day, people will leave KASE to become CEOs at other companies—that’s our goal. To invest everything we have into our people to make them successful.”