Brian Macias, President – Embrace Pet Insurance
Each week, we interview proven leaders from our network, to learn from their experiences, and share their Talent Attraction and Candidate Experience stories with you.
- Our mission is to promote the accomplishments of our guests
- Highlight the companies where they work and the services, and products that they offer
- Share success stories from their experiences and, most importantly
- Provide strategies for job seekers and advice to talent seeking to accelerate their careers.
Today’s guest is Brian Macias, President – Embrace Pet Insurance. In Part 1 of our chat with Brian, he shares
- the story of his career progression from the call center at Quicken Loans to his current role leading the 5th largest pet insurer in the United States
- his experiences with key mentors, their impact on his professional development, and the effects of a career catapult
- the core values and cultural identity of his team at Embrace
Summary transcript of our interview below:
Ron: Hi, everybody. Welcome to Episode 12 of the Bell Falls Search Focus on Talent video series. This is the Digital Marketing Edition. Today’s guest is a person I met through a non-profit organization that I’ve got involved with over the last few years. We’ll talk about that a little bit more towards the end of the conversation, but he and his wife started a non-profit called the Footpath Foundation. I’m a fond advocate of it. Brian Macias is with us today. He’s the President of Embrace Insurance. Brian, thank you for your time and for being here today.
Brian: Hey, Ron, thanks for having me. And by the way, thank you for all your support of the Footpath Foundation. I think it’s nice that you’re crediting me as a co-founder of it, but really it’s Mary (Macias) and Sarah Tabeling, and the two of them have just done a tremendous job and a mutual friend of ours, Jason (Tabeling), who is Sarah’s husband. Obviously, we dove right in and we want to be helpful in any way that we possibly can. But those ladies are just killing it. They’re doing such a tremendous job with the foundation. They’re serving over 500 kids every single year through outdoor and summer camp and equestrian programs. And just such a cool thing like helping mostly at risk youth, inner city, mostly Cleveland, Lorain County kids who never have these opportunities, getting them in an environment where they can develop like leadership, social emotional skills in a way that it doesn’t feel contrived. Right? They don’t know that’s what they’re doing. They’re just experiencing life as kids. And long story short, thank you. Thank you for your support. We couldn’t do that without you.
Ron: Yeah, my pleasure. It’s a great organization and no pun intended. But you’re right, you guys have built it in such a natural way for the students involved or the kids involved. It’s just been, I think, a great opportunity for Cleveland, for sure.
Brian: Well, it’s a true entrepreneurial tale. I mean, it literally started in our family sitting around saying how do we make an impact in our community? How do we do something we’re passionate about and actually help other human beings? And we went down all kinds of different paths. And that is how the Footpath Foundation came to be. It really started with the four of us brainstorming, and it’s still small today. I think they’re working off of a budget of about $250,000 a year, but they’re getting there. And that’s how all good stories start. So again, thank you for bringing it up. I’m really proud of the work that the organization has done. And again, we can’t do it without you. So thank you.
Ron: No worries. My pleasure. We’ll share a link and some access to your site, too, as well. So can you build upon my brief presentation or my brief introduction of yourself and tell everybody what your role is today and talk about Embrace Pet Insurance and kind of the niche you guys fill in the market.
Brian: Yeah, I would love to. Thank you. So as you mentioned, I’m Brian Macias. I’m the President of Embrace Pet Insurance. Embrace is a top five pet insurer. We’re located here in Cleveland, Ohio. We’ve got about 250 team members right now, of which about 60 of them are fully remote due to COVID and quarantine. And so we’re really running a hybrid workforce, from that perspective. The company is just wonderful. I mean, I’ve been in financial services my entire career, starting at Quicken Loans and being with National General and now with Embrace.
I’ve never been involved with a more fulfilling product in industry than what we do at Embrace. So we provide accident and illness insurance to pet owners for their pets. We also have a bonus product that will cover everything that doesn’t fall into that accident and illness bucket. And Embrace has been around for about 15 years, actually, not about 15 years. In October (2021), it will be the 15 year anniversary of Embrace Pet Insurance. And really tremendous founders who started Embrace, Laura Bennett being one of them, who still remains a very close friend to the organization. Just a really smart, fantastic person.
Brian: And she did a great job just with the passion she had for pets, the pet community, for team members, just creating this great organization, smart products, great culture, making it really easy for me to come in almost two years ago and take the reins. There wasn’t a lot to be rebuilt. It was just about empowering the folks around me and getting them going. And in that time, we’ve had our best year in 2020. We continue to have a wonderful year in 2021 (August). And it’s really a credit to the team. And I think it’s just a credit to the growing industry. Listen, at the end of the day, you can appreciate this: “A high tide carries all ships and a tidal wave crushes them all.”
So in our industry, we’re really fortunate to be experiencing a high tide. But the reason for that is because the product is so intuitive, it’s so good for consumers, it’s so good for veterinarians, and clearly, it’s good for the pets. So, again, bringing that full circle, it’s just what makes it so fulfilling. We’re doing good work, and I like that a lot. That’s in a nutshell.
Ron: I’m going to ask some more questions about the product and the culture you guys have built there. Before we get to that point, can you talk a little bit about your career progression? Where did you start and how did you get to becoming President of a company as successful as Embrace?
Brian: Yeah. Well, it was about 20 years. It feels weird to say that I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. I actually started in the call center at Quicken Loans as a mortgage banker, taking inbound calls, making outbound calls. Perfecting, my client interaction. When I started it, Quicken and I don’t even know that I knew how to spell the word mortgage…It had a “t” and two “g’s” in it. I had to learn that.
But I was so blessed to just be surrounded by a lot of really positive, visionary, intuitive people. I really credit that, Ron, with everything that I’m doing today. I was so fortunate to find that opportunity and to realize that all I needed to do was just get my foot in the door there. I was really fortunate enough to meet Dan Gilbert. So this is how this all went down. Mary and I were camp counselors at a place called Camp Tanooga. And Dan’s kids went to Camp Tanooga. And every year there’d be something called Family Camp, and Dan would come up with his kids. And so I had just graduated from University of Michigan. Mary still had one more year there.
Brian: And Dan says to me, this is the second summer I see him there, I really didn’t know who he was, and he wasn’t who he is today at that time. This is 2000, 2001. And he says, I thought you graduated from the University of Michigan. What are you, camp counselor? I was like, “you know, Dan, I just don’t know what I want to do. All I know is that when you get out of College, you have some qualitative skills, you have some quantitative skills. I’m pretty good with excel, and I’m curious and I’m willing to learn and do whatever someone tells me.
So I just need to find the right opportunity for me to fit in with that mindset. Right?” He said, “Listen, if you’re serious, call me on Monday and we’ll talk about an opportunity.” And at that time, Quicken Loans was just this little building, on Victor Parkway off of I 275 in Lavonia, Michigan. And again, I didn’t really know what they did because they aren’t who they are today. Right back then, it was 20 years ago. So anyways, that’s how it all started. So I got my foot in the door that way.
Brian: Then I think from there at Quicken, it was just really about endearing myself to people who I wanted to model. Those people included Richard Mandel, who was just so stoic, so intelligent, so great at empowering others and listening. Just such a great dude. He ran all of the branches that were previously called Rock Financial. So it was like the brick and mortar side of Quicken Loans. There was Patrick McInnis, who is the President, and he came from that brick and mortar side. He was just amazing with relationships. You’ll never meet a more relatable, just driven kind of guy that you’re comfortable with. And I tried to glean that from him and really get to know Patrick. That was really helpful for me. The interactions that I had with Dan, just his visionary style of driving the “isms” and the culture there, which really are everything and really recognizing some really visionary key inflection points that he made along the way.
There’s this infamous email that he basically told everybody I think was 1997 when this email went out, I think you can find it. If you searched it, it said, “stop what you’re doing. This internet thing is for real. We’re going to figure out how to use it. We’re going to figure out how eventually people will be able to go online, apply for a loan, they’ll get approved for that loan and the loan will get funded without them ever talking to a human being.” Now, Rocket Mortgage is in existence. It only took 20 plus years for that vision to come to full fruition but he saw that he really drove the vision of the company and the “isms” and the culture, Jay Farner. Jay isn’t the guy that I spent a ton of time with. He’s the current CEO now. Jay just has such a stoic but still magician type positivity and charisma about him that is just pure and good and just watching him do what he did was something that I could glean. And so long story short, I’m getting very deep into the Quicken loans piece, Ron, you can cut me off at any time but I think it was there and just recognizing all these pieces that I wanted to be able to absorb into my game as a younger person and just keep it simple, right? Just look at these people who are having immense success and who are doing it in such a good and fun and inclusive kind of way with high energy.
Brian: I want to be like these guys. I want to be like all of them, not just like one of them, but I want to take the best pieces. Don’t get me wrong, everybody has things that you don’t want to pick up from them, too, as those guys do. And as I do as well. But as I tell people, you got to ignore those pieces, pull the pieces you like, right? And so I did that.
I think the other piece to that and you and I talked about this previously is just now “career catapults.” So at Quicken, it enabled me to gain some sponsors, to build relationships with people who weren’t my direct leaders, whether it be Dan or Patrick or Bill Emerson or Jay or Richard. Especially Richard…he was so good to me. You find these people who are very senior to you. You build trust with them. You build a relationship with them. You be reliable. I think that’s the biggest piece be reliable. And then they become sponsors. They bring you and bring you into other opportunities that then become career catapults.
And so I started as a mortgage banker. I talked to Patrick. Patrick said, “hey, listen, we want to get bigger. We want to grow. We got to have a training team. Would you want to do that?” And I was like, yeah, I’ll figure that out, right? I’ve never been a trainer. I am a fairly charismatic guy. I’m good at communication. I’ll learn it. I’ll figure it out. So I jumped in and started out doing some sales coaching, both in the branches and on the website of the House of Quicken Loans, and eventually grew it into a coaching team that included a bunch of coaches and included QA people who are listening to and scoring calls.
That grew into running all of banker training at some point. Then Patrick, again a great sponsor for me, came back and said, hey, we want to really grow this affinity side of our business. We’ve got this business at the time, it was called HRBP Human Resources Benefits Program, right? And basically it was just going out and building affinity relationships with Fortune 500 companies and getting them to advertise our loans and our process and our service work to their people with a discount. I was like, yeah, I want that. I’ll figure that out. I’ll jump in and do that, right?
So it really is kind of like that trajectory of going from frontline call center guy to jumping in and doing some coaching to running a team of coaches as a team leader. Now to running a team of coaches and QA people. To them heading up all training as a VP and then making a somewhat lateral move over to VP of Affinity, or HRBP, as we called it at the time, which became Mortgage Insiders. That really, Ron, is like the most formative piece of my journey and what I continue to use to this day.
From there I left Quicken and said, I want to be like, Dan (Gilbert), I want to be entrepreneurial. I like this working in the business, but I really want to spread my wings and try to build something. And so I left Quicken in 2007 to do that. I started my own consulting company. I quickly learned that consulting is not scalable, it’s you. It’s really almost like a doctor or attorney. You’re a glamorous hourly person, right? It’s really what it is. But you’re not working, you’re not making money. And I found that the clients that I worked with only wanted to work with me. They didn’t want to work with somebody I brought into the business or put in there. And so it was hard to scale that. But I learned a ton in doing that.
I had great clients and a lot of them tied to Daniel Gilbert’s portfolio of companies. So ePrise some work with the Cleveland Cavaliers and I ended up taking a job full time with one of my clients called my insurance expert. So at that point I came in and I came in as basically the head of marketing and sales. And we grew the business tremendously. We were doing individual health insurance.
We grew to be in the top three of all distributors of individual health insurance and a top performer for Aetna and Humana and Cigna and others. We’re cranking. We went from doing like 2000 policies a year to doing 6000 a month. And we were doing it. And it was great. There were reward trips and there were bonuses and it was wonderful. And then ACA came down the pike. So this is when it was passed Obamacare / ACA. This is a really interesting thing too.
This is a great learning experience. I fully believe in the ACA. I think it was the right thing to do. Now being on the receiving end of having basically your business get tanked by it because what happened was at that point is that the commissions got cut in half on the policies that we are selling, but the marketing cost stayed the same. So basically there was no margin left in the business. This is where we learned a pivot. So he said, hey, what do we have? What are our strengths? What are our resources?
That pivot was we got a great CRM with great sales people. We have solid operations, we’ve got a good marketing operation, good partners. Could we sell life insurance? Is it close enough? And so we said, Well, let’s give it a shot. And you know what? We learned some things. So one is we learned we were very good at the selling and marketing of life insurance. What we learned on the back end was that the processing of that policy in a direct to consumer fashion, very difficult, very difficult to get people to go get the medical exam that’s required. And so the process kind of really had a big hiccup there. We ran out of cash in 2011 and enter Dan Gilbert.
At that time Rock Bridge and Camelot Ventures, that was part of their portfolio. They invested in us a few million dollars and we had burned it all by 2012 and shut the doors. That’s how it goes, man. What you learn is that most stories end in that way. And so the question that’s always asked is like, well, what did you learn? And what we learned was we didn’t know what we didn’t know in terms of being able to process that business. And for me personally, I learned that $5 million wasn’t close to enough money to really build that model out. We did not have good enough grasp on what it really took to get the job done from a processing perspective. And those were two lessons I’ll always take with me.
Listen, I’ve been rambling on, but the last piece I’ll add is that we closed the doors. I think it was like in July, and I spent the entire next month just writing letters of recommendation, going to interviews with people. So part of the thing is they opened the door Quicken loans and had open interview days because we are part of the family of companies. But I made sure to be there so that I could introduce people to the recruiters. And I think that it was valuable time spent in a valuable lesson for me and just personal responsibility. I took it hard Ron. It’s tough when you feel like I failed these people, but in the long run, they all landed on their feet, including me, in better places where they’re supposed to be. So that was a good lesson to learn through that whole experience
Ron: Based upon the way you handle it, some of them probably are in your life today in your current situation, too, or kind of found that I don’t want to say followed you to the next thing, but probably stayed in touch. And maybe you’re working together today, too.
Brian: Both are true. Listen, for me,
I don’t think that leadership is a title. I think that it’s a responsibility that you assume, and it’s something you can do without title as well.
And so it’s just always been really important to me to stay in touch with all my team members, whether current or past or whatever, and whatever I can do to help them or connect the dot or make an introduction and or if the fit is right, bring them with me. And that’s happened to all the way through to embrace where I’m at right now.
Ron: Yes. It’s always great to be that career catapult for other people, too, to use your term. Right. I mean, it worked for you. Now, the responsibility I think we all have is to do the same for others and help them through that. I know we’re a little tight on time. I want to talk about the talent pieces of this conversation. Can I ask, though? I see you on social media. I see you on LinkedIn. I think you do a very great job at promoting not only your company, but the culture that you have and the people. And it’s just I want to come work and Embrace, it just looks like a fun place to be. And you can see the smile in all of your team members faces when they’re in the pictures that you take. I love it. I think you’re a model that lots of people should follow.
Ron: Can you tell me, since we’re in the thick of this with everyone kind of working through, how are you guys handling the working situation with the pandemic?
Brian: Yeah, well, thank you. It was really kind of you to say that, you know what? We’d love to have you, so we should talk more about that. Well, I think the question that you’re asking is a good one because you’re tying in culture to how we handled the pandemic, and that’s exactly how we handled it.
I think that culture is often this elusive, non fungible term that people use and cultures and companies form, whether you’re overtly trying to create a certain culture or if you’re just ignoring it. And most of the time, if you’re ignoring it, it probably isn’t going to be something that you like.
Human beings in general, are very involved, we have a frontal lobe, but we still have this reptilian brain, too, that acts on fear and paranoia, and that’s what keeps us alive and keeps us safe.
And I think that in a “hands off” environment where you don’t have overt core values, when you don’t do everything, recruit, hire, on board, recognize, promote through those core values. If those core values aren’t defined and all over the place and everything that you do, a culture will still form, but it will often be as human nature dictates culture of fear and paranoia.
Brian: Right. And people are just naturally fearful of the company, “the man,” of these things. At Embrace, we’ve just done such a tremendous job, and I can’t even take credit for it in terms of having our very overt core values and making them a part of everything we do. And more importantly, as I always say to folks, they’re not what we do. These aren’t things that we do. This is who we are. And so when you have these core values and you empower people with them and you hold people accountable to them, you don’t have to have a lot of policies and procedures and written things like maybe the big three of the past would have. like how to wear your tie where your belt buckle is supposed to be and all these things.
Human beings are smart, they care, they work hard, they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. And so I think the key is to give them that opportunity. So long story short, well, culture is not it’s not the ping pong table that we have, although we do have one, people barely use it. It’s not the keg that we have in the office. We do have that and it’s always local brews right now. We’ve got Fat Heads in there, we’ve got Bumble Berry and we’ve got Sunshine Daydream.
It’s not even that you can bring your dogs to work right, which we do. We have cool neighborhoods. You bring your dog to work all these things. But to your point, all those things are moot in a world where everyone goes home and works from home. And so it just really reinforced that it was never about any of those things. It was about plugging people in who are customer fixated, who seek innovation, who are passionate, who have a high level of personal responsibility, who believe in giving back to the community and the environment. And those things can be done regardless of where everyone is sitting. And when you continue to empower people to live those things and be those things and reward people for those things, it becomes really fulfilling for everybody.
Stay tuned for part two…
February 2, 2022