Tim Starr

My Toughest Challenge

Starr

Position: Chief executive officer

Company: The Starr Group, Greenfield

What it does: Insurance and risk management for group benefits, commercial, home and auto.

Career: Tim Starr joined his father’s company, The Starr Group, in 1981 after earning a degree in risk management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Starr
Credit: Lila Aryan Photography

The challenge

Organizational changes put The Starr Group at a crossroads in 2008. The company had an opportunity to decide whether it would pursue organic growth, make acquisitions or merge with another firm.

“My eyes were open,” Starr said. “I met with a lot of people, talked with a lot of people.”

Starr kept coming back to wanting to grow organically, but knew the company would need to change its culture to attract the right people to make it happen.

“It was redefining what we wanted to be and then determining what would have to happen to do that, to build from ground up an organization that put culture first,” Starr said.

The resolution

The Starr Group first set about defining what its culture would look like and where to focus. The emphasis landed on things like employee wellness, philanthropy, continuing education and encouraging work-life balance.

“There’s been very specific work to define what we have to do,” Starr said.

The company also started to pursue awards and accolades related to workplace culture. The application process on its own helped The Starr Group improve.

“Your organization has to exemplify what they’re asking of you,” Starr said.

He would also ask to talk with companies that won awards about their success and encouraged his senior team to get involved on boards and organizations outside the company. Both strategies helped bring new ideas to The Starr Group.

A decade of focusing on culture has made for steady improvement at the company, which now has 31 employees. While the gains come little by little, Starr said they also allow The Starr Group to accelerate its growth.

“We’re able to attract people we were not able to attract two or three years ago,” he said.

The takeaway

Starr wasn’t always on the culture bandwagon, noting that as he grew up in business, people had a job and they were expected to do it.

“We didn’t talk about culture,” he said.

It took time for Starr to learn how to work on the business instead of just working in it. The transition meant he had to learn to delegate instead of getting wrapped up in his own tasks.

“I didn’t have time to think about culture in my younger years,” he said.

Now, he sees culture as central to his company’s success and is embracing millennials and the things they care about.

“Companies, if they’re not building and paying attention to this culture issue, I feel sorry for them,” he said. n

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