By Neil Cotiaux | Photo by Jim Baron
Working at a grocery store while attending college in her hometown of Springfield, Ohio, Riley fell into ever-deeper conversations with a couple who would come to her checkout counter each week. For Riley, who was majoring in accounting, the exchanges were an opportunity in the making — her customer was the chief financial officer of a local insurance business.
“I would remember what they had shared with me in a previous conversation, and I would ask follow-up questions. I also always remembered their names,” Riley says. “When I was getting ready to graduate, he asked me to consider working within his team.”
Riley’s entry-level position at Credit Life Insurance Company would place her on a path of steady ascent in which creating opportunities for others while advancing her own career became an art form, the techniques of which she now shares with this generation’s pool of talent.
“You can build a deeper relationship if you care about the personal things,” the perpetually energized executive, wife, and mother of two believes.
Riley’s arrival in Cleveland in the spring of 2015 provided her with an opportunity to return to Ohio after being constantly on the move.
After working in insurance underwriting in Florida, managing an Ohio manufacturing firm, growing the Nashville office of another insurance company from $100 million to $1.2 billion and assuming the presidency of First Horizon Insurance Group there, Riley joined Hylant after a chance meeting with someone from the brokerage at a charity function.
Hylant tapped the indefatigable executive to take charge of its Nashville office in 2011. After closing acquisitions, building her team, and increasing market share, Riley asked for a transfer back to Ohio to be closer to her aging parents, her children, and grandchildren. The transfer was granted but with a challenge: Riley would serve as president of both the Cleveland and Nashville operations for more than a year.
Being up in the air for a prolonged period underscored for Riley what she already knew: relationship-building is vital to getting your feet on the ground.
Told years earlier by a mentor that she had to “have a breakfast and a lunch every single day with people you don’t know,” Riley helped build her leadership brand in Cleveland by inviting each member of her staff to lunch and asking them to name the top three goals that they wanted her to accomplish.
Those goals were to build market awareness for Hylant, add new sales talent, and spur revenue growth. “I’ve been able to accomplish all of those things for them already,” Riley says as she comes to the close of her first full year in office. “My goal is to double the size of this office (in revenues) within three to five years,” she adds.
Riley, who believes that effective communication, operational transparency, and personal rapport with staff are absolutes for any C-Suite executive, is now finding even more time to converse over morning coffee or lunch with members of Cleveland’s for-profit and nonprofit communities, five days a week. It’s a two-times-a-day practice that she has engaged in for eight years. “Tell me how I can help you” is the message she says she shares.
Expanding her outreach, Hylant’s new market president has also stepped up her external presentations.
In “Networking: Beyond the Bubble,” Riley offers pointers on how to enter and work a room, use a “signature statement” that captures an attendee’s distinctive attributes, and how to leverage the attendee list both before and after a reception. “My LinkedIn is probably 3,500-people strong, and I know the majority of them personally,” she says.
Other topics that Riley speaks to include women’s leadership and gender communications.
Melanie Raese, an account executive at Travelers Insurance who invited Riley to speak at a private dinner hosted by The Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club, describes Hylant’s president as extremely approachable and down-to-earth. “She’s just full of fantastic advice for anyone,” Raese says.
At the 12-person dinner, Riley stressed the benefits of cultivating “a reciprocating relationship” with others, being well-read on business issues, and the importance of developing public speaking skills, Raese recounts. “I came home afterward and wrote a lot of notes down,” the 20/30 club director says.
As she starts her second full year, Riley and her 52-person staff will engage in additional outreach to promote the six-state insurance brokerage’s risk management, employee benefits, loss control, healthcare management, and individual and business insurance offerings to a growing number of companies, nonprofits, and individuals.
The firm will be introducing its new stand-alone cyber and technology risk practice to more clients, assist franchisors in helping franchisees to consolidate insurance coverage across multiple locations, and continue its robust employee benefits business with middle-market and large employers.
“Thirty-five percent of our business is employee benefits,” Riley notes. With workers concerned about the rising cost of healthcare, Hylant will be looking to put benefits packages in place that help clients retain key employees while recruiting new ones.
From Springfield to Orlando to Nashville to Cleveland, Kim Riley has always looked ahead, and she likes what she sees. With the Cavs’ NBA championship, a laser-beam focus on the city thanks to the RNC and the Indians’ staying power in the World Series, the “half-empty mentality” that once plagued the region is now a thing of the past, she says.
“I call it the transformation of hope,” the hard-charging Cleveland newcomer says.
For more info: hylant.com