Published June 16, 1998
Volume 6, Number 6

Creative Thinking, Community Involvement, and Keeping in Balance Adds Up to Success for Steve Tanner

Steve Tanner
Steve Tanner started out as a philosophy student and still brings creative thinking to his work.

Steve Tanner has an impressive record in business. In the 15 years since Tanner Insurance Services was founded (as Nordstrom & Tanner), the insurance brokerage firm has grown from 5 employees to over 70, and currently shows sales in excess of $70 million in premiums. 

"Our business focus is primarily in high tech," he says. "We also do a lot of manufacturers, property owners, and food-related businesses." 

There's a tremendous variety to Tanner Insurance Service's clients. When the San Diego Chargers need coverage, for instance, they call Tanner. 

Thinking Creatively
Tanner, who studied philosophy and literature in college, offers an unusual explanation for his success in the traditionally conservative insurance business: creative thinking. 

"What people are really looking for, and especially the types of clients that we have, is problem solvers," he says. "To be a good problem solver, you have to be creative." 

That creativity has been applied not only to Tanner's relationship with his clients, but also to the underwriters he represents. Convincing these insurance companies to change some of their procedures has helped create some of Tanner's greatest successes. 

"We were able to convince some insurance companies that they should cede some claims adjusting authority to us as a brokerage firm, which was almost unheard of at the time," he says. 

Tanner realized that his customers wanted to come to his company to process claims, and not to someone at an insurance company with which his clients had no previous relationship. 

"Clients want that person-to-person contact, which we provide," he says. 

It was a creative idea, but he sold the concept to the insurance companies with straightforward, bottom line logic. "There's a lot of duplication between insurance companies and insurance brokerage firms," he says. "If you eliminate the duplication, you eliminate the expense; if you eliminate the expense, you reduce the premium, simple as that." 

The change had unexpected benefits. Since Tanner's firm handled their customers' claims, they spoke to them more oftensometimes on a day to day basis. That strong relationship means clients were likely to stick with Tanner when it was time to renew their policies.

More than the Bottom Line
To Tanner, however, success is measured not only in terms of business, but also in terms of what his company can give to the community. 

"One of the things that I think is unusual here is that every employee has three community days where we pay for their time to go spend a day in the community doing something," he says. "If a parent wants to go spend a day helping a teacher in a classroom, they can do that. 

"I think that's important, especially when we have so many people here who are two-income familiesthey need to have time available to spend with their kids. It's almost heresy for me to say this as a businessman, but making a dollar isn't the end-all and be-all of everything." 

This philosophy requires Tanner to be involved in the community as well, and he is, most notably as the chair of the Tri-Valley Business Council, which he has served since 1994. 

"I think we have to have some balance in our lives, and give back to the community what we receive from the community," he says. 

Through the Business Council, he's helped in creating Crayons to Computers, the warehouse where businesses can donate surplus office supplies and equipment for use in local schools, as well as the rebirth of the Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair for students. 

It's easy to see that Tanner's philosophy works in life as well as business. 


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