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BerkleyNet finds the secret to attracting and keeping talent — make them feel valued

Editors note: This sponsored post is the first in a monthly series written by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Potomac Local.

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY — An insurance company headquartered in Prince William County encourages young professionals to write on the walls.

This is not your typical coverage provider.

Started in a warehouse in Manassas in 2006, tech firm BerkleyNet is a leader in forward-thinking business growth in Prince William County. BerkleyNet is a member company of W. R. Berkley Corporation, a Fortune 500 company.

Headquartered in Innovation Technology Park in Prince William County, their business is entirely online, a unique concept for a firm that provides workers compensation insurance.

In just 11 years they have grown from six to over 200 employees. The majority are headquartered in Prince William County, with satellite offices in places like Minneapolis, Nashville, Tenn. and Las Vegas.

John Goldwater, BerkleyNet’s former President, and CEO, has gone on to become an Executive Vice President of W. R. Berkley Corporation. Five founding employees remain on BerkleyNet’s senior leadership team.

The most unique aspect of their business growth? They hire curious problem-solvers, encourage ownership and invest in their employees.
It has allowed the company to maintain their highly coveted population of talented employees.

Attracting and retaining young professionals

Prince William County features a highly educated and younger than average workforce, according to Prince William County Economic Development. The median age of a BerkleyNet team member in the Manassas office is about 27.

Their human resources department focuses much of their efforts on college recruiting, partnering with local universities to discover talent. It helps that the Science and Technology Campus of George Mason University is across the street.

Hiring young people right out of college means being able to grow and develop employees into the company culture. That includes a casual dress code, a focus on maintaining work-life balance and instilling a sense of ownership.

BerkleyNet encourages communication and ownership across the whole organization. Even their offices are designed that way, as cubicles and meeting spaces have dry erase walls to better share ideas.

Teams are mixed, so there’s no “claims floor,” or an “IT floor” commonly found in other insurance operations. When the president of the company walks down the hall, even the newest employees know that they can say “hello” or share an idea and that that kind of communication will be well-received.

When hiring, BerkleyNet focuses on finding curious, highly-motivated individuals. Many new hires have little to no insurance-specific experience but possess a broad range of skills that can be applied to the company’s needs.

“We can teach them the insurance side of things,” said BerkleyNet AVP of Human
Resources Maria Liappis. “But you can’t teach some of the innate qualities we look for in an employee.”

Once hired, employees are expected to “own” their work, ideas and time. That includes finding unique ways to balance the requirements of their personal lives with their responsibilities at BerkleyNet.

BerkleyNet Marketing and Brand Manager McKenzie Holmes noted that when she had her first baby, her company was accommodating.

“BerkleyNet allowed me the flexibility to get the job done in a way that worked for me.
You don’t see that in a lot of organizations,” said Holmes.

Holmes has been with the company for over four years.

Ownership in the Workplace

The word “ownership” is tossed around quite a bit at BerkleyNet. According to Claims Manager Natasha Sumter, that means that some of their best projects and ideas have come from employees, and the same workers are challenged to then identify the potential impacts and see things through.

“Today’s workforce feels a strong need to own things. Whether that’s being an important part of a project team or restocking the coffee because you notice it’s getting low, everyone here is empowered to do what is necessary without having to navigate unnecessary bureaucracy,” said Sumter.

That culture of ownership extends to team-building activities, many of which are not planned by the human resources or marketing teams.

Earlier this year a group of employees planned a kickball tournament. About 60 co-workers participated. On a recent “Bring-Your-Own-Meat-Friday,” a grill is provided for employee use– a small group engaged in a steak-eating contest. The winner ate two pounds of red meat.

Activities like this solidify the team environment that allows BerkleyNet to better able to ride out the ebbs and flows of business growth—a key factor in maintaining a strong and committed workforce.

By cultivating a sense of ownership in their team, combined with the freedom to make work fun, BerkleyNet hopes to retain their workers long-term. Many referrals to fill open positions come from within.

Likewise, employees are encouraged to make lateral moves within the company. While they may start in one department, their strengths and skill sets may lead them into a different part of the organization.

“There’s a very real sense around here that our senior leadership has been where we are now,” said Natasha, who’s worked for the company for more than five years. “Everyone unloads the dishwasher in the break room. Everyone makes the coffee.”

Investing in your workers

BerkleyNet also strives to invest in their people in unconventional ways.
When they outgrew their Woodbridge headquarters, the team strategically looked for a new location that would be centrally located for their team while providing many nearby amenities in an up and coming area. They landed on Innovation Technology Park and moved in earlier this spring.

Unlike other insurance providers, there is no traditional call center at BerkleyNet. Instead, the product management team spends part of their day answering the phones to handle customer issues and questions. The remainder of the day is utilized for other aspects of the business so that they will learn and grow professionally.

According to Liappis, this type of cross training allows BerkleyNet to run a lean and efficient operation that is focused on flexibility, no matter the business climate.

“To us, part of our success is being able to respond to a variety of opportunities in the market because we already have the right team in place,” she said.

She also noted that their hiring practices are atypical, choosing not to hire just because there is a job opening.

“If we find great talent, we figure out a way to add them,” she added.

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