“We’re not in the brick-and-mortar business, we’re in the people business.”
And have been for one hundred years—and counting. Tanner Insurance is now in its fourth generation of familial leadership. That’s quite a milestone, particularly in such a volatile industry. Still, Tanners have been underwriting Ottawans through the Great Depression, World War Two, the anything-goes Sixties, and into the tech-happy Eighties. In 1990, the company’s current head, Steven Tanner, joined its ranks. Even he has seen a lot of changes.
“Back then,” Tanner says, reflecting on his early years, “we had eight people working in Vars, Ontario (a small town with a population under 1,500). Now, we have an office in Ottawa of nearly fifty.”
Tanner spent his childhood watching his father run the business. In its own subversive way, the experience left a sizeable imprint.
“My dad was my mentor,” he explains. “I always admired him for his old-school ways; he was personable, he had a strong work ethic, and he took a genuine interest in people. His work kept him busy during the day, but he was always home for dinner––before heading off to work again. Shop talk was the norm, and the brokerage was always a big part of our lives. My mom would take payments and the home phone was used as the office phone. Clients would drop by the family home at different times for paperwork and to pay bills.”
Then, there was life on the road.
“Back then,” Tanner continues, “house visits were common. I would sit in the car and wait, believing that it would ‘only take 15 minutes.’ I quickly learned that 15 minutes turned into 20, which then turned into more. So, I started coming into the house to observe––and to get some pie.”
Steven wasn’t the only one paying such close attention. His brothers Keith and Rob were keeping a keen eye on the paterfamilias too. They ended up joining the business before Steven did.
“I was completing my college program and had an itch to travel,” Tanner fills in. “I spent some time abroad, working in the hospitality industry. When I returned home, I met the girl of my dreams. I knew it was time to settle down and start thinking about the future. I brought up the idea of joining the family business, and it was embraced with open arms.”
Tanner worked from the ground up till, just this year, he won the Broker of the Year Award from Travelers Insurance, the only Canadian candidate to be so honoured.
“It’s nice to have recognition inside your industry,” he concedes, “but that award is not exclusive to me. It belongs to the entire team that supports me. I’m beyond thankful for them, many of whom have been with the company for a long time. It’s their efforts that make the business what it is today. That said, to have been rewarded in the 100th year of Tanner Insurance makes it even more special.”
That hundred-year designation begs the question: what’s the secret to the company’s longevity?
“There is no one single secret to success,” says Tanner, “but these are the ones that have worked for Tanner Insurance: creating a safe and respectful work environment; remaining resilient against adversity; cultivating a dedicated staff; staying true to our vision for the company and using it to move forward and beyond; and having a solid foundation, built by my grandfather, Allan Tanner.
“On a professional level, success to me is shown through the growth and performance of my business, and the pride I feel in being a good corporate citizen to staff, customers, and the community. I measure professional success by achieving milestones and striving to outperform industry averages.”
On a personal level, the silver-haired Tanner measures it by the stability and contentment of his family, including a bevy of daughters who are now part of—you guessed it—Tanner Insurance. Presumably, he imbues them with more confidence than his dad jokingly instilled:
“My dad always said, ‘The first generation starts the business, the second builds it, and the third tears it down,’” Tanner laughingly recounts. “Although this was an ongoing joke in my family, there were always some high expectations to ensure that this would not be the case. To be the third generation in the family business and achieve continued success, and now, to have my daughters make up the fourth generation and to help us to achieve the 100-year milestone is very surreal. Needless to add, I am very proud to have reached it. It motivates me to continue to build.”
By Dan Lalande
Photography by Sean Sisk