When Tim Noble took over as president of Hortica at the beginning of the year, it marked a significant change in company leadership. He succeeded Mona Haberer, who retired after a 30-year career. Noble, who joined Sentry, Hortica’s parent company, in 2011, brought with him a wealth of experience in insurance, a personal connection to family businesses — and a desire to get up to speed, fast, on the floral industry.
As part of a new series where we discuss industry issues with leading executives, E-Brief editors recently talked to Noble about what he’s learned during his first few months on the job, including the key opportunities he sees for Hortica and the industry; the challenge of insuring horticulture companies moving into the cannabis space; and his plans for strategic growth.
E-Brief: Now that you’ve been in the job for a few months, can you share a little about what you’ve learned so far? What’s surprised you?
Tim Noble: I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know my team in Edwardsville, Illinois, where we have about 110 employees, along with our salespeople all around the country. I’m still new to this group. So, I’m listening a lot. Hortica has a long history and I want to tap into the expertise of our team as I learn about and try to understand the different dynamics of our diverse customer base. I’ve also been meeting with customers. One thing that’s impressed me is that our team recognizes that we are part of this industry. When our customers are successful, we’re successful. I think you can see an example of that in action when it comes to, for instance, scheduling payment plans around businesses that are very cyclical in nature, with busy and slower periods that need to be worked around. I’ve also been impressed with how many longtime family-run businesses are in our industry. That’s a wonderful thing.
EB: You have some personal experience in family businesses yourself.
TN: I grew up in Mount Carroll, Illinois, a really small town that’s about two hours from Chicago. My great-grandfather, grandfather and then father ran a small, local grocery store. It was a great thing and something I take pride in; it allowed my dad to put five kids through college. I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1986 and got a job as an underwriting assistant in Minnesota. I’ve been in the insurance industry ever since.
EB: Hortica has a long history in the industry. The company started in 1887 and signed its affiliation agreement with Sentry in 2015. What do you see as the major challenges and opportunities for Hortica?
TN: Our biggest challenge is continuing to grow our book, meaning our overall premium, while doing it in a way that allows us to generate a profit. Growth for growth’s sake, without profitability, isn’t sustainable. We’re on the right path, but we need to be diligent and make the best decisions in the interest of our customers and our business. A newer, more specific challenge for us involves cannabis. As more states legalize production, more companies are interested in producing these products, but until and unless federal laws change, we can’t provide coverage. We’re not against this production, and I’d like for us to be in a position to provide the needed protection for these growers, but that just can’t happen until there is broader agreement on the federal level.
EB: What about the overall floral industry? What challenges are your customer facing?
TN: The big one I hear about is workforce development and availability of a reliable labor pool. For these businesses to be successful, they need to be able to tap into and have a quality workforce. That’s a challenge right now and that challenge affects their ability to grow and change. Another challenge is the increasing popularity of online sales. I think people are really wrestling with that new business dynamic and how to better engage and flourish. It’s a challenge for us, too. People also want to buy insurance online.
EB: Is there a misconception about insurance that you’d like to clear up?
TN: Price isn’t always king. It’s important. I understand that. But I think it’s also important for people to understand the true value of what they’re buying — the service and claims expertise that comes with it. In many cases, a value option comes with its own costs: When something unexpected happens, you want to be sure your carrier is ready to step up and help.
Mary Westbrook is the editor in chief of Floral Management magazine