N.C. CEO Summit: 9 questions for Jim Holmes
Sometimes businesses are born when an entrepreneur is sitting on the other side of a negotiation. Jim Holmes’ Sentinel Risk Advisors, which provides property, casualty and risk management services, is no exception. Early in his career, he discovered a weakness in the business insurance market: Many brokers were focused more on completing transactions than achieving the best results for clients. Holmes knew this was a flawed approach.
Holmes is a Smithfield native who earned a bachelor’s degree at N.C. State University and earned the certified public accountant designation. After graduation, he worked for a furniture company and insurance brokerage giant, Marsh & McLennan Cos., in Phoenix. After a couple of years, he moved back to North Carolina and led business development for a Raleigh-based brokerage for 12 years.
Holmes launched Sentinel Risk Advisors in 2013, representing clients nationwide and in 150 countries. Since then, Sentinel has opened offices across the Carolinas and built a staff of about 45 employees. In addition, Holmes has served on the UNC System Board of Governors since 2015 after being on the foundation boards of WakeMed Health & Hospitals and Wake Technical Community College.
Holmes also serves on the Executive Board of Business North Carolina magazine’s CEO Summit, held this April in Pinehurst. At this event, he will participate on a CEO panel, moderated by Heather Denny of Wells Global. Joining him will be Billie Redmond of Trademark Properties. For more information on the CEO Summit, see: businessnc.com/ceosummit.
Why did you open Sentinel?
Sentinel was born out of what I observed as a weakness within the insurance industry.
Through consolidation, things were becoming too transactional. Instead, it needed to be driven by a strong value proposition, and buffeted by intellectual capital and a world-class customer service platform. So, we sought to hire the best and the brightest, and build a service platform to compete with large and small alike, but at every interaction with every client, drive value.
How has Sentinel evolved since its founding?
Certainly, we are much different than when we started. Our talent is much deeper at every space. For instance, we have developed our loss prevention platform, our claims platform, and our thought leadership platform. Also, we have attorneys working in numerous specialty areas, and we have five offices in two states. It has been a great ride and we have had a lot of fun.
Is hiring challenging?
We are very intentional. Essentially, we run two strategies as we recruit within the industry, and out of the industry. Does it require meeting a lot of people to hire the right people? Sure, but that is part of it. We work very hard at “being out there.”
Tell us about your leadership style?
I am a big fan of hiring really smart people and getting out of their way. My job is to support what they do, not drive what they do. We come up with goals and objectives collaboratively as a firm and then I help and support.
What is your typical day like?
I believe strongly in the power of partnership. My rule is breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a prospect, a client, or a center of influence. My days, thankfully, have shifted to the things I enjoy the most. We have recently hired a talented CFO, which keeps me away from spreadsheets. I spend three-quarters of my time on the thing that I enjoy most, am best at, and derive the most value from—and that’s building relationships.
What is your main approach in client relationships?
We need to know the right solution, keep up with market changes, and give clients strong advice and council, but that is the transactional part. The value proposition we bring is to dig deep into someone’s business, spending time understanding the nuances of their enterprise and helping them structure their transactions to mitigate their risk.
Do current clients provide a lot of your prospects?
Our clients are our partners, and we are fortunate that they feel that way, too. So, yes, we do get a lot of referrals from existing clients. Our strategic partnerships—centers of influence, for instance—have also played a critical role in growing Sentinel’s brand and business. But candidly, we’ve also built the business the old-fashioned way; writing letters, getting on the phone, networking, etc.
What else sets Sentinel apart?
Several things set Sentinel apart. While most in our industry compete on how well they can place your insurance, Sentinel is working to position your business for success. At a time when other providers are moving toward automation and an impersonal service platform, Sentinel is elevating our service commitment to uncompromising standards. It’s a seismic shift in approach; from merely delivering tactics, to setting forth strategy.
What should we be paying attention to?
This is an interesting question because there is a transition occurring. In Raleigh, and I think in North Carolina in general, the “old guard” is cycling to the new. I would say that the names of yesterday will likely not be the names of tomorrow.