Brigitte Egbert keeps some words of wisdom taped to her phone, which she reads every time she makes a call: Character, not show. Effort, not talk. Action, not credit. Team, not self.
At 44, Egbert is vice president of Monarch Insurance Services Inc., one of the largest independent agencies in the Aloha State. Following its acquisition of the Bishop Insurance Agency in 2008, Monarch is the oldest agency in Hawaii. Its client base includes developers and contractors from large Asian or global firms, as well as local companies.
Judging simply on her appearance, people who don't know Egbert well might consider her haole — that is, a person of European ancestry, not Native Hawaiian. But thanks to her family's longtime presence in Hawaii, she understands what it means to be “local” and lives her life embracing many of the key values of the cultures of the islands.
She was born in Hawaii to a prominent family — not that she’ll easily bring it up in conversation. Egbert's grandfather, Malcolm MacNaughton, came to the islands after World War II as an executive with Castle & Cooke Inc., and eventually became CEO and chairman of the board of the company best known for its ownership of Dole Pineapple. Malcolm's brother, Boyd, was president of C. Brewer and Co., one of Hawaii's premier sugar companies.
“I’m Brigitte, and my last name shouldn't matter,” she says, putting her lineage aside. “It's about who I am, and what I can do.”
Entering the relationship business
Egbert's first job out of college was with a mortgage banker in Honolulu, in an unfulfilling position in which she sensed her true calling lay elsewhere. A family friend who was an agency principal recommended that she try working in insurance. “It's a great industry for a woman, especially one who is detail-oriented,” the agent told her. “Women are very knowledgeable about relationships. They understand the emotional aspects of decision-making.”
Accepting the challenge, Egbert took a job working in the claims department of Beck, Kudlich & Swartman in Honolulu, where she visited clients and met with adjusters to do claims reviews. Eventually she moved to the small business unit, where her career accelerated. Two of Egbert's senior colleagues mentored her, giving her complete responsibility for smaller accounts from start to finish — encouraging her to learn all aspects of her clients’ businesses and the specific coverage they needed. “My mentors never said, ‘You can't do this because it's a man's sport or job.’ No one put me in the ‘female’ bin. They only said, ‘look at what you can do.’”
In 1998, the principals of Beck, Kudlich & Swartman sold the business to Aon, which absorbed the staff — but Egbert found that the large corporate culture wasn't a good fit for her. In 2004 she joined Monarch, where she was given the freedom to design her own book of business, and she surrounded herself with clients who wanted a partnership.
Monarch's book is 95% commercial business, 5% personal lines; most of the agency's latter business is in support of its commercial clients. Its areas of expertise are healthcare, real estate ownership, real estate development, non-profits, education (private schools), automobile dealerships and transportation. The commercial lines that garner the most revenue are the Hospital coverage lines and ancillary Medical Professional Liability.
In the past several years Monarch has experienced considerable growth in consolidated wrap-up insurance/owner-controlled insurance programs and Cyber Liability. The latter, she adds, “is a growing exposure for most clients, given the landscape in which we all do business and store confidential information.”
While men are praised for their success, women often are judged for theirs, Egbert says, observing that she's been called “intimidating” by some men she does business with. She credits the “incredible mentors — men and women” she's had throughout her life, from sports to business, for how much she has achieved in the P&C industry thus far.
One key thing she's learned: “If you make a mistake in life, you own it, you learn from it and you move on. You don't transfer the mistake to someone else's plate so they have to deal with it.”
The Hawaiian word Kūpono describes Egbert's view of her personal interactions best. The term refers to acting with uncompromising honesty, “to be fair and just in your relationships,” she says, “to always seek the just and decent path in your dealings and decisions.”
As her father taught her early in her career, Egbert says, “Integrity is all you’ve got. Once it's gone, you can't get it back.” The Asian culture, so pervasive in Hawaii, is about practicing honor in your interactions, and that has shaped Egbert's philosophy and values. The value of one's word is particularly essential in Hawaii, where business is often still done on a handshake.
“To me, everything is about relationships — how you treat them, respect them, honor them and remain loyal,” she says. In Hawaii, Egbert explains, many relationships start with family ties, and you don't dishonor the family by dishonoring the relationship. “If you’re caught up in the present day or only think short-term, you can't address loyalty.”
A popular pastime in Hawaii is to sit down with family and friends — usually over food and drink — to “talk story.” Egbert says she's met many amazing people in her job: interesting, dynamic, intelligent, passionate community members, business leaders and others with whom she's built relationships. By learning what makes them tick, Egbert becomes more connected to the community, building stronger relationships and continuing to care for her clients.
“Everyone has a story, and they are all worth hearing,” she says. “We have an opportunity to learn and grow from all those we interact with … even the youngest of children. All we have to do is listen. The relationships I have grown and nurtured through work are some of the best gifts I have received.”
A life of balance
Egbert learned the value of team play as a child, when her mother pushed her into sports at age 8 and she found herself swimming competitively. She says she enjoyed swimming because it's a sport composed of teams, but the team's success depends on the efforts of the individuals. Participating in more organized team sports bothered Egbert, she says, because “not all team members were willing to give it their all.” She's still a competitive person, but these days the competition is against herself, in her continuing effort to improve.
As a team leader, “You have to be someone that people want to work with,” she notes. She works at making sure that people don't perceive that she's putting the same intense expectations and demands on them that she places on herself.
Moving from a large organization to an independent agency allowed Egbert a balanced lifestyle and a family, which includes her husband, Robert (a former Navy SEAL), her 8-year-old daughter, Megan Kamalani (whose middle name means “heavenly child”), and her son, Wyatt Hekili (whose middle name means “thunder” or “passion”), age 6. “Flexibility and balance help retain younger employees, especially women,” she notes.
At Monarch, which remains highly successful, life is about balance — and not all about work. “When employees are working too many hours,” Egbert says, “we see that as a problem with distribution of work.” If employees are constantly focused on the agency or their careers, that leaves too little time for balance in family life and in contributing to the community.
Charitable work is something Egbert holds dear: She is on the development board of the ’Iolani School, the private school she attended, and volunteers with the Make-a-Wish Foundation. She is currently serving as the 2016 chair of its Hawaii chapter.
Egbert is all too aware of how precious life and children are, having lost her 13-month-old daughter Rylee in a tragic accident in 2005. “I will spend the rest of my life honoring my daughter's legacy,” she says. “There's not a day that goes by that I’m not aware of how I spend my time. I’m aware of what sacrifices I make, and how I make those sacrifices.
“I believe in working because I believe in being a good role model for my children,” she adds. “I believe in raising not just children that have opportunity, but children who are good citizens and who will be good adults.”
When asked about her personal definition of success, Egbert observes that “Lots of people have the perception of me that I’m very successful, but things aren't always as they appear. Life is what you make it. Do what you can to improve yourself. Have some fire in the belly.”
She laughs, recalling the day when her daughter Megan's teacher asked her what kind of work her mother did: “My mommy wears dresses and goes to meetings,” the girl replied.
Warmed by the memory, Egbert concedes the point. “That's exactly what I do, reduced to its simplest form,” she says. “What else do I do? In those meetings, I help my clients solve problems.”
Monarch Insurance Services is a relatively small agency — about 28 people on staff — which Egbert says suits her and her clients quite well. The small size allows the employees to be a strong team or ohana (family), another strong Hawaiian value.
“I have two formidable, professional, thoughtful and loyal partners,” Egbert says: Monarch owner Mark Polivka and Vice President Rick Humphreys Jr. She's known Humphreys since grade school; the two attended competing high schools in Hawaii and they worked for large competing brokers, but they agree on what it takes to take care of clients and employees.
“I have been working closely with both of them for 13 years now,” says Egbert. “Our relationship is based on mutual trust and respect. We collaborate well together and each bring our own skill set together to make us stronger as a team.”
Senior Account Manager Dawn Young, Egbert adds, “has a wonderful wealth of knowledge, is truly dedicated to serving our clients and is a very strong team member.” Young, who also serves as Egbert's assistant, “has got my back,” she says. “She's great with clients and helps me stay on track.”
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