Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high quality outsourced bookkeeping and accounting at an affordable price. Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were previously overlooked. Protea strives to represent people from all backgrounds and provide an environment for them to grow and succeed in a setting that provides the flexibility and acceptance of who they are as people.
We selected the name Protea because it is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.
Protea Conversations in 2022 will focus on positive transformation and representation from all backgrounds. We are broadening our Conversations with the hope that these conversations will continue to create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges leaders face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.
In May of 2022 we spent time with Chet Laws, Director of Business Development, North Bay at InterWest Insurance Services, LLC. Chet is a native of San Francisco and has lived in the local area his entire life. After graduating from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, he began his insurance career with Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company as a commercial underwriter. After 12 years with Fireman’s Fund, he joined a small insurance brokerage and began his career in insurance sales and consulting. Chet joined InterWest Insurance in March 2019.
As a student of the insurance industry, Chet has obtained several insurance designations including Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and Certified Risk Manager (CRM) from The National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research. Chet maintains both Fire and Casualty, as well as Life and Health Insurance licenses.
Chet is actively involved in the business community and frequently attends events whereby he meets and mingles with business owners and leaders; always looking to promote InterWest Insurance.
A father of two adult boys and stepfather to two teenagers, Chet and his wife live in Santa Rosa, CA. Enjoying the local wines and food offerings in the area is one of Chet’s favorite things to do. Chet is an aspiring photographer in his spare time.
Tell us about your decision to go into insurance world and your journey to through your career that now finds you working at InterWest Insurance Services?
After graduating from college, it was time to find a job. I had no real idea of what I wanted to do for a living. Looking through the want ads in the newspaper, I saw that Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company was hiring credit and collections trainees. I did not really know what that was, yet I applied and was subsequently accepted. After 3 years in the collections department, I entered an underwriter training program. I learned property and then inland marine insurance. After a 9-month training, I was hired as a property underwriter in Fireman’s Fund’s San Francisco Office. After a 3-year stint in San Francisco, I was transferred to the Santa Rosa Office. Three years later, I was transferred to Home Office in Novato. After almost 3 years in Novato, I was asked to transfer back to San Francisco, and I declined to do so. This is when I began my career as an insurance broker. I worked for a small family insurance brokerage in Novato for 4 years and was mentored by a veteran insurance broker.
After 4 years and a great learning experience, I sought a larger insurance brokerage to help advance my sales career. I joined (the original) ABD Insurance in Petaluma and really grew my knowledge and skills in insurance and risk management. All the while I furthered my insurance knowledge by studying insurance and obtained my Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC), Certified Risk Manager (CRM), Associate in Risk Management (ARM) and Associate in Underwriting (AU) designations. ABD went through several mergers and ultimately became part of Wells Fargo Insurance and then USI Insurance. I realized that I was not too happy working for an extremely large, publicly traded national company, and sought a new insurance brokerage. I ran into my now boss at InterWest Insurance and talked about continuing my career with him and the InterWest Insurance team. I have been with InterWest Insurance for just over 3 years now and absolutely love it. My insurance career has been and continues to be a fruitful journey.
What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?
Now, as a veteran insurance broker, I look back at all the great insurance professionals I have been fortunate to work with and for. As a younger insurance broker coming into the industry and now as a long-time insurance broker, I understand that personal and professional relationships play a big part in the insurance buying decision. The biggest challenge I have and continue to face is that of an established relationship between prospective clients and their current insurance broker. In the insurance industry, the only way for a new client to join me and my team is for the current insurance relationship to be terminated. My challenge for each and every new opportunity is to figure out the relationship between the prospective client and their current insurance broker. This takes some detective work, local connections and intelligence and being at the right place at the right time when a prospective client has a need.
What are your short-term goals for your career and yourself?
Short-term, I plan to be in the industry for at least another 5-7 years. I am taking an active role in the education and training of new, younger insurance professionals. The mentor / coach role is one that I enjoy immensely as I can see results each day.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?
I have been told repeatedly to be patient and persistent. Oftentimes the sales process can take several years. Patience and persistence have proven to be sound advice. Good things do not necessarily happen overnight.
What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?
Our InterWest Insurance CEO says, “Trust the Process.” There truly is a process to insurance sales. Had I learned this simple truth years ago, I could have avoided the “reinventing of myself” time and time again as I sought to grow and prosper. Trust the Process is sound advice.
What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?
Rely on teamwork! I am an advocate for team selling. Insurance sales can be an individual role, yet team selling will derive results far more than those gained individually. I always talk with our sales team and highly encourage a team selling approach.
Can you share something interesting about yourself that will provide insight into who you are outside of the professional space?
My wife and I enjoy spending time together as we travel through the Sonoma and Napa communities visiting the many fabulous restaurants, wineries and breweries in the area. We both enjoy live music and can often be found at one of the local music venues enjoying music from most all genres. We also have a beehive and organic garden in our backyard. Oftentimes we are faced with hundreds of bees flying around as they do what they do in the yard as we are trying to work in the garden. It can be a fine balancing act.
As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will donate to Positive Images (https://www.posimages.org/). Positive Images is a grassroots nonprofit organization serving Sonoma County since 1990. Their LGBTQIA+ Community Center hosts multiple weekly support groups, a youth leadership development program, mentorship opportunities, an LGBTQIA+ Library, resource and referral station, and a Transformation Station. They proudly offer a warm, welcoming, and affirming environment for young people to explore their individual identities, develop leadership skills, and contribute to our collective community. Positive Images staff lead LGBTQIA+ Cultural Competency Trainings and presentations that educate the greater community focusing on human connection, compassion, and inclusion. Their goal is a community where all LGBTQIA+ people are valued, compassionate community members, creating a just society.
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