Gideon Galloway is the CEO of King Price Insurance, the first (and only) insurer in South Africa brave enough to offer decreasing premiums. Before this, he worked with brands like Auto & General, Budget Insurance, Dialdirect, and 1LifeDirect, and also founded the successful insurance aggregator, Hippo. This is a summary of an interview by Ziwani’s Gwenda le Grange for the VUCA series – you can watch the full video here.
GLG: You’re known as the CEO of the company that turned insurance on its head, but few people know the story of how King Price came into being. Can you perhaps share where it all started?
GG: Well, I was young and enthusiastic. I wanted to change the world, and I had so many ideas of doing things differently. For example, why does the premium go up if the value of an asset depreciates? If a car loses value every year, shouldn’t its insurance get cheaper? In the corporate environment I was in, however, it would take five years for a new idea to gain traction. So I became frustrated and thought: “Life is short, take a chance, do it on your own.”
GLG: One of the things that stands out from your story is that you’re an ‘out-of-the-box’ thinker. Is that what it means to be creative in the business context?
GG: In order to understand creativity, it helps me to think of what creativity is not. No-one would say bureaucracy is creative. Being slow in responding to change is not creative. In contrast, in any start-up, people are entrepeneurial and they adapt quickly. So some management styles encourage creativity and give people the freedom to flourish. Other management styles stifle creativity.
When you launch a start-up, you are forced to work with what (and who) you have. You simply have to find a way forward through all the challenges, and that attitude creates a breeding ground for creativity. This includes drawing out the full potential of every employee who has bought into your idea, because not everybody wants to join your high risk company at half the market-related salary.
GLG: How important is creativity for thriving in a VUCA world?
GG: Nowadays, organisations have to adapt really quickly to changes in the market. So it’s essential to be able to move with the market, and change your plans as you go along. Many people think they need this one big idea or product – that that is creative thinking.
But I think being creative is being streetwise – having the right experience, knowledge and attitude to deal with the difficulties in your environment. Quick decision-making is a valuable skill, and part of creative thinking. You need to lead your team to not sit on a project forever.
GLG: Being creative is one thing, but cultivating a culture of creativity is quite another. How do you do this?
GG: As King Price grows into a bigger and bigger company, the more rules there are. There has to be. But I fight that continuously, asking: “How did we start? How can we make work fun?” If you can keep a culture of freedom, you can get the best out of your employees. I want to reiterate this – the only way to cultivate a culture of creativity is having as few rules as possible, as little corporate structure and hierarchy as possible.
You need to embrace a youthful spirit. Remember, young people are attracted to this in a company, and you need young people to survive. You want to attract employees who want to give their skills and energy to help the company wherever it needs to go, but you can’t make anybody do that. They must decide that for themselves. So the aim is to make it attractive for them to buy into the vision, and own their decision.
Allow employees a bit of freedom, take a step back, and allow things to progess while shaping it with a light touch. If you’ve eliminated all risk out of your plans, you’ve probably brainstormed it to death, and you shouldn’t be doing it, because then anybody else can do it. Companies tend to overthink things. I’m not saying: “Be a cowboy and go and do whatever you like.” I know through personal experience what it means to fail in business, and I know the cost of failure. But you have try, and you have to take a few risks.
No-one knows for certain what the future holds. Take artists for example. A painter paints a painting or a performer writes a song, and they don’t know how it will be received until they launch it. Every time they hold a new exhibition or release a new album, they’re almost putting their whole career on a line. And yet that is the only way to go forward.
GLG: You’ve been quoted as saying that you believe in ‘lower premiums and a higher purpose’. How do you link these two things?
GG: King Price is not a niche insurer – it is there for the mass market. And price is king in this market, so we always try to design and deliver our products as cost-effective as possible. At the same time, I want to help people find their passion in this life (and the next), so being a businessman for God is my purpose.
Our shareholders feel the same about King Price – the business is there to make a difference in South Africa. As shareholders we are all aligned that we’re here for a higher purpose – we want to make the world a better place. So King Price is a kingdom business, and every employee knows that. That’s why we embrace everybody’s creativity – to see the world through various perspectives. I really believe that by doing that, you can make a bigger impact in this world.