Perhaps nobody epitomises success in their professional and personal life more than Gordon ‘Dondi’ Joseph, CEO, Director and Founder of Philinsure, the Philippines’ largest insurance broker by national presence. Having been in the job for more than 18 years, his achievements in the C-suite are matched by his global adventures, from chasing the aurora borealis in Iceland to driving from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan through the Wakhan Corridor.
In between his travels, he writes prolifically for the largest travel magazine in the Philippines, Travelife, and sits on several business and development boards in Cebu, including Sistemang Filipino, an international advocacy that teaches underprivileged children music.
It’s Philinsure, though, that captures the bulk of his attention, and Dondi has a straightforward explanation for why that is. “I work because I like to work, and I enjoy doing my work well,” he notes. “I guess this has helped in all my business and advocacy interests. Success has never been a goal for me; I’ve never chased it. I just focus on the ball and have fun in the process.”
In conversation, Dondi is candid, refusing to bow to jargon or talking points. He means what he says, stressing that though he has overseen remarkable commercial success at Philinsure, his life is more than just financial returns. “For me, success has always been about being able to create networks of like-minded people with whom I can work with in the context of business and advocacy,” he says. “Of course, with success comes the financial freedom to do the stuff I love to do, such as travelling, writing, photography, diving and advocacy, and this freedom is one of the reasons why I enjoy working. Work is what keeps me interested in everything around me. I have been in business for 38 years, and when I wake up every day, I feel like I’m just getting started.”
“Work is what keeps me interested in everything around me. I have been in business for 38 years, and when I wake up every day, I feel like I’m just getting started.”
It’s this enthusiasm that lies behind Dondi’s attitude towards business. It’s likely what drove him to leave Jardine Lloyd Thompson and start Philinsure in 2000. “That was the best professional decision I have ever made. Although the first few years were difficult, with more than a few sleepless nights, they were fun. It was an amazing experience to build a business from scratch,” he shares. Eventually, Philinsure ended up dominating the Cebu market, and expanding into Davao and Manila. Today, it’s the only insurance broker with a presence in the three major business centres in the Philippines. “If you look at our reach, we must be doing something right – and I am enjoying the ride.”
“Although the first few years were difficult … they were fun. It was an amazing experience to build a business from scratch.”
Philinsure is certainly doing something right. Dondi explains that the company experiences consistent annual growth of around 16–18% despite competition and external challenges. While that indicates increasing turnover for the business, it has motivated Dondi to consider the long-term implications of growth of this scale. “One of our major and continuing business development initiatives is introspection. We take the time to collect ourselves and reflect on our situation,” he explains.
“I am working to keep the company fresh and able to adapt to changing business conditions. The team and I need to constantly evaluate our situation with respect to our goals to decide on the way forward. I love this part of my work. Our first priority is to create and sustain a business model so that everyone in Philinsure continues to build a client-centred, not a process-centred, business. This allows us to focus on our clients and prospects. Everything in Philinsure is about building and strengthening relationships.”
“Working with Philinsure is like a roller-coaster ride. It’s a mix of highs and lows. But it’s definitely not just for sales and profits, but for building a partnership – a collaboration of ideas and fostering solidarity to affiliates, clients and the public.” – Visayan Surety & Insurance Corporation
Dondi does not consider the relative immaturity of the local insurance market as a hindrance, but rather an opportunity to leverage Philinsure’s competencies. “Our market is not generally technically sophisticated and is immature in digitalisation. There is a lack of ability to underwrite complex risks and there is zero real-time connectivity with insurers. Plus, our industry is ageing. We are simply not attracting the best and the brightest,” he notes.
“These factors create the danger of stagnation in our industry. We are not evolving fast enough for our clients whose buying habits are evolving as they grow quickly in sophistication. We need to improve overall efficiency sooner rather than later, and digitalisation is one area in need of industry focus,” he stresses.
“In the meantime, we must focus on what we do best, and that is building relationships with insurers, both business and personal, to deliver the best service we can for customers.”
Dondi does not linger too long on what he cannot fix himself. “Yes, I want the market to mature, but we can’t stop and wait for this to happen. We work to constantly evolve regardless of market weakness,” he adds. “We work to build our competencies to
a globally recognised standard so we do not have to rely on local or foreign expertise. We constantly challenge ourselves and our results demonstrate the value of focused introspection. It isn’t rocket science, it’s basic business.”
Indeed, Dondi simply focuses on working with the right building blocks to build the foundation for growth. “This constant building is a necessary process and I am very aware of this,” he says. In his time leading Philinsure, Dondi has never lacked confidence in his own and his team’s potential and this unbridled optimism is felt throughout Philinsure.In his opinion, work is just another chapter in his storied life, as important as his travel and hiking adventures, or his advocacy for governance reform in Cebu. “You can build a business with tears or you can enjoy working. I prefer the latter. It’s a choice I make every day,” he says. “Building a business is fun, and I cultivate that feeling in our Philinsure family every day.”
“You can build a business with tears or you can enjoy working. I prefer the latter; It’s a choice I make every day.”
In 2016, Arthur J. Gallagher, the fourth largest insurance broker in the world, bought into Philinsure. Since then, business and its profitability have surged. “AJG knew we were on the right track, a track that began 18 years ago,” Dondi explains. “And with a partner as strong as they are, the limits are falling away quickly. We are definitely on the most exciting track possible for a team that sees no limits.”