Q&A with Jon Schubert, CEO, ICBC

Our profile of Jon Schubert for the 2011 Top 100 Companies in B.C.

Coming from Saskatchewan, where he headed Saskatchewan Government Insurance, 52-year-old Jon Schubert arrived just after one big Vancouver storm and just before another. The first: the ICBC “chop-shop” scandal, which broke in February 2008. The second: the most severe winter on the West Coast in a generation.

Now that you’ve had a taste of Vancouver winter, are you ready to cry uncle?

Ha! You know, we used to snicker when they said it was snowing in Vancouver. But now that I’m here, it’s not so funny anymore. It doesn’t get down to the same depths of depravity as Saskatchewan’s, of course, but it’s very difficult with the hills, and it’s a different kind of snow.

Considering the “chop-shop” scandal and the abrupt departure of your predecessor, Paul Taylor, it’s hard to rank 2008 as ICBC’s finest year. What’s your mood as you take over?

The company, financially, is in very good shape. It really does some things very well: the financial responsibility, the way that the underwriting is done, the actuarial, the investment income. Some of the processes in it are extremely good, and I’m quite impressed with that.

And how would you rate the morale among ICBC employees right now?

It could be much better, and that’s something that we’re working hard on: employee engagement. I think we have to do a better job of listening to what our employees are telling us about the way they work. One thing I’ve found is that the computer systems we have are very antiquated: most of them were built in the 1970s. For example, I’m walking around in our Victoria licensing office and one of our people is photographing traffic tickets and then putting it onto microfiche. Terrible! And when the machine breaks down, we buy parts off eBay.

Do you think ICBC is perceived well in the community?

Here is another area I think we need to work on. When we have a transaction with a customer – whether it’s licensing or buying insurance or a claim – we get good marks on that. But I’m not sure that our customers value us. I think we need to build on trust and work hard to become more customer focused. We have to be more outward looking. We have to. There are 5,000 people at ICBC that want to do the right thing, and I think we have to do a better job of showing how we care and try to simplify some of the things that we do – really show the value of the place.

If your goal for 2009 is to sharpen up your customer focus, how will you measure your success?

We take informal surveys of customer satisfaction. But one of our VPs puts it best, and he calls it the “barbecue score.” You know, you go to a barbecue and people ask where you work, and you say “ICBC.” What you hope they say is, “You’re doing a good job – keep it up.”

And how do you think your barbecue score is now?

As I said, when customers interact with us on a transaction, I think we’re pretty good. But I’m not sure that they really see the value for the price that they’re paying for the services we provide. And I think we have to be more responsive to that.

Some members of your executive team were added late during Taylor’s tenure or in the six-month interim. Do you feel you have the executive team you want, going forward?

They’re excellent. I’m very pleased with the people. They’re a talented group.

Do you remember your first car?

I do. It was a 1969 Chevelle and I bought it for $900. It was a sad day when I sold it. I remember the guy offered me a hundred bucks for it and I said, “There’s no way.” So he said, “One-oh-five,” and I said, “Deal.”

Your negotiating skills have got better since then, I hope.

Well, I’m not sure it was worth $100, so actually I did all right.