An interview with George “Chip” Van Dusen IV, DBS Principal – President & CEO – Part One
by Laura Thompson, Director of Marketing – DBS
When 2020 began, no one could have predicted that a pandemic would completely change life as we know it. Virtually every aspect of daily life was affected and we all had to learn how to adapt to very different times. I recently had the opportunity to spend a little time with DBS Principal – President & CEO George “Chip” Van Dusen IV to find out what he learned from last year and what guides his decision making during challenging times. The following interview excerpt is Part 1 of our conversation, where he shares his reflections on how DBS was able to successfully navigate through such a difficult year. Watch for Part 2 next week to find out what he predicts for 2021 and how financial professionals can prepare for the upcoming year.
If you could choose one word to describe 2020 what would it be?
A few come to mind, but the first one that stuck the best was unprecedented: unprecedented in a thousand different ways, whether it’s business here at DBS, everyone’s home lives, some of the civil unrest that we experienced as a country, the market interest rate environment and obviously the pandemic. Never in a million years did I think we would see a year like we did last year! Unprecedented.
What were the lessons learned from this unprecedented year?
One thing that I didn’t necessarily learn in 2020 but got a good dose of practicing was patience. Because of the tumultuous year we experienced, I was really able to hone those skills.
Another big lesson is that when faced with challenge, there’s always opportunity underlying. It’s the responsibility of a leader to seek out and identify the opportunity and then create a path for the team to execute on it. At DBS, our Executive Leadership Team was presented with some challenges, so we identified the opportunity, which was that we still needed to take necessary and appropriate risk from an investment perspective. We created a path, then enabled and empowered our team members to execute. Because of this, we were able to make some significant headway on a number of initiatives that are going to position our firm extremely well for the future.
What factors help guide your decision making? What is your approach for the company?
Our strategy is not to sit and wait, or be scared, or stop, but to actually move forward even more when faced with a difficult decision. That’s why as a firm we made a great deal of investment in 2020. We invested in personnel, technology, and new distribution opportunities, all positioning our firm well for the future. These moves don’t necessarily bear any immediate fruit, but we recognized a perfect time in which we could thoughtfully and thoroughly execute on that strategy. In 2020, we laid no people off but in fact, expanded and hired more.
What is your strategy for maintaining operational resilience?
Much of our previous investment into the firm led to our preparedness for 2020. Because we had invested so strongly in technology, we had a seamless transition for our employees to move home and work remotely. We had also created a full suite of online capabilities, which enabled our advisors to conduct their business electronically. That continues today as we refine and enhance our offerings with all our carriers. As more people became concerned about their need for insurance during the pandemic, there was an increased need to complete the process online. Many of our carriers are positioning themselves ultra competitively in that space, so continue to watch for information from us on what we can offer for term insurance products, and even some permanent products from a completely electronic capability.
How does past success make DBS better prepared for the uncertainty that comes its way?
I don’t know that I would really categorize them as successes, because that sounds really boastful. I would categorize it as challenges that we were faced with where we identified opportunities and were able to implement a plan to execute on that opportunity. My partner and I (my sister Tori Van Dusen-Roos, our Chief Operations Officer and 50/50 partner) witnessed some of the challenges that our father faced as we were working alongside him in the business. His ability to identify opportunity is very similar to what Tori and I do today. We are constantly asking ourselves: What is the opportunity? How do we create a path? How do we empower those that need to execute and give them the tools or technology?
We have gone through financial crisis, other downturns in the marketplace, and numerous changes in industry rules and regulations. Even as recently as 2019, with principles based reserving and the CSO table changes, we were able to adapt to a significant change in products and pricing and create opportunity. The pandemic certainly was a new one for all of us in addition to some of the very challenging civil unrest that occurred for a variety of reasons, but in the end it was all about identifying the opportunity.
How does your work within the industry help you guide your own business?
There’s no question that industry involvement and engagement is crucial to the success of our organization. Both my sister and I, along with other executives and leaders in the company, have some level of industry engagement. Tori currently serves on the board of arguably the number one IMO in the country, LIBRA Insurance Partners. She is also on the NAILBA Board, the Association representing the brokerage end of the business. Other team members are involved on carrier advisory boards, operational committees, marketing committees, and sales distribution committees. Personally, I’m privileged to serve on the Board of Finseca, the newly created organization that was the culmination of AALU and GAMA International coming together and creating a new entity. I’m delighted to serve as its Government Affairs Committee Chair, which keeps me completely plugged in to what’s going on in the industry and in Washington. As a whole, our organization being so involved gives us an advantage and allows us to disseminate much needed information to our advisor base and distribution partners. It is a critical component of our firm and will continue to be a theme that you can expect from us.
View Part 2 here.