Name: Eric Jermyn

Age: 48

Title: President

Company: Cross Benefit Solutions

About: Works with employers large and small throughout New England with their employee benefit needs.

Website: www.crossagency.com/employee-benefits

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

My biggest challenge is hiring talent in an industry that hasn’t always been viewed as terribly sexy or interesting. But the reality is that it’s actually a very exciting industry. Technology has taken a much larger role in our business. In addition, the landscape changes daily so it’s a really exciting industry for a young professional to get into. The good news is that because of our name recognition, we have had a lot of luck hiring not only talented entry level folks, but also in the last year or so bringing in top-level known industry talent that has helped us move ahead considerably in a really competitive market.

Who has influenced you the most in business?

I have been in insurance now for 25 years, and there are a couple of folks that really stick out. I joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Maine, this was pre-Anthem, in 1994, and the president of the plan at the time was Mickey Greene. My position was in communications and public relations so I actually had a lot of interaction with Mickey and saw how a leader could effectively lead a large organization while still really being connected to employees at every level of his organization. I have always looked up to him, and I’ve thankfully had the chance to tell him.

The other person is my predecessor in this position, Mike Deschaine. About 19 years ago, I had gotten into the sales side of the business and it was suggested to me that I meet with Mike Deschaine; he was an important broker in Maine. So I met with him, and at the time the industry was pretty volatile. He said to me: “I’m glad I’m not in my early 30s just getting into this business.” And I laughed and said, “I’m only 29.” Fast forward to three years ago, Mike recruited me to replace him. And thankfully over the years, Mike did serve as a meaningful mentor to me. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my current boss, Royce Cross. In my three years working for him I have learned a great deal about how to empower employees. He’s a tremendously empowering employer and I have enjoyed working for him and learning from him.

What skills do you value in employees?

Often, if you think about your typical job interview, you have 60 minutes to sit with someone and make a determination as to whether or not they are a good fit with your organization. So the first thing I try to dig into is work ethic. It’s not always easy to get at in a 60-minute interview, but work ethic is absolutely essential. A friend of mine, who happens to be a very, very good insurance salesman, says, “I might not be the smartest guy on the block, but I’m always going to work harder than the folks around me.” I can’t stress how important work ethic is.

Also, the ability to think on your feet and the ability to carry on a conversation. If I do a job interview and someone is not able to converse clearly and effectively, that says a lot about their ability to work in an incredibly complex industry like employee benefits.

Attention to detail — we are charged with protecting our customers in an era where the potential for error has never been greater with the advent of the Affordable Care Act. The pressure that employers face in deliver benefits to their employees have never been greater and the risks are incredibly great, so attention to detail is absolutely essential in our industry.

How do you foster creativity in your employees?

It’s something I think about on a daily basis. I’m really trying to foster a culture of creativity and accountability. I hope that my employees feel empowered to take chances and come up with ideas that are outside the box a little bit. Obviously, we’re in an industry where you can’t always be too far outside the box, but we are also trying to find creative ways to help our customers contain their benefits costs. I try to empower my employees and my team members to find creative solutions that help our customers manage their benefits while staying within the bounds of state and federal law.

I’ve had employees bring to me technology solutions that they have researched on their own. Some of them turn out to be fantastic, and some of them turn out to be less so. It was a situation where an employee was looking at a challenge one of our employers was facing. Rather than asking someone else to provide the solution, they went out and found it themselves. That’s the kind of environment I am trying to foster, where folks feel empowered to go find solutions.

What’s your biggest fear?

I don’t know if it’s a fear, but the thing that causes a little lost sleep is the changing landscape of employee benefits resulting from changes in federal law or changes in the regulatory environment. The Affordable Care Act was certainly life-altering for our industry and for employers in general, particularly in the large-group space. The difficulty is we make lots and lots of adjustments to better align ourselves and our customers to comply with these changes only to face new changes down the road. Thankfully, we have a number of business partners we work with that keep us well attuned to changes in the regulatory environment.

Transparency is a buzz word that gets used over and over in the health care industry, not just the insurance side of it. Unfortunately, most people aren’t fully aware of the tools that are available to them so that they can make better-informed consumer decisions when it comes to accessing the health care system. Most folks don’t think of the cost of health care until they’re looking at the bill that was generated from the care they received, versus being better informed upfront so they can make better decisions regarding their care, whether it be seeking care from an emergency room versus seeking care from a lower-cost venue such as the doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic.

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