Driving Leadership, Chris Mason


Bill Bethel had the pleasure of talking with Chris Mason, President of OneGroup during the pandemic on an audio podcast. Now they got to meet for a drive on this episode of Driving Leadership where they chat about leadership lessons from an auto accident, leading through growth and change and just having a really great conversation about leadership and business in Central New York!


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*Note: The following text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors



Bill Berthel: Joining me today on Driving Leadership is Chris Mason. Chris is the president of One Group and he and I have had a conversation before on driving leadership, but only in the audio format. Today we get to do video together.

Good morning, Chris.

Chris Mason: Hey, Bill. Good to see you.

Bill Berthel: Really good to see you. I’m really excited to be doing this with you today. I’m too, thanks for having me. Oh, it’s awesome. And this is our second awesome conversation that we’re recording like this.

Chris Mason: Well, well, hopefully it was awesome.

Bill Berthel: It is. I know. It’s gonna be awesome.

Every conversation I have with you is, so I want a different conversation with you today. All right. You’ve got a lot of great topics in mind. but I understand you were in a car accident recently.

Chris Mason: I was, yeah. And I just wanted to warn you, I’m a little twitchy in the car, so just be easy on me today.

Bill Berthel: We will, we will.

No worries. And, and you know that I appreciate backseat driving from the passenger seat, so lemme know how we’re going.

Chris Mason: You’re one of the few.

Bill Berthel: It’s teamwork, man. It’s teamwork, it’s teamwork. So I am really looking forward to this conversation with you. Cause I think there’s a lot going on at the One Group.

Chris Mason: There is.

There’s lot going on in your leadership. It’s a phenomenal organization. I’ve gotten to know so much of the team over the last several years. And I wanna understand what’s going on with your team, what’s going on with your organization and what you’re doing in your leadership to make One Group the success it is.

Chris Mason: Okay. Well, that’s, that’s a lot. we’ve got, we’ve got all morning.

In terms of the, in terms of the team, you know, we are really looking at really identifying what our leadership team is. And I think over the past year there’s been significant change. We’ve, made a lot of acquisitions. We’ve grown our geography substantially.

We’re in South Carolina, we’re in Florida.

Bill Berthel: Wow. Yeah, right.

Chris Mason: We’re growing in Pennsylvania. which makes it a lot of moving parts. We’ve. Changed our agency management system, which is really the lifeblood of what we do. Okay. And how we work with our clients. we’ve gone through accounting changes, we’ve gone through leadership changes in terms of, you know, employee retention, things like that.

So it’s been a lot. So really just kind of sitting back and kind of reassessing where we are and who we really need to be leaders and how we want them to lead. I mean, I think that’s one of the most important things in leadership is just trying to be consistent in terms of how you lead and how everybody leads.

And so we have a unified management team in, in terms of how things, you know, are managed at the managerial leadership level. And so that’s kind of one of our focuses.

Bill Berthel: That is a lot of change.

Chris Mason: Oh it is. And you know, retention of staff has been difficult in all industries. I’m sure you hear that with everybody you talk to.

Bill Berthel: Yeah. There’s certainly a theme there.

Chris Mason: But it’s interesting cuz as things change, things are improving too. I mean, we’re building stronger teams, we’re finding more experienced people. we had one department, for example, that we basically lost over 50% of the staff. We’ve regrouped, we’ve restaffed it, and it’s much stronger than it’s ever been.

Bill Berthel: So, Chris, I understand that you’re running a little bit of an experiment this summer. I am with your time and energy management. Tell me about it.

Chris Mason: Well, it’s one thing Ralph Simone always taught me is managing your white space on your calendar. And so I’m trying to get ahead of that by actually blocking my Friday afternoons.

Bill Berthel: That’s awesome.

Chris Mason: And I did it all of last summer. Yeah. I didn’t take a single one. So I went through,

Bill Berthel: oh, okay. Well it’s an experiment. So it didn’t work.

Chris Mason: this year, you know, I’m, I’m gonna try to play golf, I’m gonna try to spend time with the family. my son’s playing 47 baseball games in 60 days, so I wanna try to be able to do that stuff, so at least I wanna use them.

Right. Yeah. And I wanna use that Friday afternoon time to kinda unwind, maybe play a little golf, get my golf game back where it used to be. I was used to be a very good golfer. I’m not anymore. Oh. So my goal was to really just. use that time on Friday afternoons, which is generally quiet in the summer anyway for people.

So it’s, it’s, it’s physically blocked off on my calendar. Through, October. So we’ll see how that goes.

Bill Berthel: And your team knows that’s there. Yep. So they can plan the rest of the week around.

Chris Mason: Yeah, but they’ll ask me, I mean, they, like, a couple weeks ago somebody said, are you taking Friday this week? And I said, no, I’m not going to.

So schedule whatever you need to schedule, so it’s fine.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Mason: And you know, you’re accessible anywhere these days anyway, so

Bill Berthel: It’s true. It’s true.

Chris Mason: And I think it’s good for everybody. I mean, one of our, you know, goals for our people is really that. You know, work life integration.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Mason: Making sure you can do those things. And you know, ever since the remote workplace became so much more popular, people can work from anywhere and do stuff from anywhere. It’s not like I can’t answer my emails or Get on a phone call if I need to. So.

Bill Berthel: Hopefully it works. No, I like that both/and.

Chris Mason: It’s early in the process.

Bill Berthel: Well, but No, but you’re creating a structure mm-hmm. Right. With some healthy boundaries. And I hear an agility and a flexibility or willingness to possibly renegotiate that when that needs to happen.

Chris Mason: Yep. Absolutely.

Bill Berthel: Right. So Chris, there’s I don’t know if it’s a trend. I dunno if it’s a theme.

I don’t know what to call it, but remote working seems to really be here to stay. I think the pandemic became somewhat of a forcing function of that. Tell me about the successes and challenges at One Group around remote working.

Chris Mason: So, the good news is we were actually remote before the pandemic.

Bill Berthel: Yeah. So you had some experience.

Chris Mason: So we had some experience, you know, people have to sign a remote work agreement and there’s certain parameters they have to follow. And again, this was pre Covid where we tried it in one of our departments for, I don’t think, one time a month.

Bill Berthel: So like so many days in. c

Chris Mason: So yeah, it, like, initially it was one day a month and it was two days a month.

And ultimately before Covid it was, you could work from home two days a week and most of the departments adopted it. One of our departments couldn’t. But obviously when Covid came, we had to get everybody out. and I remember when I was so proud of the fact we were able to get everybody out, out from the office and back at home and working successfully and our CEO said to me, yeah, that was the easy part. The hard part’s gonna be getting ’em back. And I think everybody’s experienced that. So, you know, there’s, there’s a faction of people who’d love to have everybody back every day. I don’t think that’s a practical solution anymore. but we’re trying to create reasons to have people come in.

So, we have one day a week Wednesdays where we ask everybody to come to the office. And we wanna build some events around that. Like we have Emergent come in once a for example,

Bill Berthel: like the Lunch and Learns, or

Chris Mason: the Lunch and learns and, and departmental meetings. So that’s been pretty good. You know, like I said, I think that it’s really a, a, a vibrant place on those Wednesdays.

you know, the corn hole matches are going like crazy on Wednesdays cause people are here.

Bill Berthel: Oh fun. So it’s social.

Chris Mason: I think it has to be social. I think people need that social element. And I think it’s an opportunity for the manage managers and the leaders to really work closer with those people.

You know, we’re going to remote offices on those Wednesdays just to get more engagement. So, I think we’ve found a good balance. Would I like people to be here more? Of course. But is it practical to do that? No.

Bill Berthel: So Chris, I don’t wanna bring up a difficult subject for you, but we did mention that, you were in a little bit of a car accident and you said there were some leadership lessons in that.

Chris Mason: Yeah. So, you know, I never thought of it as a leadership lesson, but as I was thinking about this and my warning to you about my, being a little triggered sometimes in car

Bill Berthel: Understood, understood.

Chris Mason: I thought about that and yeah, we were actually coming back from a, a client visit and, got broadsided by a car who ran a stop sign at about 50 miles per hour.

Bill Berthel: Oh my gosh.

Chris Mason: And I was in the passenger seat and my colleague was in the driver’s seat who took it much worse than I did. I ended up with four or five broken ribs.

But you know, we got hit and in slow motion spinning across the highway and he come to arrest. And I literally remember just thinking to myself, oh my God, I’m okay. just curious as to how, when I looked to my left, how my colleague was going to be and he was in substantially much more pain than I was.

And I got outta the car and I went across trying to open the vehicle and then calling 9 1 1 and getting them there. And. Yes. Calling, you know, his wife to let her know what happened and coming back in the car and holding him upright so that he wasn’t, he had a punctured lung and a bunch of ribs, which is, he slouched, hurt more

And, you know, you never know how you’re really gonna react in those times of adversity. And I was, I was just very proud of how I was able to kind of just step up and move forward. And I remember the folks in the, ambulance coming asking me whether or not, I needed to just be checked out or go to the hospital.

And I’m like, no. And I called my wife and she’s like, yeah, you should probably go to the hospital. It turns out I had four broken ribs. And, like I said, it was more about being there for my friend and colleague and really having the wherewithal to kind of step up. But I think sometimes in leadership, you’re throwing these curve balls and these things you never know are gonna happen.

And I think you have to remain calm, not overreact, and really make sure that, you know, you’re being patient and thoughtful, yet acting swiftly and decisively in terms of how you do things.

Bill Berthel: What challenges are going on right now for, for you and your leadership and what’s going on in your organization?

Chris Mason: Well, employee retention was a problem for a while, which seems to have eased a little bit.

Bill Berthel: Yeah? It’s easing? It’s easing?

Chris Mason: Yeah. I mean we’ve, we’ve really, like I said before, taking the opportunity to use it and hire some good people and restructure a little bit. you know, just growing a business is never easy.

You know, it’s a difficult environment in the insurance business. You know, if you got your personal insurance renewal anytime in the last few months, you’ve probably seen a pretty significant increase. businesses are really struggling as far as their insurance rates too. Yeah. claims getting paid is very, Is, is an issue these days too.

So, there’s a lot of kind of headwinds that you face. But you know, I think we’ve been tackling them successfully. You know, we have a great partner. We’re owned by Community Bank. They’re a great partner, right? we have in the last year or so, really worked very closely with them to bring business to each other.

We’ve had great success on both personal insurance and business insurance and as well as bringing them banking opportunities. You know, we have a couple other sister companies. We have community wealth, we have BPAS, and, we’ve all worked very closely together. So over the last few years, it’s really been really cool to kind of work together and get to know each other, both professionally and personally, but also understand, you know, what a strong, What a strong firm Community Bank and your related companies are.

I mean, we can offer, you know, from a financial services perspective, anything, any major bank can and I think it’s starting to put those pieces together, which has gotten very exciting.

Bill Berthel: You were one of the participants in, our LeadFORWARD program. And that was, actually we were together, we were in that, and what is that now?

Chris Mason: Five years ago? I lose track of time.

Seems like only yesterday.

Bill Berthel: I know, right. At the same time. so. There hopefully were lots of lessons in that space for you.

And I know you got to work with my business partner, Ralph Simone. he was your coach. Yeah. Through the whole process. looking back at that program, maybe, what are you drawing from still?

Chris Mason: Huh, that’s a good question. a lot and I’m not sure I can put my finger on one thing. But if nothing else, you know, the ability to kind of calm, be calm, be thoughtful in terms of making decisions on things.

I love the reading. I still rely a lot on the books that we read in that program. and you know how success doesn’t bring happiness. Happiness brings success. And I try to think of that every day.

Bill Berthel: And I think connection is one of the most important leadership qualities, right? Being able to connect with not just your community but connect with your people in your organization.

Chris Mason: Right. That’s why I thought it was important for these guys to really understand what, you know what being on a board is and what is in the community. I mean, one, one of the things we really appreciate at One Group is you talked about the education center that we have, and we’ll, we’ll entertain, two to 300 community groups a year doing various things.

Bill Berthel: That’s awesome.

Chris Mason: You know, within the, with, you know, coming in and, you know, free of charge using the space.

Bill Berthel: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s great space.

Chris Mason: It is great space.

Bill Berthel: Chris, you are a lifelong learner. I know you, you read, you consume all sorts of content. What do you, what are you doing lately to continue your own growth and development?

Chris Mason: I do a lot of reading. Listen to a lot of podcasts. what are you reading these days? I actually am taking, I’m reading a book called, measure What Matters, just starting that.

Bill Berthel: Oh, I’ve heard that. I have not read it.

The Happiness Advantage I’m listening to because I really like Big Potential with Shawn Achor.

And he also wrote Happiness Advantage. So those are two books I’m focusing on. Also doing a little bit of, personal reading on, on golf and baseball, so, All good. Yeah. I’m a baseball junkie. I’m terrible playing it, but I enjoy the sport.

Bill Berthel: That’s all right. That’s right.

That’s how I’m with fishing.

Chris Mason: Right.

Bill Berthel: Well, that’s why they call it fishing not catching, right?

I go fishing more than catching.

Chris Mason: I, I’m a, I feel like I’m a very coachable person, Bill.

Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Mason: The CEO says that, Ralph always said that. And so just, you know, taking advice from other people on what I could be doing to be better.

You know, I meet my leadership, our leadership folks weekly, and there’s always something that comes out of that, that, that helps you learn something. You know, we we’re doing podcasts now within our organization with, with various people.

Bill Berthel: Yeah. I can’t wait to hear them.

Chris Mason: which, which people get to learn about each other.

So, I don’t know. I just feel it’s, it’s just staying in touch with people I think is the best way to lead and to learn how to lead them.

Bill Berthel: Chris, thank you so much.

Chris Mason: Thank you, Bill.

Really appreciate the ride with you today, man. Great. Awesome.

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