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4/22/2021 interview

“I’m focused on finding a better way.”


handl Group CEO Graham Pulford isn’t out to disrupt for disruption’s sake, “There are problems to be solved in our industry and we believe we have ways of solving them.” Here, he explains what it takes to be a market leader.

“I’m not one for the status quo,” says Graham Pulford. His actions back his words. In two years, handl Group has gone from a mini-portfolio of 3 companies (“we weren’t a very big club,” he says, self-deprecatingly) to a family of 15 complementary businesses, each in the health, insurance and legal sectors. The aim? To make each a market leader. But how does that happen?

“You’ve got to become a thought leader,” he states. “Every business, whatever it is, has to look at what its competitors are doing and ask what it can do differently and do better. If you don’t do that, you’re just part of the market. I don’t want any of our brands to be just part of the market.

“That’s quite difficult to achieve but mainly it’s about changing the ethos. It’s about shifting the thought process and mentoring the management teams in each business to think like that.”

Is the industry crying out for thought leadership? Graham thinks for a moment and then issues a robust ‘no’. “There’s always a new next best thing. I think the industry is rather ambivalent towards ‘market leaders’.

“You have to understand the industries we operate in are successful and have been for a very long time. If you’ve been successful doing what you do for 30 years there’s not a huge imperative to change.”

“Pseudo market leaders sell. Real market leaders understand”

So how do you suggest a better way to industries that are generally happy with the way things are? For Graham, the issue lies in the way previous ‘market leaders’ have approached the challenge.

“They come at it with a piece of whizzbang tech that will change the world,” he says. “And it may actually change the world, but if you don’t put that in context and explain that, to an insurer, your tech solution could save 7% off annual claims expenditure, it won’t be adopted.”

Whilst handl Group doesn’t sell anything, its portfolio companies do. Amongst them are several whizzbang pieces of tech. “But that’s not all we do,” challenges Graham. “We’re not just salespeople. We’re consultative. We understand the many facets of the industries we support. We understand the pressures from a claims director. We understand the pressure from the underwriting side and that enables us to understand where our customers are coming from. Then we can put products to them in a way that helps them understand where we’re coming from.

“As a thought leader, we believe our role is to say ‘hang on, have you thought about…’ or ‘wouldn’t it be great if you could provide a better customer journey by doing ...’

“That’s very different from saying ‘come buy our app’.”

Better by design

If there really was a new and better way of operating, wouldn’t the industry have already done it by now? Graham shakes his head.

“Credit hire is a problem to the insurance industry,” he says, choosing just one area where handl Group is already making an impact. “But it’s only a problem because of the price you pay. So we say ‘we’ll do it cheaper’. And the response you usually get is ‘you can’t’. Then we’ll show them how and the client will say ‘why haven’t we always done that?’

“That can only happen because we’re a new entrant. If you’re a big, established player it’s much harder to be fleet of foot. A big credit hire firm will be locked into a well-established way of working. It’s one that develops organically. They seldom have time to sit back and ask ‘how can we do this differently’? It’s not easy to reengineer processes. But we can. Our processes operate by design rather than by evolution. That’s a big difference.

Claimspace [handl Group’s online arbitration platform] is a perfect example. Yes it’s an innovative portal but that’s not what we’re selling. We’re selling a way to get claims settled quicker with less friction. We know arbitration is the way forward. So do our customers. What we’ve done is gone out and developed an easy way to deliver it. And that can only happen because we understand the process.

“An old boss of mine said you have to walk in your customers’ shoes. If you don’t you’ll never sell them anything. We walk in our customers’ shoes.”

“We believe there are things our industry can do better”

Is Graham looking for handl Group to be a disruptor? “I wouldn’t call it disruption,” he says. “We want to do things better, and it may be that we become a challenger or a disruptor because of that but that’s not our raison d’être. It’s not as though we set out to be a disruptor - we’re not agitating for the sake of it – it’s just that there are problems to be solved and we believe we have ways of solving them for the benefit of all parties.”

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