Since opening doors in George in 2007, Oakhurst Insurance has turned from a ten-man operation into the largest employer in town. CEO Brad Hogan shares his passion for business and community development, family and his new home town.
WORDS Louise F Venter PHOTOGRAPH Melanie Maré
“Nothing is inevitable.” A wall art quote framed by authentic World War II memorabilia and family photographs is the first thing I notice in Oakhurst Insurance Company Limited CEO Brad Hogan’s office.
Settling in with a cappuccino, his ease is belied by an inherent vibrance and energy, and lively blue eyes that reflect a keen and busy mind.
Brad says the quote has personal significance for him. “I think people can be very fatalistic. We often say ‘if it’s meant to be, it will be’ but I disagree. Doing that means giving away our power to control our lives and our destinies. For me nothing is inevitable. We can decide where we want to go in life and where we want to be, we make the changes. The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
At 44 Brad is considered a relatively young CEO, and one of the most innovative and successful business people in South Africa. His natural business acumen goes back to age ten when he started selling handbags, personalised stationary and, at age 14, burglar proofing and home improvement products – the latter would evolve into Johannesburg-based Badger Holdings, which he establised in 1993. The group now incorporates insurance and related businesses operating in South Africa and Australia.
At 21, Brad’s affinity and aptitude for financial services led to studies in investments and insurance at the former Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) and the Insurance Institute of South Africa.
Licensed since 2009 but operating under the brand name since November 2007, Brad chose Oakhurst Insurance’s head office to be in George despite having offices in Johannesburg and Australia – mostly because he wanted to realise his dream of living in the Garden Route.
His fascination with the region was born while reading the Afrikaans subject prescribed works of Dalene Matthee at Springs High School for Boys, where he matriculated in 1989. A Garden Route holiday in the 1990s sealed his love and he immediately started working towards his goal of one day living and working here.
“My wife Lindsay and I decided early on we wanted to bring our kids up in this kind of environment. So, when we had the opportunity to set up Oakhurst Insurance here, we jumped at the chance.”
Starting from scratch with a few clients and ten staff members, Oakhurst Insurance has grown into a highly competitive general and life insurance company with more than 400 employees and a growing client base exceeding 100 000. Outside government, Oakhurst is the largest employer in George – most staff are local and only a few transferred from Gauteng.
The reasoning behind opening another insurance company in an already competitive market was the reluctance of most insurance companies at the time to offer standalone motor-focused insurance as it was a difficult product line to manage. “Oakhurst filled a gap by offering reasonably priced, simple and innovative products to clients that, at the time, weren’t widely available in South Africa,” Brad says.
The company’s success was bolstered by Oakhurst’s willingness to be the first in the country to implement telematics, a vehicle management system that allows driver behaviour monitoring and vehicle tracking, which in turn enables Oakhurst to provide practical assistance to clients. The company has since widened its insurance product to include home, business and life insurance.
“Another success factor is the company’s inherent business philosophy and values, and that every employee takes ownership. We have a great culture and adhere to our company slogan ‘we really care, we deliver’. If you talk to any Oakhurst employee, you will find passion, which in turn leads to innovation, hard work and service excellence.”
He says choosing George as his hub was a good business decision and he hopes to leave a lasting legacy for his business and the greater George community. He predicts the town will continue to grow, particularly as telecommunications advance and technology improves, although he hopes it won’t become so big that it loses its character. “The world is becoming smaller and the Garden Route more easily accessible. The unique characteristics of a town like George are starting to be discovered and being away from big centres is becoming less of a hindrance and, in some cases, may become irrelevant to doing business.”
Brad believes Oakhurst’s presence in George has contributed significantly to reducing the number of people who would otherwise be forced to leave the Garden Route to find employment elsewhere, especially those wanting to work in a corporate environment.
“The nice thing about an insurance company is that there is a career for almost everyone. We’ve got accountants, sales people, marketing, legal, IT and call centre personnel, to name a few. If you’ve got the right attitude, the right drive and passion and share our values, then we may want you on board.”
People development is essential and staff members are encouraged to further their studies, be innovative and passionate about their work, and to make use of the company’s dedicated training arm.
While typical business principles such as focus on profits, targets, competitiveness and branding are important for sustainable business, Brad also values people – not only employees and clients, but also the people from the community in which he does business.
“We are not islands in this world. It is critical that we are interconnected and interlinked, and that we are purposeful and meaningful in helping each other and developing our communities. When we give to and help other people we are actually helping ourselves.”
This philosophy is mirrored in Brad and Lindsay’s personal as well as Oakhurst’s involvement in the community, such as working with the local Child and Family Welfare Organisation to provide food parcels to children in need, and regular involvement in local school and church projects. Oakhurst is also the official sponsor of the annual George Old Car Show, which contributes to local tourism income. An office filled with historic artefacts and antiques confirms Brad’s deep love of all things old. He enjoys sharing George’s rich history and heritage, which he strongly believes in preserving and protecting.
Oakhurst’s involvement with the George Arts Theatre is part of that thinking. The idea to renovate and upgrade the local theatre started forming in Brad’s mind when people told him they were travelling to Prince Albert to see productions there despite having a theatre in town. “It was an opportunity to keep the cultural heart of the town alive. It’s a theatre steeped in history and just needed to have some life blown into it again.”
In 2014, with Lindsay’s help and vision, Brad and Oakhurst Insurance entered into a partnership with the George Arts Theatre, in effect becoming the theatre’s patron. Lindsay worked closely with the George Society of Arts to plan a full renovation of the historic building, which was financed by Oakhurst Insurance.
The theatre is now known as the Oakhurst George Arts Theatre and renovations are ongoing.
When it came to finding office premises for Oakhurst Insurance, there was no question for Brad but to buy and renovate a few historical buildings in the George CBD, including the Hurteria building, the old Commando and the Van Kervel buildings.
Oakhurst is also starting to work with various local bodies to protect and enhance George, especially the town centre. “Decentralisation of businesses and neighbourhood shopping centres is a worldwide threat to central business areas. We all have a responsibility to keep this great historical town alive and the city centre should be a tourist attraction in its own right.”
While his business diary is filled to the brim, Brad always finds time for his family. He counts time with Lindsay, to whom he has been married for 24 years, and sons Joshua, 19, and Gabriel, 16, at their home at Leentjiesklip beach in Wilderness as especially precious.
“I have never put pressure on my boys to follow in my footsteps and prefer to leave a legacy that will make them feel they can achieve anything and that life should be faced with excitement. I am proud that we have given our sons a good, solid Christian grounding, which we believe will help them know who they are, what they are looking for and what life is really all about.”
After our interview Brad’s parting words sum up what he is all about. “Life spins by, but in the meantime you are touching people’s lives every day in so many different ways and that has got to be a positive experience. You’ve got to be leaving the world better than what you found it.”