Elizabeth Krystyn, Founding Partner, BKS
You’ve been in Florida most of your life. What’s been your scariest hurricane experience?
Irma, without a doubt. We dodged a cannon, but it gave us the opportunity to test our preparations as an agency, proactively supporting our thousands of Florida-based clients, and as an employer, caring for and keeping track of our 175-plus colleagues.
Two of your firm’s three principals are women. Do you think that affects the way BKS conducts its business?
Yes. Laura Sherman, a co-founding partner, and I have a shared mindset of bringing our whole selves to everything we do. To support this, we are launching the BKS Passion Project, which financially supports colleagues to pursue their non-insurance-related interests, whatever they may be.
Have you made a conscious effort to recruit and advance women?
We have made a conscious effort to recruit the best person for the job, and that is often a woman. Attributes often associated with women, such as being community-minded, nurturing and encouraging, are often the same attributes that help forge a strong sense of esprit de corps in the workplace.
What did your parents do?
My parents owned a nuts-and-bolts distributorship. It taught me a lot about fasteners as well as a lot about business, which at its cornerstone is about relationships. We’re fortunate to have clients in manufacturing, so the smell of a production floor is just like home to me.
BKS also has colleagues spend a day in the workplaces of new key clients. Is that a common practice?
It may be unique to us. We started doing this years ago with large restaurant groups. We would work in their kitchens as they prepped for the day—carefully cutting vegetables, measuring servings, understanding how the kitchen was organized. When you work in a business, even for just a few hours, you realize their challenges.
Last year, you took a month to travel with your husband. Where did you go?
We took our two sons out west for a few weeks, then dropped them off at camp. We then went to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary. It was a little overscheduled, which is kind of the story of my life. We were away 31 days. My husband and I have been together for 31 years, so it seemed like the right number.
How did the firm manage without you?
Very well, actually! The firm cut me off of technology, which made it delightfully difficult to stay engaged with the day to day. The highlight of the trip was realizing I enjoyed unplugging. I never doubted that everything was taken care of.
I don’t imagine a lot of firms would accommodate a 30-day absence.
We had planned it for seven or eight months. Planning put deadlines in place and allowed us to get things done faster. When I came back, people were more excited to hear about the trip than lament my absence.
BKS has won several “Best Places to Work” awards, including one focused on millennials. How do you attract young people to your firm?
They are attracted to the new challenges available to them as a result of our high growth, our understanding that a new way might actually be the best way and, of course, because they can wear jeans and sneakers every day.
Who was your most influential business mentor?
Lowry Baldwin, one of our co-founding partners. He is a phenomenal listener, and he’s not judgmental. We’ve worked together since 1988. He always thought I could be more than I thought I could be. And I hope I’m doing the same for other people.
What’s the best advice he ever gave you?
“No one knows how good you are until things go bad.”
If you could change one thing about the insurance industry, what would it be?
The mentality that some people have that this is just the way it’s always been done. The industry is continually evolving.
What gives you your leader’s edge?
Living the Azimuth, which is our core set of values. I’m inspired by how fiercely protective our colleagues are in keeping it in the forefront of everything we do. We give and, more importantly, we receive continual feedback from one another on how to improve.
The Krystyn File
Favorite Vacation Spot: “My next, wherever it is, will be my favorite.”
Favorite Movie: Shawshank Redemption
Favorite Actor: “I’m a big Denzel Washington fan. I like chase scenes and all the James Bond movies. I’m kind of low-brow that way.”
Favorite Musician: “My favorite band is a punk band called X. I also like Patsy Cline, and I listen to contemporary Christian music—just to keep things interesting.”
Favorite Book: The World According to Garp and anything by John Irving
Wheels: Lexus SUV