Join us each month for a series highlighting the unique career journey of employees. This month we talk to Sean Neben, Chicago Insurance Practice Lead.
1. When did you start with Centric? Tell me about your career path.
My Centric career began in September of 2014. I started mine at Accenture, which is where I learned the consulting business. As part of a big 5 consulting machine, I came to appreciate the core tenants of consulting, such as the importance of delivery quality and building strong relationships. In typical consulting fashion, I played a lot of different roles as I progressed in my career at Accenture, beginning as a developer, then an architect, with a few detours like running a test team and even teaching a training class.
Eventually, I ran technical teams and worked my way up to running large transformations. Along the way, I developed deep insurance domain knowledge. Similar to many, I loved many aspects of the big 5 consulting model but struggled with other elements of it. Long hours and extensive travel took its toll on both me and my family. This toll combined with a desire to establish a long-term focus led me to seek another opportunity.
I found that opportunity at CNA Insurance, as a program director of their Claim Strategy Initiative. In this role, I was exposed to elements of a strategy that occur prior to SI integration projects. I also found my love for enterprise architecture and strategy, which led to a role change into enterprise architecture. I spent the next few years building roadmaps, business cases and most importantly, relationships with the business. While I gained valuable leadership experience, I found that increasingly, I was building the skills needed to navigate a complex political environment, rather than setting the enterprise direction. I was diverging from my passions and would have to deviate further to advance my career.
Although I was pragmatic about the realities of professional life, I found that I was curious; I wanted to see if something better existed. Was there a place with a great culture that would provide the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way? I had a passion for consulting and building relationships, but were long hours and extensive travel (along with a tendency to value revenue over all else) just part of it?
As I contemplated these questions, I found Centric and it didn’t take much to get me on board from there.
2. How did you end up in consulting?
I began my consulting career right out of college. As an Electrical Engineering major at Northwestern University, it was certainly not my intention to exit that field and enter the consulting field upon graduation. I was planning to enter research and development in the automotive industry. I had a patent working with radar systems in vehicles and it seemed that there was significant opportunity in the field.
As graduation neared, I found myself with an offer to work for a large consulting company. I had interviewed with Andersen Consulting as a courtesy for the many sponsorships they had provided my student groups during my undergraduate career. Although no one that worked there could really explain what they did, everyone seemed happy and successful. Most of my interviews were with other young people that were intelligent.
Conversely, my engineering job in R&D would involve working with peers who had been doing the same thing for 25 years and I would have to move to a small town to do it. I already had roots in Chicagoland and ended up following the lure of big 5 consulting.
3. If you had to pinpoint a definitive moment in your career, what would that be?
I realized early on in my career that the words “I have an opportunity for you” actually meant that there was something important that no one else wanted to do.
Everything changed when I realized that you could build a career seizing those “opportunities”. I stopped trying to prescript a specific career path and learned to take on challenges that needed to be addressed but others avoided.
Most importantly, I learned to do it with effort and enthusiasm; it took me on a path far more satisfying than I could have imagined.
4. How does your current role fit into your career path/goals?
I am fortunate to play a leadership role for both the Chicago BU and the National Insurance IV. Whether it is contributing to the delivery of value for a client, or providing industry and technology expertise to my peers, I find that there is no shortage of ways to make a difference.
I have had several interesting delivery roles, including running a development team, building strategy roadmaps, and playing a product owner role for a portal. Beyond delivery, I can contribute by strengthening our Insurance Practice with useful content as well as by participating in sales opportunities.
Most importantly, I see a direct correlation between my work and the value it delivers, which provides me with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. While I don’t expect a specific outcome from my current role, I continue to grow professionally.
5. What motivates your career and drives you to keep going?
I think of my career as a story. I am motivated by the opportunity to build a story that I can retell with a sense of accomplishment. My story is not a “rise to the top” NY Times bestseller. It is the reminiscence of good friends that recall accomplishments we had together. I am driven by the shared nature of my experiences; that am part of others’ stories, too.
6. Please describe consulting at Centric. What is this job like?
A day at Centric can vary quite a bit for me. There are days where I am focused entirely on delivering unmatched experiences for my clients. Not by getting them things they like or by doing something for them outside work (that stuff happens sometimes), but usually, it is creating a roadmap or bringing the right people together in a room or creating that spreadsheet that everyone knows we need, but no one has the time to build.
Other days, I am focused on building our Insurance practice. This could mean participating in industry events or writing thought leadership content. Usually, it is about supporting others with an industry perspective. There are days where business development and sales are my priority. Creating proposals or simply meeting with clients to understand what they need. Most days, it is all three of these things, but there is never a day that I am doing it on my own.
7. What did your recruiting process look like? Did you find Centric, or did we find you?
I found Centric through a job posting and immediately dismissed it as another consulting company saying one thing but doing another; it seemed too good to be true. Subsequently, I started to hear more about Centric and I began to realize that there was something to this small consulting company with a refreshing model. I read reviews on Glassdoor and they were stellar. I seemed to be aligned with the culture.
For the first time in my life, I applied for a job without knowing anyone that worked there. Fortunately, Centric has a pretty involved interview process and I was able to get to know quite a few people through it. Everyone was great and had a very consistent story around culture.
A consulting company that does the right thing and then talks about what they do. I was hooked. We found the right time and I joined the team. Because of the recruiting process and the culture fit, the transition was effortless.
8. Is your practice currently hiring? Or, is the company currently hiring for roles like yours? If so, what positions are open?
Similar to other areas within Centric, our hiring philosophy is opportunistic in nature. The Insurance Industry Vertical’s primary function is to provide support and direction around our offerings. We put the insurance lens on what we (Centric) do and build industry relationships.
The practice has both dedicated national members as well as domain knowledge within the BUs. We are always seeking industry domain knowledge mixed with solid delivery skills within our offerings. We are a Guidewire partner and value experience with that product.
9. What mix of skills, personality, and values do you find most important for a consulting role like yours?
It doesn’t take much exposure to Centric, in general, to understand that we value hard work and intelligence. Dig a little deeper and you will see that everyone is invested in each other and driven to contribute to our culture.
In my role as part of our insurance industry vertical, there is a need to possess and provide a deep industry perspective. The true skill involves applying industry knowledge to our business and our clients’ businesses in a practical way; a way that is actionable.
10. What tips would you share with future Centric recruits?
Embrace the process and use it to learn about who we are.
Be honest and straightforward about who you are, what you can do, would like to do and what you want out of a career. We put a lot of effort into getting folks into a situation where they can succeed.
What you experience during our recruiting process in terms of people, values, culture and opportunities are exactly the same thing you will experience working here.
We are a healthy mix of entrepreneurial and standard consulting, so understanding how we work and being ready to take initiative is important. The recruiting process will help to establish that.
11. Given that Centric values work-life balance, please share some of your hobbies or special interests outside of work.
I am at a stage in life where my days revolve around my family. I have two girls that are 9 and 11. I spend a great deal of time attending dance, swimming, and school activities, but I would not have it any other way. I am a big college football fan. I grew up on a farm in rural Nebraska, so I enjoy spending time in the country and will throw out a farm story or two when given the chance (you have been warned).
My degree is in Electrical Engineering, which I don’t use. However, I do gravitate toward adjacent hobbies. I am interested in home automation and home theater. I read a lot of historical fiction and enjoy writing. I am into craft beer and prefer to get past the superficial pretty quickly when in conversation.
People tell me I am a nice guy, but that may be because they are afraid of what will happen if they don’t. I am pretty sure that is why they say that.