Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our country’s top business, legal and political people, in their own words.
Garry Taylor followed his father into insurance and took a job with IAG brand State Insurance almost 30 years ago. He has been with the company ever since and is now head of another IAG unit, NZI – New Zealand’s longest-standing insurer.
I grew up in Taupō and spent the first 10 years of my early childhood there, then we relocated to Rotorua.
My parents split up when I was about four years old, so myself and my brother, who's four years older than me, were brought up by our dad.
I don't see myself as the big corporate, main metro, big insurance sort of person; I often think about my childhood and the role that that played.
I always think about going back to small-town provincial New Zealand and think about the businesses and the people who continue to make those places home.
My favourite subject was PE. It was all about sports for me. And when I think back now, particularly on the academic side, I always did just enough to pass.
I played cricket; that was probably my first passion. I played from a very young age and found myself representing Rotorua in age group, then from intermediate into high school and into my adult life.
My first job was basically delivering dairy products to supermarkets around the eastern Bay of Plenty –driving to Whakatāne and Ōpōtiki as a 17-year-old fresh from school. Then I got an opportunity to work for my dad, who had a small fire and general insurance brokerage. It was basically an opportunity to help him out.
Dad probably saw me being a little bit lost in life and said, “Hey, look, why don't you come and work for me?” It suited me to work all week and play sport all weekend and to learn a little bit about insurance on the way. But working for dad was probably never going to be the long-term aspiration –funny that! But it was great. My dad would say he’s so incredibly proud of my career, but he continues to be my harshest critic.
I had a few mates who worked locally at the State Insurance office in Rotorua. And they said there was a job up in the commercial sector, which was new to State Insurance at the time, broadening out into commercial insurance. That was 29 years ago and I've been with the company for all that time.
Back in those days, you were Mr Insurance. Your appointments were made for you, you were on the road, you had no cellphones, only paper files. You turned up to business customers and on farms and you were the salesman, you were the underwriter, you were the pricing guy. I think that grounding means you learn very quickly, because customers will only ever deal with you. And I think that is probably the reason a lot of people have stayed in the insurance industry.
If you come into an entry-level role in insurance now, you might have to stay there for two or three years, and you might actually have exposure to only a very small part – you might work in support or in admin. You don't get that learning brief that we had back in my learning days, when you had to go and do different things.
The Christchurch rebuild was a very hectic, very stressful time… you know, to be on the ground pretty much every week for three or four years, supporting people, but also helping with the rebuild and recovery process. I always felt guilty leaving Christchurch, being based in Auckland.
I can't wait to leave Auckland. I'm looking forward to the day I get back to small-town New Zealand. I love the grassroots. I think Auckland has just become a big rat race.
Personally, I’m a reflector. I often say to my team, “I just need a night to think about that” or “I’ll sleep on that and come back to you tomorrow.” It’s all about having a clear head.
I’m an avid golfer. I play every weekend – pretty selfish, but I love it. And I also love fishing on a small runabout boat.
I have to exercise every day and I have to get outside. I do enjoy that and it kind of helps.
What do I spend my money on? It’s all sports gear. Pretty expensive sports gear when you think about boating and fishing and golf equipment, so that's where my money goes mainly.
I’m training myself in te reo. I have a daughter, a second-year primary-school teacher, who is helping me on that journey. We have a lesson once a week.
As told to Victoria Young
This interview has been edited for clarity.