Harsha V. Agadi | Crain's San Antonio

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Harsha V. Agadi

Background:  

Harsha V. Agadi became interim CEO in August 2015 of Crawford & Company, an international claims management company, and permanent CEO in July 2016. He is also chairman of GHS Holdings LLC, with investments in restaurants, hospitality and related industries. Agadi has nearly 30 years of experience, including leadership positions at restaurant chains such as Quiznos, Friendly’s, Church’s Chicken and Little Caesar’s. He is on the board of Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, his alma mater. In India, Agadi serves as chairman of the board of SKSVMA College of Engineering & Technology.

The Mistake:

I would call this a revelation. Like many young folks, I also went to business school once upon a time. After graduation, I chose to go into the food industry. The industry is very fragmented with lots of brands and lots of companies. I was CEO and president for a few brands. It was exciting and multinational, but I hadn’t worked for a company that was No. 1 in its sector. Crawford & Company is the first time that happened.

About two years ago, when I became CEO at Crawford, I was on a long flight from Sydney, Australia, to Atlanta. I was coming back asking myself, “What am I doing with my time and the way I’m spending it?” As you get older, you start realizing that your time is getting shorter. When you’re 25, you might live 50 years. When you’re 60, you might live 15 years. Your perspectives change. I realized that I need to work on fewer things, but work on the biggest things possible that will impact people’s lives.

I have 7 million miles on five different airlines. I have traveled the globe extensively, but even in my case, it took that aha moment a long time.

Mission is as important as making money.

The Lesson:

When you’re getting out of school, no one tells you that there’s only 24 hours in a day for you to work. If human ability is limited, we should be working on the biggest thing possible that can affect society. The insurance sector is so large—it’s $2 trillion. That’s as large as the Indian economy, which is one of the largest in the world. At a company like Crawford, you’re still putting in your 24 hours, but you’re getting larger results out of there.

You also need to analyze the mission on why the company is there to serve humanity. We don’t do that when we’re younger. It’s only when you’re older that you think of these things.

Going through the experiences of all these hurricanes and the earthquake in Mexico, I learned that we get to fulfill a noble mission of restoring lives. You need to choose to work in a company with a mission like that. When we talk to our new hires, we tell them that you’re here to make an impact on lives.

That is a very critical item that I should have thought about way back when, when I chose the companies where I would work. Mission is as important as making money. If you make money, you can sustain the mission. I now get a chance to work with a lot of young folks who are starting their careers, and I think about how I can get them to think like that.

Follow Crawford & Company on Twitter at @Crawford_News.

Photo courtesy of Harsha V. Agadi

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