“My passion in life is social enterprise. That’s what I want; that’s what I love,” says Pieter Heydenrych, CIP.
Thanks to that overarching philosophy, his company, Halifax-based Emergency & Environmental Claims Management (EECM Ltd.), is more than an adjusting firm. Not only does the company provide claims services and environmental consulting services, it also has a strong commitment to social responsibility.
Heydenrych started EECM in 2014 with partner Torgny Vigerstad, PhD, who operates under the title of Science Director.
Peter Heydenrych, Emergency & Environmental Claims Management
The company handles primarily property losses and liability stemming from environmental losses.
“It’s always complicated and painful,” Heydenrych says, adding he prefers to solve complex problems, and ones that involve a lot of the human element.
“Inevitably there are 101 people involved with every environmental claim,” he says, tongue firmly in cheek. “Everybody’s got a different interest, everybody’s got a different need, and to make them all work together is challenging, exciting and fun to do. I like the challenge of sorting it all out; finding a solution that makes people happy at the end of the day.”
To understand his social justice focus, a little background about Heydenrych helps.
He started his insurance career in 1994 in South Africa as a sales rep. That led quickly to an ownership stake in a brokerage firm focused on commercial and marine insurance.
It was a serendipitous conversation with a claims manager he placed business with that led to his career in adjusting.
“Believe it or not, I wasn’t planning a career in claims,” he says.
The claims manager lamented the lack of expertise available to deal with claims related to computers and engineering. When Heydenrych admitted to a little IT knowledge, having trained as a technician and knowing programming, he was granted an interview and got a new job on the spot.
It was August 1997, and he immediately established his first adjusting company. He sold his stake in the brokerage, as the adjusting side seemed a better option. It was electronic equipment and data losses claims at first, but another chance meeting resulted in taking on a cargo loss file, and from there he spent nine years specializing in cargo losses-local, international and mostly dockside.
“It was fascinating work, and painful work, and fun work,” he says. “But fascinating especially because I’ve had opportunities to work claims dealing with everything from McDonald’s buns to sulfuric acid. If it’s been on a truck somewhere, I’ve probably had a claim on it.”
In 2006 Heydenrych decided to leave South Africa permanently and sold the business, which by that time had expanded to include a network of adjusters who could respond to cargo claims from the very southern tip of the continent right up to Zambia in a matter of hours.
After a couple years working in Europe he got a work permit and came to Canada, ultimately moving to Halifax in 2010 once he received his permanent resident status.
Starting his career in South Africa gives Heydenrych a different perspective on doing business in Canada. The differences in insurance industry culture between here and there are as vast as the oceans that separate us.
“The guy with the biggest lawyer in South Africa is the guy that wins the case,” he laughs. “The South African insurance industry is very wild, wild West. Canada is very civilized and pleasant. You can really make a difference here as an adjuster by following the rules as they are laid out.”
Coming out of secondary school Heydenrych was told he had a seven percent chance of finding a job in South Africa-a statistic that has since dropped to five percent, he says.
“Canada doesn’t have the same level of challenge in this arena, although the environment we are living in has become very capitalist-driven with no real regard for people. That distresses me personally greatly because I’ve seen what that does to a place.”
This fuels his drive to help others succeed. Heydenrych volunteers as an advisor for the Junior Achievement program, among other social responsibility projects he’s working on.
“I am very passionate about social enterprise and in doing things that make it possible for people to make their own lives better. I have a lot of experience as an entrepreneur, as a businessperson, and if I can teach one person one thing that makes their life better then it was worth it. It’s something that’s seriously lacking in our industry.”
As a new member of the CIAA, Heydenrych says he is sure he hasn’t even begun to tap the full potential of his membership, but he values the opportunity that it gives him as a smaller adjusting firm.
“I do like that there are a fair number of smaller firms,” he says. “It makes it easy to connect with other firms. It also adds a level of credibility for me when dealing with other companies.”
As a small company, EECM may well need the association’s support. Heydenrych says it himself: the adjusting business in Canada is facing a near-perfect storm, especially as it pertains to smaller adjusting firms.
“There’s been a significant move by larger insurance companies to follow procurement processes which…seem designed to exclude the smaller firms. They are losing ground at a rate that is completely frightening,” he says.
“We’re about to lose a dramatic number of very skilled adjusters to retirement. There’s no succession planning; they’re just taking less work…That brain trust is being lost at this time.”
His concern is it’s making it difficult for young, new adjusters starting out to find a place to learn and grow. “Entrepreneurship in our industry is dying completely.
As a new entrant to the market myself, I find it very frightening.”
His advice to those starting out: “It’s hard. Get ready to grind your teeth, there’s no shortcuts, you need to just get in there and do what needs to be done.”
As for his own future, having been successful in South Africa’s hostile business environment “has given me staying power,” Heydenrych says. “I’m going to be around for a while.”
Plans for EECM’s future development will depend on the opportunities that arise, he says. “I’m not afraid to take the risk to take advantage of an opportunity. I’ve created a vehicle here for people with an entrepreneurial flair [to join us]. It’s more of a collaboration than a partnership.” •