Model Citizens Magazine Long Island Feb-March 2021

Robert Zabbia | My Dream Team

Being in business for over 20 years, I have had many people working on my team, helping my customers.  Over the years, I have had many different personalities, lots of success, and just as many failures at building my team. What I have found is that the success of any business is based on many factors and varies by industry. But the one common denominator is building the dream team.

A dream team will have many different looks, and it is based on the culture of the business. The types of team members who I find out work best for me, won’t necessarily be a great fit at many other insurance agencies, much less in many other businesses. My team is built on the vision that my father and I have developed in establishing our agency and are deeply ingrained in our family values.

The key things that are important to be a good fit on my dream team are very much dependent on being part of the family and treating people with respect. We are in a service business, that our competitors are constantly trying to make it seem like that price is the only thing that matters. But Superstorm Sandy has shown many people how who is helping you with your insurance is much more important than how much you are paying. A few dollars a month in savings can cost tens of thousands of dollars in a claim that is either underpaid or denied.

Being a Model Citizen of the Year, I have to acknowledge the contribution the members of my team have made in order for me to be able to spend so much time working with my community, help the not for profits, and being so involved in so many things, while building a growing business.  My team shares my vision of giving, and they also have their own charities and programs that they work with in their personal time.

I get to spend so much time out of the agency because they all know what their roles are in our mission. That mission is to provide our clients with more value than they pay for their insurance. We provide many services to them outside of the insurance that we sell to help make their lives easier. Whether it is providing the defensive driving and safe boating courses at a significant discount to help them save money on their insurance, or providing DMV services so they don’t have to make the trip to the DMV themselves, we are always looking to go that extra mile.

The team has this ingrained in their personalities, and they are always looking to do that one more thing. That allows us to have great relationships with our customers, and we become their trusted advisors when it comes to all the things that relate to their insurance.

Denise Milito started out with our agency, being new to the industry when she joined us, and has risen to become the office manager. She really runs the day to day operations, understands our vision of putting people’s needs first, and taking care of our customers. She leads the team to make sure we are hitting our shared goals of growing the agency and taking care of our team members like they are family. Throughout the COVID nightmare many of us had to endure, she has made sure that our team members are safe, keeping those at home who are at risk, while keeping our customers taken care of. 

Denise is also an active member of our community, being involved with the Girl Scouts while her daughter was growing up right here in the area and helping coach her softball team.  The Girl Scout troop even helped us with our volunteer efforts with our book drive for the Book Fairies, and a women’s supply drive for the Yes Community Center. When I’m serving on our Chamber Board, and when I ran for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Man of the Year, Denise was the back bone of the team, and made sure that we were still able to accomplish our business goals, and keep our customer satisfaction level at such a high level that we have been recognized by the company.

We have several other members of the team who have done fundraising and volunteer efforts. They all have many reasons for doing what they do and give of their personal time to feel that satisfaction of giving back. They all had some type of involvement before coming to join our team, but we encourage them to get involved, and even help promote these efforts.

I must start with Mary, as she has the most compelling story, and is one of the reasons why I ran for Leukemia & Lymphoma Man of the year. Mary lost her daughter to lymphoblastic lymphoma before she started working for our agency. Her daughter Victoria was only 15 when she lost her battle to cancer in less than 3 months.  Before she even knew sha had Lymphoma, Victoria was doing a fundraiser in school for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Mary started Team Victoria with the Light the Night Fundraiser and helps raise money to fight the blood cancers in her daughter’s memory. When I ran for Man of the year, I ran in Victoria’s name, and we raised over $189000 in 10 weeks to help in the fight. Every year our team comes together to help her, and it is a great team building opportunity for us. Mary is one of our Customer Service Licensed Agents, and works with our current customers to make sure that their policies

The Long Island Fight for Charity is an event that is run by a friend and client of mine, so we have been supporters for a few years.  At one of their events, Shannon, one of my leading sales agents was there, and said she wanted to fight!  I couldn’t believe it. She had some boxing experience and wanted to get in the ring to help raise money for Charity.  Our agency came together and helped her raise close to $10,000 and the money went to the Fight for Charity and Momma’s House. Momma’s house is a great program that works with single and pregnant moms who need housing.  They are a great organization and need as much local support as they can get. It was a great event, and Shannon did great.  

Another great charity we work with is the Long Island Golden Retriever Rescue. Christine in our agency has been volunteering with them for quite some time and has two rescue Goldens that she adopted. Every year she is involved in helping place Goldens in new homes, and even rescuing them from far off lands. We help they raise funds through the Allstate Hands in the Community Grants and support them at the Columbus Lodge Feast and Festival and the Chamber of Commerce Festival every year. 

Many people ask me how I can spend so much time with my fundraising, serving as Vice President of The Massapequa Chamber of Commerce, coaching and being involved with my kids’ sports teams, helping local not for profits, and still run a growing business.  If it weren’t for my team, I couldn’t do it.  A big part of that team is my support group.  Victoria, Lori and Maria aren’t licensed agents, like the rest of my team, but they are the first to put together baskets for raffles, help customers with basic transactions that don’t require a license, and even calling them after a claim, just to check in on them. 

If it weren’t for the support of the team in general, I couldn’t do any of this all by myself. Watching my dad be a successful insurance agent growing up made me realize how important having a strong team around you really is. My mom would help my dad with some basic help, and he did have a receptionist that Allstate provided, but he had to do the rest.  When I agreed to open a new agency with him, the first thing we did was to bring on our first employee. Vicki was with us for close to 20 years and was truly part of the family.  We keep in touch, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if she didn’t help us lay the foundation to build such a great team and train the team that we have in place today.

What makes a good team member for The Zabbia Insurance agency?  Great question.  First, integrity is the most important trait. We are here for our customers and protecting their most important assets and their families takes trust. I only bring on team members who will put the needs of the customer in front of all else. We need to be here for them when some of the most trying things happen to them. 

Fires, hurricanes, and even the loss of a loved one takes a caring, honest person to walk people through these situations. We only add people who really care about people and helping them. I guess that is one of the reasons why giving is such a big part of what we do. One of my biggest problems is saying no when an organization needs help and my team is always there to back me up so I can be there.

A strong work ethic is another quality that I look for. Having people who are just going to get the job done just doesn’t cut it. We must be here when the customers need us. During Sandy, we worked extra long hours reaching out to customers and help them through the claims process.  During COVID, we kept the office open, but split the team up so we could be socially distant, yet accessible to customers who needed us. People who just clock in and out won’t have the drive to do that.

Most of all, there must be chemistry. I’m blessed to have a team of people who enjoy being together and help each other out. We have parties for birthdays, always offering to help each other, and truly feel like a family. If one person has personal issues to deal with, the rest of us will pitch in to help out. My team often comes to me when a client is in need and offers to bring them something when they are quarantined because of COVID or go to their house when they have a fire to make sure that they are ok. These are things you just can’t teach. 

People come first in every business. Companies who focus on profit first will often forget this and hurt the people in the process. If you take care of your people, they will take care of everything else. It is crucial to make sure that they understand the objectives and goals of the business. This helps you as a leader if everyone is reaching for the common goals, so you can work on the big picture. 

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