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Living the Value of Giving Back

T. Marshall Sadd talks about community building and why it’s vital to personal, professional and societal success.

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T. Marshall Sadd. Photo by EPIC Photography Inc.

T. Marshall Sadd is the co-founder and executive chairman of Navacord.

Navacord is an insurance and risk management brokerage firm with a difference. In addition to providing expert solutions to businesses across Canada, Navacord strives to be a place of learning, support and growth for insurance brokers. Navacord is distinctly Canadian and a haven for entrepreneurial firms that otherwise would be stripped of their identity through a sale to an international broker.

For Sadd, the drive to co-found Navacord was in part his drive to always give back and support the community that surrounds him. That being said, he was a little surprised to find himself in the insurance business.

“It was unexpected!” admits Sadd. “Although my family was in insurance, following university I had accepted an offer outside the industry. However, during the summer I was asked by my father to help out at Lloyd Sadd. In doing so I saw tremendous opportunity. I liked the client-facing part of the business, meeting with entrepreneurs and becoming their trusted advisor. That is how I got into the world of insurance. It wasn’t something I thought I would ever do. My mother was a nurse and I was more attracted to the healthcare industry, but once I was exposed to the world of business and insurance, I never left. It’s a rewarding way to help people by showing them how to manage and mitigate risks.”

“I was very fortunate,” Sadd admits. “When I bought out Lloyd Sadd from my father in 1999, I had a lot of wind at my back. From 2000-2014 Alberta was doing very well. One of my strategies was to broaden the shareholder base and allow key people to participate in the equity opportunity. The business went from a team of 20 to 150 in just 12 years.

“At some point, though, it gets harder to grow sustainably as the insurance world is very competitive. I looked around at my options and saw on one side there were insurance carriers buying distribution and on the other side American companies purchasing Canadian brokers and assimilating them to fit a certain type of brand.”

In 2014 Sadd and an industry associate, Shawn DeSantis, co-founded Navacord. Sadd and DeSantis wanted Navacord to be different. They envisioned a firm where brokerages could retain the identity and culture they worked hard to cultivate while still benefiting from a national brand that provides resources, capital, expertise, and scale.

“We wanted to create a uniquely Canadian story where Canadians served Canadians allowing us to keep our entrepreneurial spirit alive,” says Sadd.

This plan required a lot of moving parts. Sadd explains, “We needed to figure out how to modernize the business with talent, digitalization and product. Our differentiator was remaining independent at the front end of the business while being a part of a national entity. We wanted to be part of something bigger while keeping the local culture intact. The ultimate aim was for each firm to keep their brand in the community, remain autonomous, but be backed by Navacord with the resources to compete with multinational brokerages.”

With Sadd’s entrepreneurial experience combined with DeSantis’ corporate experience, they had an excellent base from which to launch Navacord. In just seven years they have partnered with over 40 firms across the country, creating the 4th largest commercial brokerage in Canada.

“We really help these entrepreneurs do what they love – serve their clients and practice their craft while being supported by a national organization.”

Sadd’s dedication to helping companies grow is an extension of his naturally philanthropic nature. He believes that “healthy communities provide healthy citizens,” and backs this belief with action.

“Giving back feels good,” says Sadd. “Giving back is important to me because the community has treated me, my family, and my business very well. I ask myself, what can we do as individuals and as organizations to support community programs that deliver mental health support, food, shelter and education? In my experience, investing in our community services is tied to having vibrant communities. If I have the time, I want to give my time. Fortunately, I am pleased that I can now give back both financially and through volunteering.”

He continues, “We can lift up our community and make it a better, livelier one by supporting those in need and supporting each other. Giving back betters the lives of those around us. If you can, you should. I want my kids to be exposed to this belief and understand the importance of giving back.”

Sadd’s community involvement includes being past chair of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation, past chair of the Support Network and a former board member of the Edmonton Elks Football Club.

“The Stollery does great work,” says Sadd. “What I learned there, and what many people don’t know, is the extent of their research for women’s and children’s programs. What they are doing in preventative medicine is world renowned. The talent the Stollery attracts globally and brings to Edmonton is truly remarkable.”

Working with the Elks was exciting, as Sadd is very much into sports. “I love that the Elks Football Club is community owned! I was able to get involved and lend my experience in risk management. I feel like the Elks embody what Edmonton is all about, and that is why it is one of the most successful clubs in the CFL. When you look back at how it came about and the challenges it faced, it’s a remarkable story. In the 60s the Nervous 9 (a group that replaced the board and was responsible for the entire payroll and fundraising efforts) stepped up to turn the failing club around. Today you can go to a game with 30K-35K people in attendance, cheering the Elks on and rallying around the team. I felt so honoured to be a part of it. I wish I could do another six years on the board. The Elks truly represent the fabric of Edmonton.”

He loves that the Elks are not just about the game. They spend as much – if not more – time in the community as they do on the field. “The Elks do a lot of great work in the community with minor football and junior football; I don’t think it gets recognized. The players also go into the classrooms to volunteer their time and work with young individuals. It’s not mandatory. They do it on their own accord.”

For Sadd, there is so much to love about Edmonton – and about life in general.

“Right now I’m just loving watching my kids, Henry, Charlie and Lucy, grow up. I’m fortunate to be part of their lives and help them become good people. As for the city, I’ve only ever lived in Edmonton. I’ve travelled the world, but Edmonton feels unique. It is home. To me it’s the small city with the largest heart. Everyone wants to support each other. Everyone wears their heart on their sleeve and rallies to give back whether it is by coaching a team, sitting on a community board, or by writing a cheque to a worthy cause. Everyone is involved to make it a great place to live, work, and raise a family. It feels great that I can be a part of it.”

The message he wants everyone in the city to know about giving back is this: “It matters. Everything matters. Whatever you can give in terms of time or financially you will get back in so many ways. You make an impact to better the lives around you and that feels good. Why wouldn’t you if you can?”

Navcord is still growing as a company and Sadd continues his drive for personal growth. Looking back, he is thankful for the professional and personal support he and the company have had along the way. “Throughout my career I’ve been part of Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) and Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO),” he says of the world’s only peer-to-peer networks that are exclusively for entrepreneurs looking to benefit and transform the world. “They have been instrumental in my personal and professional development.”

“I’ve also been fortunate to have such great partners,” Sadd continues. “At Lloyd Sadd I learned and benefited from so many influential individuals. I am privileged to be able to build and continue to achieve with Navacord’s co-founder Shawn DeSantis. I’m also very thankful for my life partner and wife, Lisa. Every day I want to be a better person because of her.”

In his early 50s Sadd has already achieved a lot, but he has no plans to stop now.

“I still have lots of runway left,” he laughs, then concludes, “For me, personally what is next is seeing my children get into university. And for Navacord, the next part of the journey is taking it from a Canadian story to a North American success story.”

At every step of the way Sadd will do what matters to him most, be it in the boardroom or in the community – giving back and helping to grow and nurture people and communities.

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