To a packed auditorium of more than 500 people, the CEO of Hagerty spoke about the importance of passion in the business world.

McKeel Hagerty presented the annual Harter Lecture in Business at McPherson College in April and started his lecture asking the audience whether the career dreams they had as children match up with their actual jobs today. Few raised their hands.

That’s OK, Hagerty said.

“There’s nothing wrong with having those kind of dreams,” he said. “I wanted to be James Bond.”

His work is ostensibly about insurance, which he jokingly said was not exciting on its face. He hadn’t planned on going into the family business, but along the way he discovered a deep passion for the work in a new framework.

“We’re for people who love cars,” he said. “We don’t even talk about insurance anymore.”

Hagerty is the largest classic car insurer and also publishes a valuation guide and the largest circulated classic car magazine. The company McKeel Hagerty oversees – based in Traverse City, Mich. – has been a huge supporter of the classic car hobby, committing 10 percent of net profits back to programs and organizations that support classic vehicles.

Using examples from within Hagerty as well as other successful businesses, McKeel Hagerty shared lessons on how passion in business makes a difference – both for the business itself and the individuals who work at it.

“These the companies that people want to work at,” Hagerty said. “They have a strong sense of purpose.”

Hagerty’s lessons for developing passion in business were:

  • Be a Challenger. McKeel said that at the time he started with Hagerty, their competitors had highly restrictive requirements. They introduced more practical and useful policies. They also challenged with creative advertising.
  • Seize the High Ground. Hagerty said this was a matter of working in a way that one honestly believes in. At Hagerty, it meant starting a Youth Judging program and the Historic Vehicle Association in support of classic and antique vehicles.
  • Be a Great Place to Work. The important consideration is finding interesting and passionate people, McKeel said, they can teach the specifics of a job.
  • Don’t Invent Passion. Celebrate It. “Manufactured” passion will come off as artificial. Instead, find out what customers and employees are already passionate about and find ways to highlight and celebrate that.
  • Be “The Spirit of…” Figure out what the essential element of a business is, then build a brand around that identity. For example, McKeel said Nike built a brand around “The Spirit of Sports” and Hagerty appeals to “The Spirit of Cars.”

President Michael Schneider said that having Hagerty speak at McPherson College was a wonderful opportunity.

“There is no one who has been at the center of the automotive restoration industry more than McKeel,” he said.

Hagerty is a founding and current member of the National Advisory Board of the automotive restoration program at McPherson College and is the 2016-2017 chairman of the International Board for the Young Presidents’ Organization.

Under McKeel Hagerty’s leadership, he has grown Hagerty from a small agency with 30 employees to 800 worldwide, with branches in Canada and the United Kingdom in addition to the U.S. His company has been named a “Best Small Company to Work For” by Fortune magazine for three consecutive years.