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Secrets of Success: Ted Devine

Rieva Lesonsky
secrets of success

We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.

Meet: Ted Devine, the CEO of Insureon. Ted has extensive experience in the insurance industry, having served in several senior executive leadership positions before joining Insureon. Before his deep dive into insurance, Ted was a director of McKinsey & Company, where he helped improve the performance of Fortune 500 companies.

Ted founded (and is the CEO of) 1World Sports, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to inspiring at-risk youth to excel on and off the playing field.

Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Ted Devine: I wanted to be the captain of the [National Hockey League’s] Detroit Red Wings. I think that’s a pretty standard dream for a kid who plays sports—not just to play professionally, but also to be one of the best. I was lucky enough to play in college, which was great. And it turns out my taste for leadership got fulfilled off the ice.

Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?

Devine: I’ve always liked a challenge. I like getting my hands dirty, being able to see how things happen. When I was a teenager, my mom and I started a hockey store to pay for college, called Hockey, Etc. I got to do a little bit of everything, all through college, and I loved that. I loved feeling like I was an important part of keeping the business alive—in the same way I loved the intimacy of hockey, I guess. Five guys on the ice, knowing every guy out there is important.

When I was with McKinsey and Aon, I missed that feeling. I learned a lot from those positions, but I was excited when I got the opportunity to lead Insureon. It was a return to my roots, something I’d been ready to do for a while.

Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Devine: My first year of college, I was trying out for the hockey team, and I was really committed. Really putting in the hours. Of course, that meant I wasn’t putting in the hours on my schoolwork. My first term, I wound up with a 1.7 GPA. My dad came up to the campus, he put his arm around me, and he said, “Son, a 1.7 is not going to get it done.”

And that’s all it took. I never got so much as a B after that.

Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Devine: When I was at McKinsey, one of my mentors told me that customer feedback is like a bear. You can run from it, but it will eventually catch you. And now in the age of social media, there are a lot more bears in the forest. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—it just means business owners have to learn how to deal with bears better.

Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Devine: I’m an insurance guy, so I’m going to say risk management. Having an emergency plan for the 100-year flood, having a strategy for when the next disruptive technology makes your product obsolete, having a plan for expanding your client base when 50 percent of your revenue comes from one client. Having insurance helps you when bad things happen, but active risk management prevents a lot of the bad things from happening in the first place.

Lesonsky: Do you have a small business prediction for the coming year?

Devine: We’re going to keep seeing growth in the number of small businesses operating in the U.S. The Freelancers Union reported last year that about one in three working adults is currently doing some independent work—in other words, is a small business owner. As we keep shifting toward a “freelance economy,” the number of small-business owners is only going to rise.

Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?

Devine: I really enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It has a powerful message: It takes serious and continued hard work to be successful, but the most successful among us are usually lucky, too. That’s important because it reminds us that we’re not the only ones responsible for our success. We owe a lot to our families, circumstances and opportunities. And it serves as a reminder that we can contribute to the success of others, too.

Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Devine: T. S. Eliot once said something to the effect of “good writers borrow, great writers steal,” which applies to business 100 percent. Some people think you have to reinvent the wheel to make it big. But the most successful ventures find new ways to use the wheel—new applications for ideas we already know are excellent. Standing on the shoulders of giants [works].

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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.