Like her customers, Collette “Coco” Champagne has a classic vehicle that she feels very strongly about: a 1935 3/4-ton Chevrolet pickup that was on her family’s fruit farm for generations. The vehicle helps drive her work as COO of Traverse City-based Hagerty, the world’s largest provider of specialty insurance for classic, vintage, and enthusiast vehicles.
“I love people, so I get to learn all the stories about their cars, and that’s really my big attraction to (the business),” says Champagne, who has spent 22 years at Hagerty. “It’s rare that somebody doesn’t have a story about why they collect their cars. That’s what makes it so much fun.”
Champagne also extends her personal skills to the Hagerty team, where she is leading the company’s transition to a digital enterprise. In fact, before she became COO nearly three years ago, her title was senior vice president and chief people officer.
“It’s good to build good relationships with people, (and) learn about what motivates them,” she says. “The more you learn about people, the easier it is to get together and solve problems. I’m very empathetic and have a strong understanding of people and what motivates them. That’s probably my superpower.
“(As COO) I spend a lot of time talking to people, and trying to empower them to make good decisions and helping remove some obstacles they may have,” she explains. “I look at our teams and make sure they have the resources they need to execute their work. I work with the technology teams (to) make sure they have really good communication with our business teams on their prioritization, and how we can work together.”
In addition to leading digital growth, Champagne keeps an eye on the performance of the business, looking at things that drive profitability and revenue, and ensuring Hagerty is meeting its annual objectives and goals. She’s also overseeing an effort to make the company a better place to work, especially for other working mothers.
“As I look back on my career, I’ve always tried to make things better for people,” she says. “I’ve focused a lot on working moms and working families, (and making) it easier for them by extending paid time off after they have a child and implementing an extended gradual return-to-work policy. It’s important, from a business perspective, to allow working moms to come back to work gradually — if they choose to come back.”
Twenty-two years ago, when Champagne was first recruited to join Hagerty to develop its sales processes and practices for its inbound call center, the company had 70 employees. Now it has 1,600 workers and offices throughout the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Over the past four years, Hagerty has grown 22 percent year over year.
“I want to keep Hagerty growing and make a difference for the women leaders who are here,” Champagne says. “I really want to make a difference for all of our leaders, making sure they’re inclusive and reaching their potential. One of the things we always talk about is looking at issues with a growth mindset. I love the idea of thinking about additional job creation with our growth.”
To perpetuate that rise, Hagerty has implemented other noninsurance programs. “We don’t look at ourselves just as an insurance company; we look at ourselves as an automotive brand with the higher purpose of saving driving and keeping car culture alive, which is exciting for Hagerty and exciting for the state of Michigan.”
Hagerty programs include a 620,000-member Hagerty Drivers Club, which has a YouTube channel that features programs like “The Barn Find Hunter” and “Redline Rebuilds.” There’s also a DriveShare program, where classic car owners can rent out their vehicles, as well as classic race car insurance programs.
The classic Chevy truck owner and gardener started her career as a loan officer at the National Bank of Detroit after graduating from Michigan State University with bachelor’s degrees in communications and agriculture. She also studied human resources at the University of Michigan.
Fortunately for Champagne, she hasn’t had to face any discrimination based on her gender during her career. “Being a woman isn’t an issue at Hagerty,” she says. “The owners are very inclusive and have been paving the way for women to have more responsibility.”
Responsibility is something Champagne learned growing up on a working farm, one requirement of which was learning how to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission — which leads back to the 1935 Chevy pickup. “It’s all original,” she says. “I had the body cleaned up and a new paint job. It’s adorable.”