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Bisnett Insurance started as a family business, founded in Pendleton Oregon, in 1980 by my parents, Roger and Linda Bisnett. My brother, Stephen, joined shortly after graduating from Arizona State University in 2006. While I saw small business, maybe even insurance, as an eventual possibility, I wanted to create my own path. I wanted core financial knowledge that could translate into a leadership or CFO-type position. I also love cities and traveling and wanted to create a career path that would allow me to experience the world.
Moving to California, I majored in accounting at Santa Clara University, got my CPA license, and set out to gain as much corporate experience as possible. I started in auditing at KPMG and Moss Adams, then moved into financial planning and analysis (FP&A), working alongside business leaders in a variety of industries and roles. I lived in San Francisco for several years, as well as in Australia where I met my husband and London. Planning to start a family, my Englishman-husband’s desire for more sunshine than gloomy London and a job offer from Scottsdale-based Fender Guitars turned my path home in 2014.
Three years after returning to Arizona, ready for my next career move, I decided to leave Fender. I joined the family business in a Controller position. Over its 40 years, Bisnett Insurance had, organically and through several acquisitions, built operations across Oregon, Idaho, and Arizona. Stephen’s primary role had been driving sales. My strengths were managing the P&L and profitability, developing a strategic vision, and driving initiatives and improvements. A year and a half after joining, with the departure of some senior leaders, I stepped into the president position. My years of preparation had met their moment.
Over the next five years, with a strong, cohesive management team, we integrated two more acquisitions and tuned up every business function and line item - from teams and culture to training, technologies, vendor, and carrier partnerships. Our topline grew while the EBITDA margin stayed above 25%. That success attracted regular interest from potential buyers.
Roger, Stephen, and I would occasionally talk about the consolidating state of the industry and Bisnett Insurance’s future but didn’t see a reason to sell. We were doing well and having fun. As a mature business at a successful plateau, however, accessing capital to scale, grow the business, and develop producers was becoming an issue. We’d used traditional debt financing in the past but quickly hit a ceiling with our leverage ratios and maintaining covenants. We also needed a solid succession plan from the top down.
We didn’t need to sell, but knew a strategic partner could accelerate our growth, getting us the scale, additional resources and tools, producer recruiting, and capital to continue investing in our success. It could also ensure our most valuable asset, Bisnett’s employees, had secure futures. We have always treated our employees like family. A firm that had a national scale but retained a family-like feel and focus on culture would be essential. Stephen and I, with the road still to run, also saw that selling to the right partner could be great for our own careers.
Ken Pan at insurance investment bank Dowling Hales had kept in touch with us over the years with M&A market updates. With his help, we lined up 17 video conference meetings with potential suitors from an initial list of 20 and did a whirlwind week of virtual meetings.
Because we didn’t necessarily have to sell, we went in with a very open mind. We saw startup agencies, backed by private equity or venture capitalist money. We met with a few of the bigger firms as well. By about the fifth interview, we started to see the differences; how the companies were run, their style. Risk Strategies really stood out. They kept things very simple and relaxed. Others were more black-and-white. Risk Strategies was dialogue and discussion. They were a big company with scale, expertise, and resources, but still entrepreneurial. We heard about their collaborative culture, and flat organizational structure and were given concrete examples demonstrating how Risk Strategies leadership took a genuine interest in everyone who is part of the organization.
The Risk Strategies offer was the first of 11 we ended up receiving. It was a very competitive offer, but what sealed our decision was the culture we saw throughout the process. Going with Risk Strategies would get us more than a great, well-structured offer and the resources and scale of a growing national firm. It would get us a new home with a new path forward where we could see a great future for us, our clients, and all the employees of Bisnett Insurance.