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I graduated with a geology degree when jobs were sparse. Filing oil well completion cards didn’t quite have the excitement factor I was looking for, so I began applying to graduate business (MBA) programs.
At the time, my parents had a small personal lines insurance agency. Knowing I was in transition, Dad said, “Give us a try.” Viewing it as a temporary job while I awaited a graduate school acceptance letter, I began helping my parents and their one part-time employee. Unexpectedly, my father died of a heart attack a few months later.
I ended up spending five years working alongside my mom to run and eventually sell the agency.
I finally started the MBA program I had postponed. With a growing family to support, however, I set aside my studies to take a job with USAA, initially as a claims adjuster. When I found out USAA had its own insurance agency, I met with the vice president of that division and said, “Hey, I want to work here.” That’s where I got my first exposure to commercial lines.
Along the way we began offering malpractice insurance to USAA members who were doctors, dentists, lawyers, architects, and engineers. I discovered that I enjoyed creating professional liability programs and began looking for a program I could run myself. Through luck, I was able to adopt an orphaned dental program in Dallas, Texas, which became the springboard for where I am today. Through many twists and turns, it evolved into the agency my wife Terri and I sold to Risk Strategies.
I became active in our regional dental community through one-on-one meetings, speaking engagements, writing articles, and more. In turn, the community supported me back.
By 2011, our book of business had grown to just over $1 million in annual revenue, and we served about 3,000 dentists, but I was only a fractional owner of the agency. Long story short, Terri said, “You know…we should do this on our own.”
My first love is selling — not administration. So, I was unsure if we were ready to take on full responsibility for running all aspects of an agency. Terri replied, “No problem. I can do it.” And she did.
Together, we secured a $1 million loan and bought out our partners. We evolved the practice from selling primarily dental professional liability insurance into a full-lines agency serving the dental community.
With one employee and enough work for five or six people, we grew by being good listeners and problem solvers and providing great service. We’ve always focused on being there for people, especially during their times of greatest need. And we’ve made continuing education a priority so we can speak the language of dentists.
Being a small agency has advantages but also challenges, such as staffing. We started asking the question, “How do we begin to scale?” Ultimately, we decided to explore partnering with a larger brokerage that had resources we didn’t have.
The dental industry is going through some consolidation just as insurance agencies are. Private equity firms are buying up dental practices and rolling them together into larger entities. When I first started, I wouldn't have imagined a dental client with 250 locations. These larger businesses can benefit from risk management, analytics, loss control, and safety services we did not have in-house. We also recognized that we needed access to a greater number of markets and more insurance products than typically available to an agency our size.
To start, we articulated criteria regarding the type of firm we wanted to work with. We were seeking a brokerage that is forward thinking and cares about technology. We wanted to see an exceptional focus on taking care of clients. And we wanted someone who would understand and respect what we do and let us continue to do business in the way that’s made us successful.
Since Terri and I want to remain involved and grow the business, a crucial decision factor for us was values alignment. We wanted to feel comfortable that we were coming into an organization with well-established processes for integrating acquisitions.
The structure of the deal was important — it included a financial incentive to continue growing, which aligns with our goals.
Terri and I liked the people we met and felt they had a similar view to ours regarding life and work. For me, here’s what clinched the deal: During the in-person meeting with Risk Strategies, I said, “You know…I’m not going to be your ‘regular’ type producer. It’s not the way I work.”
Chief M&A Officer John Vaglica looked at me and said, “I hope not.” And I thought, “O.K. This is a guy that gets me.”
Being with Risk Strategies gives us access to tools, knowledge, and contracts that we didn’t have as a small agency. Recently, I got an email from a client who said, “Kyle, I want to rent a plane, and I need a renter’s policy for aircraft.”
I thought to myself, “Here’s a guy who needs something I know nothing about.” In the past, I would have referred him to a different agency. Instead, our Aviation Practice was able to serve him in-house.
There’s a culture of mutual collaboration here. I’m working with a Risk Strategies producer in New Jersey who doesn’t know much about the dental community but has a connection to a large oral surgery group. Networking across the firm helps us unearth new opportunities so we can expand at a much faster pace. We look forward to collaborating with producers throughout the U.S. to serve the specialty needs of the dental industry.