Welcome to Insurance Journal’s Agents of the Year report.
This report features 25 agents who defined what it meant to be a successful independent agent in 2021. These agents are more than top sellers. While they have achieved impressive success in sales and demonstrated laudable business intelligence and entrepreneurial skills, they also have shown they have a passion for what they do and a commitment to professionalism and, in many cases, specialization. For them, being an insurance agent is more than a job.
Insurance Journal’s Agents of the Year come from all regions of the country, live and work in cities or towns big and small, and know the importance of giving back. Information included in this report was voluntarily submitted online by agents and was supplemented by other public information sources. There are many more agents who deserve mention than are profiled here.
Rice Insurance LLC - Bellingham, WashingtonLinkedIn
In the 13 years since James Fritts took over as CEO of Rice Insurance LCC in Bellingham, Washington, the company has grown from a few million in annual revenue to more than $30 million in 2021. Fritts, who has been in the insurance industry for 16 years — all of them at Rice Insurance — focuses on private and public real estate REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), real estate investors and real estate syndicators. Founded in 1946, Rice Insurance is independently owned and now has more than 125 employees. "We have successfully grown year over year by more than 20% topline revenue," Fritts says. "We now operate on a national level and have clients in all 50 states. I've scaled the process of selling insurance so that our growth does not flatten, allowing us to grow rapidly in short periods of time, but also do it consistently."
Woodruff Sawyer - San Francisco, CaliforniaLinkedIn
After six years working in the financial services industry, particularly financial and insurance planning, Clark Morton joined Woodruff Sawyer in 2004 with a focus on directors and officers (D&O) liability. Morton works primarily with high growth, late-stage private organizations, companies in the process of going public through IPO, direct listing, SPAC or DeSPAC transactions, and publicly traded firms with a focus on the technology and life sciences sectors. In addition to his primary specialty areas, he also works with clients in the financial services, e-commerce, and consumer products industries. Morton says he most enjoys the freedom and entrepreneurial aspect of his career, and that the entrepreneurial spirit and autonomy to build his business was a major draw to working at Woodruff Sawyer. As a partner and senior vice president, Morton is known for providing guidance to solve clients' most complex risk issues, mobilizing the right resources to address evolving exposures, fighting for coverage when a claim occurs, and delivering highly responsive service. His approach is centered on helping clients solve complex risk and insurance issues in a consultative manner. Morton is a national speaker on insurance and risk management topics, and has been faculty member at the Practicing Law Institute.
RSI Insurance Brokers Inc. - Newport Beach, CaliforniaLinkedIn
Trucking is big business for RSI Insurance Brokers Inc. in Newport Beach, California. Patrick Thomas, whose father, Ben Thomas, founded the agency in 1989, says RSI has "grown to be one of the premier transportation insurance agencies in the country." With a diverse staff providing fluency in 10 languages, the agency offers "unique and exclusive products that greatly help our trucking clients. We find businesses in need for extra help and support, and provide them not only with financial tools but operational tools to elevate their businesses to the next level," Thomas says.
Newfront - San Francisco, CaliforniaLinkedIn
A founding principal at Newfront in San Francisco, California, Eric Long specializes in risk management and strategic oversight for life science and technology clients' global insurance programs. He focuses on complexity, and provides differentiated advice and insurance contracts including property/casualty, E&O/ cyber liability, IP, and management liability for IPOs and public companies. Now serving as executive vice president and practice leader, life science, at Newfront, Long has nearly 20 years of experience as a leader in the insurance industry providing trusted advice, creative cost-effective risk transfer solutions, and unparalleled service to clients. Long, who is often invited to speak at industry conferences, says he "leads a team to provide superior risk management strategy, expertise/insights, brokerage process, and claims advisory and advocacy. ... Clients tell me that our practice is unique from other brokerages due to our proactive communication and collaboration through the various stages of their growth."
Smith McGehee LLC - St. Louis, MissouriLinkedIn
At Smith McGehee LLC in St. Louis, Missouri, Robby McGehee specializes in real estate development and construction. He develops large construction OCIP and CCIP programs for international residential and hospitality developers, including high end residential communities/golf clubs, as well as large hotels with residential components. In addition, McGehee focuses on the back end, supporting legal counsel and working with the firm's carriers through claim scenarios. Prior to working in insurance, McGehee pursued a professional racing career, highlighted by receiving Rookie of the Year honor at the 1999 Indianapolis 500. He retired from auto racing in 2004 and began working full-time in the insurance industry at Huntleigh McGehee Inc., where he led a team in the practice of risk management for a large international real estate developer. He joined Smith McGehee Insurance Solutions as a principal in November 2011. "I always believe that to be a good producer, you must be the smartest technical producer on the products that you represent. Many brokers these days use a 'sales' force, with supporting teams that [provide the expertise]. In my case, I still need the supporting teams, but feel that technical knowledge should come from the relationship broker, building a partnership that is beneficial to the insured," McGehee says.
Carlisle Insurance (Acrisure) - Corpus Christi TexasLinkedIn
Before Chase Carlisle began his career as an agent 15 years ago, he worked as a property adjuster for Travelers. Now, at Carlisle Insurance, he specializes in coastal property risks, specifically along the Gulf Coast, with a majority of his book of business consisting of public entity-related business, such as cities, counties, schools and port authorities. "Throughout the past 15 years I have been fortunate to be mentored by my father who taught me everything he has learned over 42 years in the business," he says. His father's mentorship "accelerated the growth in my book of business. Without the knowledge, you cannot be successful." Carlisle says he has a competitive, driven personality, and strives to do everything within his power to win the business. He not only achieved the professional designations of CIC, CMIP and CPCU before the age of 35, he also has served as the president of his local IIAT association (IIACB). "In order to continue to grow and be successful you have to remain humble and driven. I constantly remind myself of where I started and how blessed I have been by God," he says.
Berrian Insurance Group Inc. - Lone Tree, ColoradoLinkedIn
Before launching his independent agency, Berrian Insurance Group Inc., in Lone Tree, Colorado, Joel Berrian gained experience in varied and diverse segments of the insurance industry. He previously worked as a claims adjuster, risk manager, insurance broker and Lloyd's of London Coverholder. Berrian also served as CEO at Crump Insurance Group and Price Forbes LLC. In addition, he completed the Wharton School Executive Insurance Program and earned the CPCU, CIC, ARM and AIC professional designations. He currently serves on the board of directors at Leavitt Group. Berrian's book of business includes all middle market and risk management size risks, with special programs for CAT exposed property, food and beverage, product recall, global transit, trucking, and public entity. He concentrates on analyzing his clients' coverage gaps to identify risk exposures and creating insurance protection to close the gaps. "Understanding the business goals and strategies of customers enables me to respond to their business needs," Berrian says.
First Fidelity Brokerage - New York City, New YorkLinkedIn
As the head of First Fidelity Brokerage (FFB) with over 20 years of insurance experience, Eugene Podokshik has transformed the company from a general insurance broker to a specialist provider for a select group of industries. The agency's areas of expertise include education, construction and real estate. Most of First Fidelity's growth comes from referrals, which originate from providing excellent service, he says. "My vision evolved as I moved rapidly up the ranks in the industry working in various positions servicing middle market and national accounts. During the last 10 years, I've focused on growth of several niches by transitioning services rendered to be consultative in nature vs. transactional," Podokshik says.
Newfront - San Francisco, CaliforniaLinkedIn
Erik Stenson, senior vice president and founding principal at Newfront in San Francisco, is an insurance professional with more than 30 years of insurance and technology experience in Silicon Valley. Supported by what he deems "the best and brightest team in the industry," Stenson works with a variety of companies from startup through IPO, providing risk management and strategic insurance placement. His insurance expertise includes D&O, professional liability (E&O), cyber liability, general liability, property, auto, and a variety of specialty coverages for both domestic and foreign risk exposures. Stenson began his insurance career at Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. He later helped build several insurance technology startups, including InsWeb and BenefitPoint. Stenson also helped other ventures achieve funding and new growth in various markets, including employee productivity, wellness and email marketing. "With a solid understanding of insurance, especially within the technology industry, I co-founded a Silicon Valley based insurance brokerage firm, called ABD, which merged into Newfront Insurance in 2021. My job is to listen, interpret, educate and execute. Clients appreciate my problem-solving skills and no-nonsense approach to insurance strategy. Driven by high expectations for personal performance and team responsiveness, I am dogged in providing solutions." Stenson says.
Johnson, Kendall & Johnson - Newtown, PennsylvaniaLinkedIn
Networking to help others has been the most significant force driving the growth of his book of business, according to Kevin Dougher, who began his insurance career in June 2004. By 2010 he had developed the niche practices that currently comprise the bulk of his business at Johnson, Kendall & Johnson. His areas of expertise include nonprofit human services, sports and entertainment, complex workers' compensation risks and captives. Dougher says 75% of his new business prospecting time is concentrated on his niches. That intense focus, coupled with a strong loyalty to his network, has been "incredibly rewarding," Dougher says. "I put a lot of effort in connecting people in my network to one another. This has created a tremendous and loyal business network. Creating centers of influence and becoming a center of influence has been invaluable," he says. Dougher commits his time to developing his expertise in the niches on which he concentrates. Acknowledging his ability to create and maintain new relationships, Dougher says "the hard work in learning the products that are important to my insureds in my niches is a significant reason that I have been able to achieve some success."
Renewable Guard Insurance Brokers LLC - San Francisco, CaliforniaLinkedIn
After entering the insurance business in 2003 with a concentration on personal lines, in 2012 Michael Cosgrave expanded into the commercial property/casualty insurance arena by joining Couch Braunsdorf, an Assurex Global brokerage. It was during his time at that brokerage that Cosgrave began to focus on the renewable energy business. "I always had a strong interest in the industry and believed in its role in the future of energy production. While I enjoyed great success working for my former brokerages, I saw a clear need in the renewable energy industry for a retail brokerage that was entirely committed to supporting the insurance needs for this rapidly growing industry," Cosgrave says. With that need in mind, Cosgrave created San Francisco-based Renewable Guard Insurance Brokers in 2018, designed specifically to support the renewable energy industry. It is one of the few independent agencies dedicated to the industry and is now widely recognized as a top tier renewable energy insurance brokerage option, Cosgrave says. The agency's success is driven by its "ability to absorb and react to each client's individual needs with speed and precision. We pride ourselves in keeping at the forefront of industry trends and new insurance products, allowing us to keep our clients apprised."
Higginbotham - Fort Worth, TexasLinkedIn
A managing director at Higginbotham in Fort Worth, Texas, Brian Schneider credits his success as an agent to the mentors and team that both support him and work tirelessly to exceed the needs of their clients. Schneider joined Higginbotham 11 years ago; his book of business is concentrated in the private equity, restaurant/hospitality and public sector industries. His middle market and large commercial accounts vary in complexity and are located both inside and outside the U.S. Finding ways to help clients beyond insurance placement and providing resources to better protect their business are keys to demonstrating the added value his team brings to a partnership with the client, Schneider says. Executing his goals has been Schneider's main strategy for success: "Exceed client expectations and provide innovative solutions for risk management and risk transfer," he says. "Referrals continue to be the main growth strategy, by maintaining a strong work ethic and putting clients' interests first." Schneider adds that he plans to continue growing his business by "utilizing our internal practice leaders and risk management resources to further deliver value to my clients."
Higginbotham - Dallas, TexasLinkedIn
Paul Bassman entered the music business after graduating from college and spent 15 years managing major label artists and talent scouting for Capitol Records. He transitioned to the insurance industry 16 years ago, leveraging his background in the music business to develop a book of business focused on live entertainment such as venues, concerts, festivals and sporting events. Entertainment and sports now represent 95% of his book. While he's often tempted by large insureds outside of his practice area, Bassman says he remains focused on his specialties. "Fortunately, with Higginbotham I have a large team of experts where I can refer the non-entertainment business. I feel strongly that my real world, hands-on experience in the music business has set me apart from other agents trying to work in the entertainment space," he says.
Century Risk Advisors - Boca Raton, FloridaLinkedIn
Educated and trained as an attorney, and with a strong background in business, risk management and commercial property/casualty insurance, Gary Reshefsky founded his agency, Century Risk Advisors in Boca Raton, Florida, in 2013 after seeing an opportunity to provide clients with an advisor attuned to their specific needs. With industry specializations in transportation, not for profit organizations, subscription retail, aviation, financial services, public entity, and others, his main focus is outsourced insurance and risk management for middle market companies. Insurance was never foreign to Reshefsky, he grew up with it. His father Ron Reshefsky, who is chairman of Century Risk Advisors, founded Century Financial Services in 1983, growing it to become one of the largest independent agencies in Florida before it was sold to a national brokerage firm. Reshefsky says that with the creation of Century Risk Advisors, he "wanted a company that reflected our principles and approach to the business, which is prioritizing the client ahead of corporate directives. I also wanted our clients to enjoy the benefits of an outsourced risk management team dedicated" to their needs. Through the process of growing his agency, Reshefsky has developed new insurance products, become a tribunalized Lloyd's coverholder, and created ways to distribute on-demand insurance over the internet. However, he says, "my passion is building and leading a team of professionals that becomes indispensable to our clients."
Newfront - San Francisco, CaliforniaLinkedIn
As senior vice president, P&C, at Newfront, and with a concentration in financial services, technology and fintech companies, Ivoree Reinaldo specializes in working with publicly traded and private companies that are modernizing business. These organizations have purpose, are positively impacting commerce and communities, are consumer-friendly, best in class, and leaders in their industry and segment, she says. In 2021, Reinaldo became the first Black female producer and principal/owner at Newfront. In addition to her role as property/casualty SVP, she is the lead broker on publicly traded organizations (notably public D&O). Reinaldo has been a commercial insurance adviser and risk management consultant for nearly 20 years, customizing insurance programs for complicated and large commercial risk and investment needs. Early in her career she worked extensively with nonprofits and social enterprise organizations. "In January 2020, I testified before Congress as a subject matter expert on insurance matters. My goal was to use my expertise and life experiences to help underserved organizations such as the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors," she says. In 2021, the U.S. Department of Treasury called upon her to discuss "the impact of the hard insurance market on organizations who may struggle to absorb the impact, such as my client Black Lives Matter, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Nonprofits, and other high profile social justice organizations."
The Huneycutt Group - Wilmington, North CarolinaLinkedIn
With a book of business concentrated on the new home market, Brett Lascara is fortunate to be located the rapidly growing area of Wilmington, North Carolina. A big part of his agency's success has come from gaining market share in the new home market there. An agent with five years of experience, Lascara has grown his book by around 40% every year, and now has a dedicated team to help his continued growth and service of his existing book. "We have worked hard to be a true resource to our referral partners. We work with a lot of realtors and mortgage loan officers. We strive to be a true resource to them and help grow their business, which in return has helped grow ours," Lascara says.
Insuramax - Louisville, KentuckyLinkedIn
Russ Wardlaw has been securing insurance for fast food restaurants for more than 35 years. A shareholder and president of Insuramax, Wardlaw is also the program director for a national fast food restaurant program. He says its partnership with their program carrier has allowed the agency to grow along with his own book of business. While his carrier's competitive pricing and exceptional claims service has contributed to his agency success, Wardlaw believes the most valuable resource he and his team provide to their clients are "proactive quarterly service claims calls," during which clients' current open and closed claims are analyzed. "This allows our team to provide our clients with a proactive service, as well as grow our business relationship and friendship," he says. After working for insurance carriers early in his career, Wardlaw transitioned to the independent agency side of the business in 1991, and has spent more than 30 years in sales production, management and training. He joined Insuramax in 2011. "My leadership skills combined with all of my employees and program team members have been the perfect blend of success," he says. In addition, "I love my customers and take pride in providing them with the best product, service and pricing."
Cannabis Connect Insurance - Campbell, CaliforniaLinkedIn
A co-founder of Cannabis Connect Insurance, a partner of Acrisure LLC, Stephanie Bozzuto is an insurance professional with 14 years' experience in business development, marketing strategy and insurance coverage analysis. Bozzuto has co-developed cannabis insurance product offerings and is utilized as a cannabis insurance expert for other Acrisure insurance brokerages nationwide. An active member of the insurance committee of the California Cannabis Industry Association and the chair of the risk and insurance committee of the National Cannabis Industry Association, she speaks on multiple platforms and panels about insurance, loss prevention and compliance in the cannabis industry. Her outstanding performance at Cannabis Connect has resulted in Bozzuto being named Producer of the Year in 2018, 2019 and 2020. "Being involved in associations, networking events, committees and other groups has elevated my career. I am involved with both the National and California Cannabis Industry Association, which has given me a larger platform to educate cannabis consumers on how to level up their buying experience in the emerging cannabis industry," she says. Bozzuto adds that she has cultivated partner relationships throughout the U.S. and the majority of her book now comes from referrals. She is committed "to providing ethical, responsible insurance for the new emerging cannabis industry," she says.
Alkeme Insurance Services Inc. - Ladera Ranch, California
A veteran of the insurance industry for more than 25 years, Dan Vaughan maintains a specialty in loss sensitive accounts. In 2012, he launched California-based Gallant Risk & Insurance Services, which ultimately joined forces with Alkeme Insurance Services Inc. in 2020. The firm was initially intended to focus on commercial clients but was eventually expanded into a full-service brokerage firm to support clients in all areas of their insurance needs. Vaughan says his mission is to understand the long-term goals of his clients and provide the necessary services to help them achieve those goals. At Alkeme, he has continued to service his clients with a renewed energy along with helping to develop younger producers. With a light-hearted personality that causes people to want to work with him, Vaughan says through his work at Alkeme he is able to attract the larger client organizations that really can utilize the loss sensitive model.
David W. Clausen
Coastal Insurance Solutions - Rocky Point, New YorkLinkedIn
David W. Clausen began his insurance career in a family-owned insurance agency located on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. He has 20-plus years of experience as a licensed independent agent focused on coastal home and flood insurance, and additionally maintains a niche focus on high-net-worth families. During the past five years, his agency has grown rapidly from serving just New York residents to now writing in more than 20 states. "Digitizing the insurance experience has helped me grow the most. I've invested significant resources in my technology stack to improve our new and existing customer experience by building and integrating Salesforce into my agency management system (Applied Epic)," he says. The technology has enabled the agency to improve its marketing initiatives, which produced 26% year over year premium growth, Clausen adds.
Ambassador Group - Phoenix, ArizonaLinkedIn
Hospitality is what David DeLorenzo loves. After launching his insurance career in 2000 as a general agent, two years later with the aim of becoming a specialist in the hospitality arena, he bought barandrestaurantinsurance.com and "never looked back," DeLorenzo says. His agency, The Ambassador Group in Phoenix, Arizona, now has a staff of 12 and maintains one of the largest hospitality books in the state. By his own admission, DeLorenzo has taken "social media to the next level," with an active presence on LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. His podcast dedicated to hospitality can be accessed on his website, www.barandrestaurantinsurance.com, and he conducts seminars and roundtables to help his current clients and others with added value and education. "It is about connecting and protecting. ... To be relevant is everything," DeLorenzo says.
Britton Gallagher (Acrisure) - Cleveland, OhioLinkedIn
With more than 25 years of experience managing multiple client portfolios with broad ranges of risks and exposures, Jeremy Bryant specializes in multiple risk management segments, including private equity programs, real estate, retail, manufacturing and construction risks. His expertise includes operations, best practices, commercial brokerage design and placement, reinsurance development, niche program coverage and development, and strategic insurance carrier relationships. Bryant has served as director of risk management for a large Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). He also previously worked as an assistant risk manager for a large private, family-owned commercial property management and construction development operation with international exposures that included professional sports ownership, aviation exposures, equine and farming, estate planning, wrap-ups and master insurance programs. Bryant holds a business degree from Ohio State University, and has earned the Associate in Risk Management (ARM), Certified Risk Manager (CRM), Certified Programs Leader (CPL) and Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) designations.
JMG Insurance Corp. - Norwalk, ConnecticutLinkedIn
Now specializing primarily personal lines insurance with a niche in high-net-worth clientele and habitational investments, Francesca Forlivio began her career in the insurance industry in 2014 as human resources manager at JMG Insurance Corp. Forlivo says she "fell in love with the sales/production aspect of the property/casualty industry," an area in which she participated on a part-time basis while continuing in her full-time HR position. She earned her CPCU designation within a 12-month period and is now working on an MBA at the University of Connecticut, which she will complete this Spring. "I am always seeking ways of growing professionally and feel education is one of the most valuable ways to gain knowledge and continue adapting in an ever-changing industry," Forlivio says. Valuing circles of influence, networking, and obtaining referrals from satisfied clients has helped her grow her personal book of business, according to Forlivio. "It is so gratifying to be able to advise and work with individuals and businesses throughout various stages of their lives and careers," she says. "Gaining trust and continuing to provide reliable customer service with a top-notch team around me has been essential," she adds.
Marcus Insurance - Wethersfield, ConnecticutLinkedIn
It's helpful that Zach Marcus is fluent in three languages — English, Spanish and Hebrew — as his agency, Marcus Insurance, an independent and family-owned enterprise in Wethersfield, Connecticut, that has been in existence for more than 80 years, works with clients around the world to insure their rental properties in the United States. Collectively, the team at his agency speaks seven languages, which empowers them to reach out and serve the diverse, international communities in which they specialize. "Being the 4th generation in the business, I have grown up around insurance, and for almost a decade have been working to insure the needs of our customers. Adapting and leveraging technologies has been very important, but nothing replaces the human element. This business is and will continue to be about relationships, responsiveness, and honesty," Marcus says. Responsive, honest service, in addition to the insurance capabilities the agency offers, enables both Marcus and his agency to retain a competitive position in the marketplace for the coming years, he adds.
FNIC - Omaha, NebraskaLinkedIn
Commitment, a strong work ethic, and a dedication to becoming a coverage expert in his chosen field have helped Clyde Wilberger achieve success as an insurance specialist with a focus on the construction industry. He began his career in 2003, working with a small agency that had only nine employees. After his agency merged with a much larger one, Wilberger felt he needed to expand his knowledge of the coverages he was selling and set about to do just that by studying policy forms, asking questions and attending training classes. He obtained the CLCS (Commercial Lines Coverage Specialist) and CRIS (Construction Risk & Insurance Specialist) designations and has earned recognition as a coverage expert in the construction industry. As director of Sales at FNIC, a position to which he was promoted in 2016, Wilberger enjoys mentoring new agents. "It is exciting and rewarding to see them become successful," he says. Wilberger says he never takes for granted the job of protecting the assets his clients work for years to obtain. Focusing "on delivering great service and knowing coverages is how I have grown my book over the years," he adds