Insurance Industry Rankings & Awards

2023 Agents of the Year

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Welcome to Insurance Journal’s Agents of the Year report.

This report features 20 agents who defined what it meant to be a successful independent agent in 2023. 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.

For web badges, plaques, and reprints, visit the Agents of the Year promotions page.

Agent of the Year - Christina Downs

Christina Downs

Prestige Trucking Insurance - Tamarac, Florida


A specialist in commercial trucking insurance, in fewer than nine years Christina Downs has grown her company, Prestige Trucking, from a solo operation to one with more than 70 employees and she's not stopping there.

She added an office in Illinois in mid 2023, and while most of her team is based in the Tamarac, Florida, home office, she has employees situated in locations across the United States.

Her team strives "to bring truckers unbeatable prices and service," Downs says. But they are also expanding

into other lines of insurance, such as personal auto. Her goal is to become the "Disneyworld of Insurance!" Downs says.

To be successful in the business, it's important to not only know the products and services you provide, but also to "have confidence in what you sell," Downs advises.

"Make calls and be diligent about follow-ups." Being able to provide the greatest service and prices for Prestige's insureds is the most satisfying part of her job, she says.

"I know we try our hardest to provide the best service and prices by shopping around diligently and providing real-world answers."

Agent of the Year - David Clausen

David Clausen

Coastal Insurance Solutions - Rocky Point, New York


David W. Clausen's roots in the insurance world trace back to his early days at his family's local agency, where he started with basic tasks like trash disposal. But his fascination with technology soon made him the go-to for tech-related issues at the agency. After college, he rejoined his family's business as a full-time employee and soon became a top producer.

In 2003, he launched Coastal Insurance Solutions in Rocky Point, New York, focusing on the high net worth market, including luxury home and flood insurance. He is the CEO at Coastal Insurance Solutions, and his passion for technology continues. Clausen has published over 300 articles and parlayed his technical savvy and innovative digital marketing strategies into a reputation as an expert in the insurance sector.

Clausen said finding a niche and partnering with carriers who share that expertise is essential, but so is effectively reaching out to clients looking for those specific coverages. "I plan to stay ahead of the curve by aiming to adopt emerging technologies and innovative marketing tactics to keep my services relevant and accessible to a broader, yet still targeted, audience," Clausen said.

"This dual approach of niche specialization and advanced digital marketing will be key to not only maintaining but also expanding my position as a top agent in the coming years."

Agent of the Year - Martin Fox-Foster

Martin Fox-Foster

Relation Insurance Services - Walnut Creek, California


With more than 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, Martin Fox-Foster says he's "passionate about guiding clients through the complexities of commercial insurance coverage to ensure that clients benefit from robust risk management advice and coverage tailored to their needs."

Fox-Foster began his career in the industry as an attorney at a London-

based specialist insurance law firm and ultimately became affiliated with Relation Insurance Services through G2 Insurance Services, a boutique firm in San Francisco. He also previously served as an assistant vice president at Alliant Insurance Services in San Francisco.

Fox-Foster says his deep knowledge of coverage developed during his early work as an attorney has served him in growing his book of business, and honing his skills and abilities to serve clients.

Getting to know his clients and their businesses "is important to me," FoxFoster says. He feels he brings to clients the "knowledge to help them make informed decisions about their insurance."

He would advise new agents "to learn the coverage that you are selling to clients. That is the basis of everything you do. Actually, understanding insurance and being able to communicate this and making clients confident you are taking care of them will give you a long-term sustainable book of business and career."

Agent of the Year - Cameron Annas

Cameron Annas

Granite Insurance - Granite Falls, North Carolina


Cameron Annas combines insurance with adventure and entertainment. The Granite Insurance CEO also serves as the national practice leader for the adventure and entertainment team, which over the past seven years has grown from just one client to over 400 throughout all 50 states from its headquarters in Granite Falls, North Carolina.

Annas joined Granite in 2013 as a business risk consultant and quickly realized he wanted to narrow his focus. "Choose

a niche in year one," Annas advises. "If it doesn't pan out, move to another niche. However, don't be a generalist and get sucked into that trap. You'll be 10 years into your career, still being a generalist, and not delivering huge value to a specific niche."

Annas said insurance and risk management solutions in the adventure and entertainment industry can be challenging. His book consists of unique risks ranging from amusement parts to zip lines. These risks often present challenging complexities when delivering the proper insurance and often come with high severity when claims do occur. But by specializing, Granite Insurance's team is able to bring non-insurance solutions to the table, such as risk management, data and analytics, industry studies, and benchmarking, he says.

While it can be difficult due to the nature of his specialty, Annas says the most satisfying part of his job is knowing he helped a client in a challenging market. The best thing about being an agent is "hearing a client say, 'Thank you, you've helped us be more successful, and because of that, we are proud to partner with you.'"

Agent of the Year - Kimberly Perrine

Kimberly Perrine

Perrine Agency Inc. - Maple Grove, Minnesota


When it comes to cannabis coverage, Kimberly Perrine was an early adopter. "Recognizing the growing significance of the cannabis industry, I strategically shifted my focus exclusively to this niche in 2018," says Perrine. "This decision allowed me to stay at the forefront of industry developments and tailor insurance solutions to the specific needs of cannabis businesses."

Today, Perrine is the chief operating officer, and a commercial and personal producer, of the Perrine Agency in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Early on, she developed and implemented comprehensive risk management strategies for cannabis clients, ensuring compliance with evolving regulations

and navigating the complex legal and regulatory landscape. She also collaborated with underwriters and carriers to create specialized insurance products catering to the cannabis industry. Six years later, she has strong relationships with businesses from startups to established enterprises.

"Networking is crucial for my personal and professional development, and its importance extends across various aspects of life and career," she says. "The power

of networking lies in the potential for collaboration, growth, and support."

As the industry and its laws evolve, she plans to continue developing innovative and adapted coverage options to address emerging risks and stay ahead of industry trends.

The best part of her job — helping others. "I would have to say the best part of the job is initial education on the complexities of insurance and why it is important to have options for your future."

Agent of the Year - Tony Hopkins

Tony Hopkins

The Horton Group - Waukesha, Wisconsin


Tony Hopkins, senior vice president

at The Horton Group, is an enthusiastic proponent of specialization in the insurance business. He says the best advice he "received for growing as an agent is the importance of specialization. It's crucial to find a niche ... and immerse yourself in it," Hopkins says.

His niche areas are gas and welding,

and mergers and acquisitions, and he is an acknowledged expert in both. That specialization not only drives the growth of his book of business, it also differentiates him and his agency from the competition.

The Horton Group's "approach has been to specialize in niches that are not easily imitated. This specialization isn't just a claim on our website; it's a genuine, deep-rooted expertise," Hopkins says.

Part of that specialized service includes partnering with clients as an "outsourced risk management partner," which at The Horton Group is seen as "a long-term investment for both clients and staff," Hopkins says. He believes a comprehensive risk management strategy for clients goes well beyond simply buying insurance. "True risk management programs include 'company killers' issues, such as succession planning, organic growth, operational efficiency, diversification, innovation and corporate culture," he says.

Hopkins would advise new agents to find specific areas of focus where they can set themselves apart. "A good specialty is one where your knowledge and expertise can make a tangible difference ... This approach not only helps in building a solid client base but also in establishing yourself as an expert in a particular field," he says.

Agent of the Year - Cal Garretson

Cal Garretson

Oakbridge Insurance - LaGrange, Georgia


Like many others in the sector, Cal Garretson didn't begin his working career in the insurance industry. But a fallen business venture opened his eyes to the opportunity that the industry has to offer.

"I came to the insurance industry after developing a restaurant franchise concept that ultimately failed. It was the process of filing an insurance claim that opened my eyes to the opportunities that effective risk management and superior customer service could provide," Garretson says. "From that venture, I also learned the crucial value of building a team of highly capable, motivated professionals."

He entered the business of insurance in 2012 at Waites & Foshee in Macon, Georgia, which ultimately joined with three other Georgia-based independent agencies to form Oakbridge Insurance.

Now a partner at Oakbridge, which is a Top 100 Independent Insurance Agency, Garretson was named the company's producer of the year for 2023. He and his team of 12 risk management professionals focus on providing risk management solutions for site preparation companies in the utility construction sector.

He says as a former business owner he's keenly aware of the value of risk management, and so he and his team strive to "provide best-in-class customer service."

To a new agent, Garretson would say "just be yourself ... know what you're good at, focus on that. Seek out expertise to elevate your weaknesses." It's a hard lesson to learn but an invaluable one, he says.

Agent of the Year - Ron Pascucci

Ron Pascucci

Woodruff Sawyer - Boston, Massachusetts


Since joining California-based Woodruff Sawyer in 2015, Ron Pascucci's primary focus has been on the life sciences and technology industries, particularly those navigating a journey toward an IPO. From his base in Massachusetts, Pascucci has cultivated a client base among these types of companies, for which the Boston/ Cambridge area is a hub.

His book comprises an 80/20 client base split, with the emphasis on life sciences. His core specialty lies in management liability, with a particular focus on the

IPO process, a specialization Pascucci has honed over the years. He also manages substantial product liability and cyber liability portfolios, particularly for companies in the life science/technology niches.

His expertise serves as a valuable resource for companies approaching an IPO, where venture capital is involved. "I'm quite familiar with the demands of VC-backed enterprises. Our specialization in providing D&O, Cyber, and Product Liability coverage positions us as a trusted partner, meeting the unique insurance needs of these industries," Pascucci says.

To younger, less experienced agents, he would say: "'Get out of the office.' This simple yet profound advice has been a guiding principle in my business development. ... Building relationships outside the confines of the office has proven to be a catalyst for business growth and meaningful connections."

That said, Pascucci acknowledges another key to growing his book of business has been the support of the "all-star team of experts alongside of me ... I could not do this job without them."

Agent of the Year - Brent Allred

Brent Allred

Higginbotham - Chattanooga, Tennessee


Learn something new every day and

be up for a challenge. That's the advice

of Brent Allred, managing director at Higginbotham, heading up the company's national trucking insurance specialty practice from his home base in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Allred began his career as a general commercial lines producer, but soon narrowed his focus to trucking. "I knew that in order to be one of the best in my area of focus,

I needed to know more than the average producer I was competing against," he says. He earned not only professional insurance designations, but also became involved in the trucking industry.

He is one of only two insurance professionals serving as an active member on the American Trucking Research Institute. He also works closely with the American Trucking Association to help prioritize and publish research important to the trucking industry.

A big part of his success stems from educating prospects and clients and steering insurance decisions away from just price. "Anyone can sell a cheap price at least for a little while, Allread says. "I am selling the prospects and clients long term stability."

Allred advises younger agents to work on learning something new every day. When things get hard most will give up and do what is easy, he says. "Insurance sales is not for the faint of heart, and no question you will be challenged every day in this career."

Agent of the Year - Justin Goodman

Justin Goodman

Assured Partners - Foothill Ranch, California


Justin Goodman is part of an insurance legacy and eager to pass on everything he's learned.

Goodman started his career in 2002 as a third-generation insurance agent. In 2012, he launched his own agency, Goodman Insurance Services, with his brother.

"I was fortunate enough to be mentored by my father with a focus on artisan contractors until his retirement a few years later," he says. It was the optimal time

to launch his own firm. "I was fortunate enough to scale the company leveraging digital marketing strategies that are now commonplace while also building custom programs for contractors in California."

In 2021, the brothers sold their company to Assured Partners. Today, Goodman is the area president at Assured Partners Foothill Ranch and CEO of Total CSR.

For the last six years, he has spent much of his time educating and speaking at industry events. His training programs have been used by more than 20,000 new-the-industry hires.

He advises new agents to work on building a strong network in the industry.

"While we all compete against each other, everyone, and I mean everyone, is willing to invest in your growth if you just ask," he says. "Your resources are not limited to just the agency you work for, and any agency that tries to tell you otherwise, should not be your employer."

For Goodman, the most satisfying part of his job is watching that "lightbulb go on in a new-to-industry hire where they realize they haven't just found a new job, but rather a purposeful career."

Agent of the Year - Erika Wilson

Erika Wilson

Goods Insurance Agency Inc., a PCF Partner - Leola, Maryland


Erika Wilson has kept on truckin' for almost 31 years — insuring trucking that is. Wilson, a producer at Goods Insurance Agency, a part of PCF Insurance, in Leola, Maryland, got her love of trucks from

her father, who was a heavy-duty truck salesman for 45 years.

"I learned the love of honest, hardworking sales from him and followed in his footsteps," Wilson said. She started as a secretary at a trucking insurance agency after high school and worked her way up to full-time producer.

"To be a great trucking insurance producer, you need to know the trucking business," says Wilson. "You must be 100% hands on and be prepared to answer any and all questions that affect their business."

She also runs her own small trucking service agency, helping clients who want to launch their own trucking companies. "The trucking industry is my family, and they know I eat, sleep and breathe their business," she says. "I want them to know I have their backs and will make sure they are protected with a quality insurance company that will be there when they need it the most."

She would advise those new to the business not to be shy about their own successes.

"Share your wins," Wilson says. "We are part of a social media revolution, where over-sharing has become the norm. So, blend right in and share your wins. I have a huge presence on social media and when I share my wins, it always results in new business ... always."

Agent of the Year - John McConnell

John McConnell

McConnell Insurance - Murray, Kentucky


Giving back to the education sector has been a career mission for John McConnell of McConnell Insurance in Murray, Kentucky. The agency's primary focus is insurance for schools and teachers.

"We focused on the public sector as a way to give back," McConnell says. "In Kentucky, our teachers are around 40th in the nation on pay scales. The products the team puts together will typically save a teacher enough to account for a 1% pay increase."

McConnell says his agency takes pride in how it services clients while also giving back to the education community.

The 70-year-old agency was founded by McConnell's uncle in the small, west Kentucky town of Marion. His uncle retired after 45 years in the business. In 2021, the agency joined PCF Insurance Services, which expanded its resources and connections across the county.

While long-time relationships are critical for creating a solid foundation for business, his best piece of advice for those new to the industry is to keep putting yourself out there — meet new people and get involved in community and industry organizations, McConnell suggests.

"To make those types of relationships work you need to be uncomfortable sometimes," he says. Joining new associations, new organizations, and putting yourself in a place of influence are important to building a successful book. "Find that market you enjoy and needs your expertise. You can make it!"

Agent of the Year - David Hale

David Hale

Hale & Associates, a PCF Insurance Services of the West partner - Fairbanks, Alaska


Insuring construction in Alaska adds a whole new spectrum of challenges, said David Hale, president and principal of PCF Insurance Services of the West DBA Hale & Associates in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"Working in Alaska has its challenges over the lower 48," Hale said. "We are dealing with a short building season and extreme weather (-40 degrees) along with several months of darkness."

After a first career in plumbing, in 1986 Hale entered the insurance industry, joining Corroon and Black Dawson Insurance, which later became Willis of Alaska. Hale served as president and CEO of the Fairbanks and Anchorage operations until 2007 when he acquired the Fairbanks office book of business and formed Hale & Associates.

Hale focuses on construction, government and nonprofit clients, and keeps busy outside of work by serving on boards for several industry and community organizations. He says his proudest moments have been when his children, Britany and Michael, joined the agency.

Connecting to a wide range of people by being involved in various organizations, projects and sports activities has helped Hale build more than a book of business, he says. It helps his community and allows him to be a resource for clients and non-clients alike.

"The most satisfying part of the job is being there for the client when in need (claim) and knowing you did your job correctly to make them whole again with little interruption to business," Hale says.

"Always do what best for the client," he says.

Agent of the Year - Gerald Hemphill

Gerald Hemphill

GFH Insurance Agency Inc. - Richmond, Virginia


Gerald Hemphill has been an insurance agent in the metro-Richmond area since 1993, and now serves as principal of his own agency, GFH Insurance Agency Inc., in Richmond, Virginia. Lori and Gerald Hemphill, G.F.H. Insurance Agency Inc.'s two principal agents, offer nearly 40 years of combined insurance industry experience.

Hemphill represents all lines of insurance, specializing in commercial insurance risks. The company covers everything from home and auto to weddings and special events, farm/ranch and equine, manufacturing and funeral homes.

It's important to not only build trust with clients but to build a culture of trust and relationships within the agency. Long-lasting success requires keeping the relationship-based processes while adopting new technologies for the perfect balance of efficiency and the "person-to-person" experience, Hemphill says.

"This is a relationship-based business, keep your eye on that ball," Hemphill advises. "And the most important relationship is (your relationship) with your agency staff." That makes the difference in the culture of an agency, he adds.

Hemphill says there's never been a better time to be an independent agent than today. It's a career that offers many options. A good professional agent with competent insurance policy knowledge means that "direct and tech writers can't compete."

Agent of the Year - Robin Barlow

Robin Barlow

PeopleFirst Property Casualty Services, an Acrisure Company - Easton, Pennsylvania


For nearly 25 years, Robin Barlow has been actively engaged in insurance sales and consultation.

Prior to joining PeopleFirst, Barlow worked as a senior account manager with Wachovia Insurance Services (Wells Fargo) and senior vice president of the community association division with Brown & Brown Insurance. She specializes in sales, consulting and renewal of insurance products and services for condos, HOAs, active adult resort communities and apartments in several states.

Being able to offer mentorship and expertise is one of the greatest signs of success, according to Barlow, who is currently senior vice president at PeopleFirst P&C, in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Barlow says that establishing a niche

or segment of business has helped her become a top agent. She enjoys helping others grow in the business to achieve that same level of success.

"Someone told me to plan your work and work your plan," she says. "You have to be competitive but also need to be able to handle rejection."

She says: "While you may have a plan, working that plan can take time, so set personal goals, stay focused, and know that eventually you will succeed." While persistence is critical, "it is also key to understand when to move on ... don't let an account you may not win consume you."

Agent of the Year - Mike Robertson

Mike Robertson

Premier Choice Insurance LLC - Mesa, Arizona


Mike Robertson and his wife, Jennifer, started their independent agency, Premier Choice Insurance, in 2015 with zero policyholders. They have since grown into one of Arizona's fastest-growing and most highly rated insurance agencies.

Premier Choice Insurance LLC in Mesa, Arizona, specializes in providing insurance and risk management solutions tailored to artisan contractors, encompassing fields such as electrical, plumbing and HVAC, as well as services such as pest control, auto repair, and transportation.

"Our commercial team has several decades worth of experience to help our commercial clients be properly protected while maintaining an affordable rate," Robertson says.

Referrals come from happy customers and less likely sources, he adds. His recommendation to new agents — make friends with captive agents. "I would tell a new agent entering the business to network with captive agents. They can refer you clients that they aren't able to help," Robertson says.

"Over the last eight years building our independent agency, we have built many strong relationships with our clients, loan officers, captive agents and tradespeople," Robertson say. "These connections have translated into a consistent referral source that has helped us grow exponentially year after year."

He said that watching his team grow, learn and serve clients is the most fulfilling aspect of the job. "Their commitment, empathy, and dedication to our clients are truly commendable."

Agent of the Year - Ryan Steinberg

Ryan Steinberg

Texas Prime Insurance Agency LLC - Houston, Texas


Ryan Steinberg had only worked in the insurance industry for a year when he knew it was time to start his own independent agency.

In 2010, he founded Texas Prime Insurance, based in Bellaire, a small

city within Houston, Texas. The agency specializes in high-value home, auto and umbrella bundles.

Steinberg attributes much of the company's growth to word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations from existing clients. "This is the best form of marketing, and we pride ourselves on it."

The most satisfying part of the job is being able to help clients who, when faced with a large claim, are relieved to have the coverage they need.

"They are appreciative of the advice we gave them when selecting their policy terms," Steinberg said. "We have truly gained the trust of our clients, and they value our opinions on everything."

The team's dedication shone through when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017.

"This was an extremely difficult time for many Houstonians, and we leapt

into action for our clients the day of the hurricane," Steinberg says. "Even without power in my own home and office, I was working remotely from family members' homes to assist all of my clients in filing claims, reviewing policy details and simply being a shoulder to lean on.

"I feel proud of what I provided for my clients during one of their most difficult times."

Agent of the Year - Michelle Sangster

Michelle Sangster

SJP Financial Group, LLC - Broomall, Pennsylvania


Michelle Sangster never imagined starting her own agency at the age of 50. But in 2021, she launched SJP Financial Group LLC, based in Broomall, Pennsylvania.

"My proudest moment was taking a risk, during a global pandemic, to launch my own insurance agency," she said. Now celebrating 30 years in the industry, Sangster began her insurance industry career in the mail room at a globally known managing general agency.

She subsequently worked as an underwriter, moved to the brokerage side, and worked her way up to the executive level. For more than two decades, she managed other agencies and helped them achieve their goals.

She said the best career advice she received was to show up every day willing to learn and ready to outwork your opponents. "I would tell new agents that there is a great career path in insurance with so many disciplines to choose from. Research to find your interest, decide to commit, and do not take shortcuts to becoming successful."

Sangster's greatest reward has been that several major clients she serviced for over two decades through two different agencies chose to partner with her new agency based on trust and exceptional customer service.

"In addition, my colleague of 23 years also chose to join me in what we affectionately and humorously consider our 'last act' in the insurance industry," she says.

Agent of the Year - Chase Carlisle

Chase Carlisle

Carlisle Insurance/Acrisure LLC - Corpus Christi, Texas


Chase Carlisle is more than an agent to his clients, he's a team member.

He began his career as a commercial property adjuster for Travelers but eventually left to join the family agency as a fourth-generation insurance professional.

Carlisle now is vice president at Carlisle Insurance/Acrisure LLC in Corpus Christi, Texas. The company merged with Acrisure in 2018 and he currently serves as the energy practice leader.

Carlisle says the most valuable lesson he's learned during his career is not only to put clients first, but to become a part of their team.

"I always put my clients first and make sure no email or call goes unanswered

on a daily basis," he says. "We are a service-based industry, so I make sure that I provide excellent service."

It's not enough to just sell a policy and wait for a call. "I also become part of their business team," he says. "By helping them solve their problems they value me and trust me."

"Be an advisor and problem solver for your clients," Carlisle says. "Figure out what they need help with and figure out a way to help. The money will follow if you do the right thing."

He adds: "I love being able to help people and feel part of their team."

Agent of the Year - Troy Sibelius

Troy Sibelius

The Buckner Company - Denver, Colorado


Troy Sibelius, executive vice president and producer in The Buckner Company's Colorado office, has a plaque in his office that states: "Don't be afraid to ask dumb questions, they are easier to handle than dumb mistakes." That's because he knows how difficult it is not only to understand insurance but also to explain it to one's customers.

Sibelius says he learns new things about insurance coverages and risks "on a daily basis," and enjoys helping other agents work out solutions to better serve their clients.

Within his own book of business, Sibelius represents clients in multiple industries, but specialty areas include landscape architects and contractors, as well as a variety freight brokerage risks, like specialty shipping and transportation. He recently joined forces with another seasoned producer to team sell in the landscape niche, which "has been a very fun and new way to approach the sales process." The insurance industry is "very competitive and extremely stressful, so we all have to figure out ways to make it fun," he says.

Participation in various trade industry associations has been instrumental in helping to grow and sustain his book of business, as has been the process of continuously educating himself and his clients on the particulars of insurance. Ultimately, Sibelius says, there's "nothing better than having a client leave and then come back after they realize they like working with you and your team better. Your team is critical."