Welcome to Insurance Journal’s Agents of the Year report.
This report features 20 agents who define what it means to be a successful independent agent today. 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.
MaxPro Insurance Solutions - Valencia, California
Jared Bradshaw specializes in commercial insurance, specifically hard-to-place risks, writing all lines of commercial for various industries and classes. Workers’ comp is another of his specialties, having written roughly $2 million in premium in the past two years.
Bradshaw has owned and operated insurance businesses since 2011. His first ownership experience was a Farmer’s agency, which he built up and sold in early 2017. While running that agency, he created his own independent commercial insurance brokerage to handle the business Farmers would not accept.
Before becoming an agency owner, he ran a number of businesses in the fitness industry, including several fight gyms.
Cavignac & Associates - San Diego, California
Carolyn Konecki is a professional risk manager specializing in personal insurance for successful individuals and families. She’s become an expert at customizing coverage to protect tangible assets such as estate homes, luxury vehicles, collector cars, watercraft, aircraft and collectibles, such as jewelry, art, wine and antique furnishings.
Konecki was recruited into the insurance business in 2004, when she joined her husband, John, at his independent agency, Konecki Insurance. The couple sold the agency at the end of 2012 to the Leavitt Group.
She joined Cavignac & Associates in 2015 to start their private client division. In less than five years, she built a $4 million book of business.
Konecki says her success is a result of hard work, target marketing and knowledge.
LP Insurance Services - Reno, Nevada
Barbara Galgiani specializes in both recreational and commercial marine industry — marinas, boat yards, hospitality, excursion boats, marine contractors. Roughly 90% of her revenue comes from this specialty.
After working as an account manager for a specialized brokerage, she joined a firm in Modesto to become a fulltime producer, starting with no book of business. During that time, she not only built her own book of business, but expanded her education by completing several designations. After 20 years with the Modesto firm, she switched to LP Insurance Services.
One rule of success: "I always look at options for my clients, as if I was the client," she says.
In her free time, she is a dedicated volunteer with Hospice of San Joaquin.
Brock Insurance - Chattanooga, Tennessee
Trae Vaughan specializes in construction and real estate insurance and bonding and captives.
Vaughan, whose father is an independent agent in Mississippi, grew up in a home where insurance was discussed frequently. He worked in the agency in high school and pursued a risk management degree in college at Mississippi State.
Vaughan later landed an underwriting position with Travelers in the construction department. After nearly five years there, he had the chance to work for one of the agencies he handled at Travelers.
"Having a mentors has been a real key to success," he says. "There's typically no need to reinvent the wheel, just look at those in your business who you most want to emulate and learn from them!"
Acentria Insurance - Destin, Florida
Katie Jackson has spent nearly 30 years in the insurance industry focusing on all lines of property and casualty insurance. As a vice president for the last six years with Acentria Insurance, Jackson has worked diligently to uphold the company’s high standards. She works hard to stay on top of industry trends, including being involved with networking groups and client relations. Co-workers say her knowledge of the industry and devotion to serving her clients makes her an asset to the company.
Aside from her passion for her work in the insurance industry, Jackson devotes much of her spare time to animal rescue efforts in her area. She serves on the board of directors for Tu-Bahd Horse Rescue, a non-profit organization in Port St. Lucie, dedicated to the rescue of horses from life-threatening situations.
Midwest Insurance Agency Inc. - Elk Grove Village, Illinois
Tom Hammond has been in the insurance business since 2000. He credits honesty, hard work, self-discipline and a great team around him at Elk Grove Village, Illinois. based Midwest Insurance Agency for his achievements in the industry.
"I am a forward-thinker and push myself and people to think ahead of the curve," he says. Hammond's specialties are geared toward the transportation industry for both fleets and non-fleets, as well as transportation owner/ operator-based product and service programs. His primary area of focus is the Midwest, although he has some larger accounts throughout the country. Hammond says a key to success is remaining accessible to clients.
"I operate in a relatively small space of the world, but most of my clients know that when they have me, they get more than just an insurance agent," he says.
"I am a friend, an advisor, a consultant, and their insurance agent."
Robert Wilkens Insurance Agency - Bogota, New Jersey
John Wilkens is a second-generation insurance agent who says he takes pride in providing clients at Bogota, N.J. based Robert Wilkens Insurance Agency with the best combination of coverage and pricing.
Wilkens' area of specialty is personal lines package business including umbrella and small business BOP/Workers’ Comp/Commercial Auto. His book of business serves Florida, N.J., N.Y. and Pennsylvania.
Wilkens has been involved for the past 17 years in growing the agency from two to 23 employees, two to 18 direct carrier appointments, and up to nearly $18 million in premium volume with three locations, he says.
He adds that his secret to success is having the right infrastructure with a talented team that allows the agency to grow while not losing touch with existing clients.
"We...separate ourselves not only on choice/ service but also communicating with our clients regularly," he says.
Foa & Son - New York, New York
Michael Lieberman credits his time as the general manager of a seafood restaurant in New York, N.Y., for propelling him into the insurance industry. He says quick thinking during a power outage impressed a recruiter, and his focus on seafood early on helped him develop a specialty that could be expanded to other sectors of the food and beverage industry. Today, he serves as a senior vice president and Food & Beverage Practice leader at New York, N.Y. based Foa & Son.
Food and beverage importers, processors and distributors account for 98% of his commercial lines income. Lieberman's book of business serves all 50 U.S. states and territories outside of the U.S. He says one key to success is focusing on being a value add to a particular industry.
"Our industry specific knowledge, technical capabilities, combined with our market relationships, will allow us to continue providing solutions to our valued clients, while delivering well managed risks to underwriters," he says.
Higginbotham - Fort Worth, Texas
Brian Schneider serves as a managing director at Higginbotham in Fort Worth, Texas. He is a generalist with expertise in private equity, real estate, public sector, restaurants and the franchise space. His book of business serves all 50 U.S. states.
Before joining Higginbotham in 2010, Schneider worked at State Farm Insurance & Financial Services. His strategy for success has been executing his goals and putting clients first, he says.
"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 says growing his business has been a result of referrals from clients, centers of influence and within Higginbotham as he seeks to add value for each client he serves.
"I add value to my clients by finding ways above and beyond implementing insurance policies to be a valuable partner," he says
The Horton Group - Waukesha, Wisconsin
Tony Hopkins has served as a shareholder, vice president and sales leader at Waukesha, Wisc. based The Horton Group since 2004.
Hopkins' areas of specialty are manufacturing, welding supply and industrial gas distribution moving and storage and mergers and acquisitions, and he serves all 50 U.S. states through his book of business.
Hopkins says specialization has been most helpful in growing his book of business.
"It’s the easiest way to gain confidence as a young producer by building expertise, network and a loyal client base," he says.
He says doubling down on the theory of specialization, as well as remaining immersed in the insurance industry and in clients’ industries, has been a key to his success. He began early in his career by gaining various insurance designations and paying attention to what drives his clients’ industries.
"If you don’t know insurance; it’s not easy to sell it," he says.
IBTX Risk Services - San Antonio, Texas
Edward Nagel has been in the insurance business for more than 31 years, starting off as an underwriter and then quickly transitioning to sales where he has remained as a producer ever since. He has focused on many niches during his time in the business, including construction, oil & gas, food manufacturing and distribution, heavy manufacturing, wholesale and distribution, emerging markets and trucking. He works throughout the U.S. as well as outside of it.
For Nagel, educational opportunities in the industry have been a key component to his success.
"Continuing my knowledge and education in insurance has afforded me the unique experience to help my clients," he said. "That has allowed me to grow my book of business as well as generate revenue from providing additional loss control services."
He said focusing on offering more than just an insurance policy and providing a holistic approach to managing risk has helped him the most.
Field Insurance Agency - Surfside Beach, South Carolina
A specialist in residential and commercial lines catastrophe-exposed property coverages, as well as the flood insurance market, Brian Payne says he has big expectations of himself and his team when it comes to creating a high-level office culture. With 17 years of experience in the property and casualty industry, Payne has built a team of more than 25 people who work to assist clients in managing risks with an emphasis on the E&S market.
Payne also serves on various carrier council teams and has been awarded many awards over the years from carriers for top performance, both regionally and nationally.
Payne said his team utilizes many forms of digital advertising methods as well as traditional approaches.
"This industry is my passion. Many of my clients are very aware of that and it is very compelling knowing they trust me to assist in protecting them along their journeys," Payne says.
IMA Inc. - Denver, Colorado
Brad Baumgartner isn’t just an insurance agent who has built a successful book of business in both commercial insurance and employee benefits for health & human services, not-for-profits and construction over the last 17 years. He also has spent the last seven years coaching and mentoring new producers with his agency.
For Baumgartner, he is simply paying forward the support he received from a number of mentors that have helped him over his career.
"These individuals spent hours of their time coaching me, joining me in prospect and client meetings and providing me with valuable feedback," he says.
He also learned from his father, who was in the commercial insurance industry for over 35 years, and his older brother, a top wholesale broker in the country.
"One of the most critical lessons that I have learned is to always put yourself in the client’s shoes,” he says. "Learning to be honest at all costs ... is paramount."
Wyoming Financial Insurance - Cheyenne, Wyoming
DeeAnn Hansen specializes in construction with an emphasis on general contractors involved in street/road, underground utilities including water/sewer mains, vertical building, ready mix, and subcontractors working on these projects. Roughly 80% of Hansen’s book of business involves a type of construction. The balance is in manufacturing, RV dealerships, restaurants and other areas.
Hansen began her career as a policy typist. She later became a commercial lines account manager and then a commercial lines producer. She now works for a large writer of surety bonds, which goes hand-in-hand with her business. She earned a CIC designation, and an CRIS designation from IRMI that is construction-focused education.
Education is vital to career success, she says. "Most of my clients have been with me for over 20 years and all my new business is now referrals due to excellent service standards we abide by."
Acentria Insurance - Destin, Florida
"The art of the deal" is a motto that Shawn Budney has followed in his almost 20 years in the insurance industry, with his key to success originating from the core basis of relationship building with clients and prospects.
As vice president for Acentria Insurance, based out of the Jacksonville, Fla., office, Budney specializes in national multi-family, commercial real estate and high hazard risk management. Described as a team player, Budney works with other producers across the organizational platform to round out his accounts focused on multi-family, HOA and condos.
He was a multiple time recipient of the Top Gun award with his previous employer as well as Acentria’s current and Top Producer for two consecutive years.
Building rapports with clients, attending multi-family trade-shows, and attending educational seminars has been helpful to helping him grow his book of business.
In his free time, Budney enjoys offshore fishing or boating in Florida.
Francesca Forlivio Lipp
JMG Insurance Corp. - Norwalk, Connecticut
Francesca Forlivio Lipp specializes in personal lines and habitational risks, but commercial and life/health accounts also are represented in her book of business.
She began her career at JMG in 2014 as a human resource manager. With an office adjacent to the personal lines service team, she began "dabbling in personal lines sales outside of normal business hours." The experience "sparked a passion I did not know existed," she says.
Forlivio Lipp has developed her book of business while continuing to serve as HR manager at JMG. "Though the youngest producer in JMG, I was the highest new business producer in personal lines in 2019," she says.
She attributes her success to a passion for helping people protect their most valuable assets, relationships, prompt client responses, quick turn arounds and asking for referrals.
"This is my life’s passion and I will be here in the family business for the long haul," Forlivio Lipp says.
Energy Insurance Agency Inc. - Lexington, Kentucky
Jeff McIntosh believes developing relationships with good underwriters leads to good business.
"I learned very early on the value of a good relationship with my underwriters," McIntosh says.
Awareness of the importance of relationship building has served him well. McIntosh has been involved in the insurance business since 1987 and with Energy Insurance Agency since 1989.
Throughout his career and concentrating on business in Kentucky, he’s written more than $130 million in commercial premiums and more than $14 million in carrier revenues.
He is so passionate about giving full and complete information to underwriters to ensure clients are properly covered, he’s even written a textbook on the subject.
The book, "Insurance Genius, the Commercial Insurance Detective," teaches students and agents how to complete commercial insurance applications, he says.
Insgroup Inc. - Houston, Texas
Though he began his insurance career with a focus on personal lines, Brian Kapiloff has since built a large specialty team that handles a book of business that exceeds $6.5 million and focuses exclusively on commercial real estate risks.
He is a fourth-generation independent agent, having joined in 1992 the agency his great-grandfather started in the 1940s, which has now grown to be one of the largest independent firms in Texas and a top 100 agency nationally.
"The biggest factors in growing my book have been our constant focus on the real estate industry for nearly 25 years, and the talent that we’ve been able to attract and retain. We’ve also had a lot of success in recent years developing young talent internally," Kapiloff says.
He says the agency’s succession plan will allow it to maintain its independence and manage its business on a "forever" timeline.
The firm also invests in resources and technology to improve its service offerings, Kapiloff says.
Farmer Woods Group, a Leavitt Group Affiliate - Phoenix, Arizona
While Tim Woods and his team at Farmer Woods Group are mostly generalists by design, the majority of their book is concentrated in construction, real estate, manufacturing, retail, energy and professional services. But, he says, they make an effort to maintain a diversified client mix to insulate themselves from market conditions as much as possible.
"Investing in, developing and empowering the Farmer Woods Group team and surrounding myself with the most elite professionals in the industry has been the most proven recipe for success," Woods says.
The support of his individual team along with his business partners has allowed him to continue serving the military as a volunteer Thunderbird for the past eight years.
With their backing, he also has been able to personally raise millions of dollars for charity, and collectively, their contributions over the 85-year history of the agency are approaching $160 million.
Woodruff Sawyer - San Francisco, California
Bret Lawrence specializes in the construction industry, working with contractors to help them identify, mitigate and manage risk. Manufacturing and real estate also are a part of his book. Serving large and small businesses in California and nationwide, Lawrence partners with clients to improve their overall risk profile and manage their cost of risk.
He began his insurance career as a transportation underwriter, moving to the brokerage side in 2004 when he joined Woodruff Sawyer. He credits much of his success to the support he gets from a strong, client-focused team.
"My team puts a substantial emphasis on team versus the individual," he says.
A featured speaker for the past 13 years at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, his alma mater, Lawrence enjoys introducing the insurance industry to students and supporting the career development of those new to the industry.