This month marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of E.G. Bowman Company, Inc. by Ernesta G. Procope, who set up her storefront insurance agency in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in 1953.
The company’s announcement marking the event noted that “the idea it would one day serve America’s biggest companies and become the nation’s largest minority-owned and woman-owned insurance brokerage seemed as likely as men going to the moon.”
Bowman now “serves icons like Philip Morris, Tiffany, AOL Time Warner and Pfizer, plus small businesses, government agencies, nonprofits and families from its Wall Street office,” said the announcement, and “Procope is known as one of America’s most influential African-American businesswomen, honored for both business success and civic involvement.”
Procope’s success was achieved despite the opinion of a number of people that an African-American or a small business couldn’t do something. She said this only made her more determined. “I don’t give up,” she stated. Even her husband and business partner, John Procope, thought she was too audacious when she decided to go after big businesses in the late ’60s. “At first I thought it was crazy,” he indicated. It was unheard of for a small black-owned insurance brokerage to insure giants like PepsiCo. But the soda company soon became one of the firm’s first clients and remains one today. Another early big account was the Alaska Pipeline.
In 1979, E.G. Bowman moved to its current location on Wall Street, becoming the first major black-owned business on the Street, and Procope became known as “The First Lady of Wall Street.” In the 1980s and ’90s, she was named to many corporate and nonprofit boards, including The Chubb Corporation, Avon Products, Columbia Gas System, New York Urban League and Cornell University. She chaired Adelphi University’s board. She was also a driving force behind the creation of the New York State FAIR Plan, which makes homeowners insurance available to all.
She has received dozens of awards and citations, including Turner Broadcasting System’s “2002 Trumpet Award,” Business Insurance’s “Leading 100 Women in the Insurance Industry,” Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year,” the US Small Business Administration’s “Small Business Person of the Year” and the Institute for Community Development’s “Community Leadership Award.” In 1972 First Lady Patricia Nixon named her “Woman of the Year.”
The bulletin noted that Procope “credits her capable colleagues for the firm’s success.” Harry Ennevor, executive VP and COO, has worked at her side since 1969. John Procope, former publisher of the New York Amsterdam News, has devoted his full time to the firm since 1982. Janet King, senior VP, has been with the firm 25 years; James Tom, controller and director, 23 years; and Eva Parker-Smith, assistant VP, 36 years.
“Today, E.G. Bowman continues to innovate and pioneer,” the bulletin continued, “offering all types of business insurance, from basics like workers’ compensation to specialized coverages such as employment practices liability and corporate travel accident. Its well-regarded loss-control and safety-engineering division, Bowman Specialty Services, LLP, was incorporated in 2000. And Ernesta Procope remains as fiercely determined to succeed as ever.”
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