Up in a down year

Although the property and casualty markets are softening, Robertson Ryan & Associates Inc., a Milwaukee-based insurance brokerage, is growing. Robertson Ryan specializes in commercial property and casualty lines, but also carries personal and employee benefits lines. The firm had about $191 million in revenues last year and will have more than $200 million in revenues this year, said Jack Ryan, founder and an original partner in the firm. The company’s revenues will grow 5 to 10 percent this year, said George Patterson, vice president of the firm.

“In a soft market, we should be in great shape as opposed to other (firms),” Ryan said. “We have the volume, the people and we’re very profitable.”

The company currently has 18 partners and 59 agents. Robertson Ryan also has about 100 back-office employees who work as support staff.

The firm was named 44th in the top 100 privately held property and casualty agencies in the United States by Insurance Journal in 2006, and 92nd of the 100 largest brokers of U.S. business by Business Insurance in 2006.

The company occupies the entire sixth floor of Two Plaza East, 330 E. Kilbourn Ave., in downtown Milwaukee. It also has offices in Waukesha, La Crosse, Lake Geneva, Racine, Rhinelander, Elm Grove and Wauwatosa.

Robertson Ryan’s growth has been tied to its high-quality people, Ryan said. The company has been able to attract some of the best agents in the state through the way it pays its people, which is they essentially operate as independent contractors.

Employees own their book of business, should they decide to leave the firm, something no other insurance brokerage offers, Ryan said. Agents working at Robertson Ryan are also not asked to sign non-compete clauses, should they leave.

“It’s unique – the only game in town,” he said. “Starting from day one, I wanted to run it like a law firm, where (each) had their own area of expertise. It gives you the ultimate goal of whatever you can do.”

Commissions from insurance carriers are split evenly between agents and “the house,” Ryan said, an almost unheard of level of revenue sharing.

For example, an agent bringing in a $300,000 commission would receive $150,000, Patterson said.

“And there are a lot that do a lot more than that,” he said.

Patterson worked for a national carrier before joining Robertson Ryan about three years ago. He said his income tripled when he joined the firm, largely because of Robertson Ryan’s compensation model.

Once agents reach a threshold of commissions, they also take part in profit sharing and receive a share of contingency income from insurance carriers, Patterson said.

Because agents are treated almost like independent contractors who own their own books of business, they are required to pay for their own health insurance, Patterson said. Robertson Ryan has an agency plan, and agents can buy into it, he said.

As part of the firm’s open philosophy, agents are encouraged to pay their employees, should they have them, in tune with what they’re making themselves.

“You’ve got to compensate the people who make you successful,” he said. “They know what you’re making. If you don’t recognize that you’ve got to bring them into the fold, you’ve lost them.”

Because of its compensation model, many insurance brokers seek to join Robertson Ryan, Ryan said.

“People are always looking to get in,” he said.

“We talk to people in our industry who we know and who fit our model,” Patterson said. “There’s always a group of five to 10 people we’re talking to about our agency.”

The firm isn’t looking for a set number of agents this year, Ryan said. Instead, it’s always looking for the right people.

The average age for agents working at Robertson Ryan is 57 years old, Patterson said, many with 20 to 30 years of experience. However, the firm has recently brought on several younger agents.

“We’re trying to bring in some people in their 20s,” Patterson said. “We have a group of guys that will mentor them, teach them the business and help them sell.”

Relationships, both between the firm and its employees and customers, are the main focus at Robertson Ryan, Patterson said.

“National brokers and some others, they’re not so much in the relationship business,” he said. “They’re in the numbers business. We work at developing relationships with clients. We socialize with them and get to know them.”

Robertson Ryan also maintains relationships with 45 to 50 different insurance carriers, Patterson said, giving it a broad range of products and services for clients.

“I don’t think there is a risk out there we can’t cover,” he said. “There is a market for exposure for anything out there.”

Headquarters: 330 E. Kilbourn, Milwaukee
Branch offices: Waukesha, La Crosse, Lake Geneva, Racine, Rhinelander, Elm Grove and Wauwatosa.
Employees: 18 partners, 59 agents and about 100 support personnel
Revenues: $191 million for 2006, projected more than $200 million for 2007
Web site: www.robertsonryan.com

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