November 25, 2013 by Regan Reid
Company: Benson Kearley IFG
PROFIT 500 Rank: 228
Five-year growth percentage: 275
President: Stephen Kearley
When Stephen Kearley purchased Bruce Benson Insurance Agencies Ltd. in 1991, the brokerage was a 90% personal-lines business. “Today, we’re substantially larger,” says Kearley, president of the brokerage, which is now called Benson Kearley IFG, “and we’re about 50/50 commercial/personal lines.” Kearley says that focusing on the commercial side of the business was a matter of survival. “As you’ve seen over the last few years, we’ve been inundated with competitors on the personal lines side,” he says. “We felt that commercial would always need that expertise and personal relationship and that’s where the broker is really going to serve a valuable role going forward, whereas personal lines, unfortunately, it’s become a bit of a commodity.”
To grow the commercial side of the business, Kearley has targeted specific classes of business. “We don’t want to be another ‘Me Too’ broker,” he says (meaning a broker that does every kind of business). “We want to be known as experts in certain classes of business.” One area in which Benson Kearley has specialized is in insurance for the plastics industry. “We have a plastics engineer on staff and we take a risk management approach. As opposed to just selling them a good product with great pricing, we go deep into the processes. We risk manage it, we bring experts in that area to the field. When we go into a plastics facility, we know exactly what’s going on; we know what every machine does, what every process is, the different types of resins, etc.,” he explains. “We really truly understand that industry.”
Between 2007 and 2012, Benson Kearley saw revenue growth of 275%, which Kearley says didn’t happen by accident. “This sounds cliché, but how many times have you heard, ‘Stop working in your business, start working on it’? Lots of people will say that but they won’t actually do it,” he says. Kearley explains that he realized long ago that he needed to get out of the way in order for his business to grow. Prior to 2007 (the base year for PROFIT 500 growth calculations), he put together an excellent management team that could handle the day-to-day operations of the brokerage so that he could focus on growing the business. “I realized that, if I was going to go out and do some acquisitions, hire some sales people to grow, I needed a strong foundation in place. So I put together a very good management team,” he says.
The brokerage has made five acquisitions in the past five years, including its 2011 acquisition of Insurers Financial Group (IFG) to create Benson Kearley IFG. Like Youngs’ Valleriani, Kearley stresses that ensuring an acquisition “fits” is the key to a successful purchase. “There are a lot of horror stories out there where acquisitions that weren’t made strategically just kind of fall apart and they end up costing that broker a lot of money—multiples right now are very high. So when we look at an acquisition we say, ‘Is this going to help us achieve our long-term goals?’ ”
The brokerage is currently looking at acquiring a business that will bring new talent into the company and introduce it to a niche area that the company is not currently in, but wants to get into. “That’s what I mean about ‘strategic.’ Yes it’s going to bring some volume to the table, but more importantly it’s going to bring talent and opportunity to advance our niches.”
Kearley wants his brokerage to double in size by 2017, through both acquisitions and organic growth. But he does not want to grow just for the sake of growing. “We want to create opportunities for our employees,” says Kearley, who stresses his firm’s dedication to its staff and to providing a good work culture. “I have this vision of what I want to create so my employees have opportunities to grow and advance in their careers.”
Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine
This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.