Canadian Underwriter

Brokerage of the Year

January 16, 2013  

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Finalists Less than 10 brokers:

Rick Dresher: principal, Affiliated Insurance Management Inc., Oakville

Marsha Jones Dooley: principal, Jones-Dooley Insurance Brokers, Ajax

Ted Topping: president, Topping Insurance Brokers Ltd., Peterborough


Finalists More than 10 brokers

Jeff Roy: president, P.A. Roy Insurance Brokers, Clinton

Tracy Makris: president, Bryson and Associates Insurance Brokers Ltd., Ajax

Kevin Donovan: president, Donovan Insurance Brokers, Waterloo


Attracting young and qualified people to the industry presents a real problem to many brokerages, large and small. Today’s staff are also tomorrow’s owners, and principals may not know exactly when that transition will take place. The finalists for Brokerage of the Year categories have approached these challenges in a number of different ways.

Jeff Roy, president of P.A. Roy Insurance Brokers in Clin- ton, has had difficulty finding the right employees for his rural office. “It is a challenge, in rural Ontario, to find the right people with a broker’s licence,” he says. “We generally hire unlicensed people based on attitudes and people skills and we teach them the insurance business. It takes six to 12 months to get a new broker to a point where they are highly productive in our business.”

To get a better crop of candidates, Roy says they’ve recently implemented a new hiring process. Applicants must now at least have a college or university degree, follow certain instructions on how they submit their resume and references and finally must write an essay on a selected topic. The people who cannot follow these instructions properly are cut from the interview process regardless of their experience and ability. Roy says the system has been working. “We tried this process for our last job opening and we had some of the greatest applicants ever,” he says. Roy is also looking to hire younger people in order to better understand the “next generation.”

Rick Dresher, principal broker at Affiliated Insurance Management Inc. in Oakville, and his wife and partner, Rima, are looking to young, educated people for their staffing needs. Though he says that his small, boutique office doesn’t have a lot of turnover, their most recent hire began as a summer student. “When she graduated, it became a full-time job,” he says. “We’ve been sending her for training to get her licence and ultimately fill our needs that way.” As for staff retention, Dresher says his firm is proactive about getting its staff to better themselves through education and also provides a flexible work environment, which helps to keep existing staff happy. “People have family emergencies, they have a life outside of work. We recognize that and try to be as flexible as we can,” he says.

It is a challenge, in rural Ontario, to find the right people with a broker’s licence. We generally hire unlicensed people and teach them the insurance business” — Jeff Roy

Recruitment and staff retention haven’t been an issue for Tracy Makris, president of Bryson and Associates Insurance Brokers in Ajax. She credits her company’s work culture, as the majority of new hires come from staff recommendations. The company has a goals-oriented culture, where employees are encouraged to not only set work goals, but life goals too. Makris says the reason behind this approach is, “if we help people achieve their goals, then they will ultimately help us achieve ours.” Makris encourages her employees to pursue any and all education—insurance-related or not. They even have a “Wall of Fame” where they hang employee certificates.

“We’ll promote [a job] within and ask if [the staff knows] of anyone in the industry and they’ll bring people to us,” she says. “In order to refer us, they have to be proud of us.”

Though many brokerage owners will retire within the next decade, most do not have formal plans for succession. While some of the finalists for the Brokerage of the Year categories have yet to develop a robust succession plan, others are well along in the process and have already been battle-tested.

Ted Topping, president and sole owner of Topping Insur- ance Brokers in Peterborough has worked at his brokerage since 1975. With nearly 40 years in the industry, Topping says he still feels “young at heart” and he anticipates work- ing for a couple more years. Despite the fact that he has no plans to leave anytime soon, Topping has had discussions with his staff (of which most are longtime employees) about his succession. “I would rather see it go to my staff than anyone else once I retire,” he says. There are a couple of staff members that are interested in purchasing the brokerage upon Topping’s retirement, although nothing is formalized.

Marsha Jones Dooley, the principal broker at Jones-Dooley Insurance Brokers in Ajax says she can’t imagine ever fully retiring from her client-driven business. “I see cutting back and [working] part-time and being able to spend more time away, but I just don’t see when you’re in a people business how you can just walk away,” she says. Even so, upon her semi-retirement, Jones-Dooley plans to pass the business along to her son, Peter, who also works at the brokerage. Her son completed his Honours Bachelor of Science degree, received a diploma for passing the four exams under financial planning and is working toward completing his RIBO Level II licensing. Jones Dooley feels that her son’s education and experience within the brokerage have prepared him for the role. “God forbid anything should happen to me, he’s good to step up,” she says.

Kevin Donovan, president of Donovan Insurance Brokers in Waterloo, not only has a written succession plan fully in place, he’s tested it out. Ten years ago, Donovan was diagnosed with a brain tumour and had to step away from his business. “I had to leave the company as if I was never coming back,” he says. “Fortunately, I had some good coaching and some good help at the time.” Donovan’s succession plan deals with everything from a one-week absence to a disability to death. It covers how the existing management team is to run the business, who has the deciding vote in cases of disagreement, how the business is to be sold, and more. Finalizing his succession plan also allowed Donovan to delegate more responsibility to his management team and he can now focus more of his attention on growing the business. Though Donovan is now healthy and fully back to work, he says, “I’m prepared for the next step, whatever that might be.”


Copyright 2012 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the October 2012 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.