Youngs Insurance Brokers Inc.
PROFIT 500 Rank: 300
Five-year growth percentage: 183
President: Sandy Valleriani
Sandy Valleriani, president of Youngs Insurance Brokers Inc., purchased his first brokerage, the Welland, Ont. office of Youngs and Graves Insurance Brokers, in 1980. At that time, the office had just five employees and wrote just $500,000 in business. Today, Youngs Insurance Brokers (the brokerage name was changed in 1990) has 21 offices across Ontario, more than 200 employees, and business volume in excess of $90 million.
Valleriani has grown his brokerage through a mixture of organic growth, acquisitions and joint ventures. In 2008, the firm acquired TRG Insurance Brokers, its largest acquisition to date. Despite being roughly the same size as Youngs, Valleriani says his company was able to quickly and successfully integrate TRG into its business without letting go of any staff. “Because we’ve done [acquisitions] so many times in the past years…we had it done in eight months,” he says. “We have become experts in buying brokerages and assimilating them into our enterprise.”
Being an “expert” acquirer also means knowing when to say no. “We’ve turned acquisitions down in the past three or four years. They have to fit in with our people, our philosophy and our way of doing business. Because everybody’s different,” he says. “So we make sure that it’s a good fit. We do our research, and we do our back door checks on everything, and then we go forward.”
Part of Valleriani’s growth strategy revolves around moving into certain communities. “The bigger cities are tougher to do business in. Margins are thinner and competition is heavier,” he says. “If you look at our locations, they are in small to medium-sized cities” (with the exception of the company’s Mississauga office, which was recently purchased). Despite difficult market conditions, Valleriani believes that his company is capable of achieving strong growth in these smaller markets. “They tell me I’m crazy, but I’d like to be at $125 million [in premium] by 2018,” he says. “The reason I say that we can probably manage that is because we’re not a brokerage that has business in one city.” If Youngs doesn’t see growth in Welland, he says, it sees growth in other offices. “Our strategy is to grow where people are moving to,” he says. “We strategically select the areas where we want to grow the business, and that’s where we focus our advertising dollars.”
The brokerage has also put more emphasis on building its commercial lines business. At present, Valleriani estimates his brokerage is roughly 75% personal lines, 25% commercial lines. But with direct writers and banks putting pressure on the personal-lines business, Valleriani recognized his brokerage had to target commercial. He anticipates seeing the most growth in the coming years through forming joint ventures. Today, the company has 15 joint venture operations. “All of the underwriting is done from our head office [in] Welland, [but the joint ventures] run their own offices, they hire their own people, and they pay their own expenses. As partners, they can obtain quotes from all of the insurance companies with which we do business (smaller brokerages would not have access to as many markets). We also provide them with our computer system and the support of our underwriting staff in commercial and personal lines,” explains Valleriani. With the average age of insurance brokers on the rise, Valleriani says a joint venture partnership offers brokerage owners an appealing exit strategy. “The business is jointly owned. The strategy is that when our partner retires, Youngs will acquire their interest in the business,” he says. “So our joint venture is where we’ll probably grow in the next four or five years.”
Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine