Mike Sicard, chairman, president and CEO of USI Insurance Services L.L.C., took the helm of the Valhalla, New York-based commercial insurance brokerage in 2007. On May 5, he closed one of USI's largest deals: the acquisition of 40 insurance brokerage offices from Wells Fargo Insurance Services USA Inc. In a recent interview with Business Insurance Associate Editor Matthew Lerner, Mr. Sicard talks about USI's plans for 2014 and beyond and the challenges it faces. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: What was the main impetus for the Wells Fargo purchase?
A: It's really the opportunity to accelerate our singular vision of being the middle market brand of choice across the Unites States, particularly in four select business segments: commercial property/ casualty; employee benefits; personal lines; and retirement. When we looked at Wells Fargo, they had a similar overlap focus of middle market with great cities, most of which we were not in already.
So it was certainly a geographic expansion in 40 cities, the majority of which are not an overlap to USI's current footprint, but also in great middle market cities with middle market-focused offices and in similar lines of business — commercial lines property/casualty, employee benefits and personal lines in particular.
Also, at the end of the day, we're a people business, so the people are the most important component of the transaction. What we found inside of Wells Fargo were similarly and equivalently accomplished, experienced, industry-knowledgeable insurance brokerage professionals.
Q: Do you see greater opportunities in organic growth or acquisition growth?
A: I think it has to be a combination, and I think it has to first and foremost start with organic growth. I think, candidly, that a firm or insurance brokerage that only acquires and actually doesn't have an organic growth strategy doesn't have a long-term strategy for the people it's acquiring or for its business. So I think it has to be both, and for us our primary and first-and-foremost focus is on organic growth and creating an environment where people can be uniquely successful, more than on their own or with anybody else. If we do that, I think our value proposition to candidates, either individual recruits or to potential agencies that want to become partner agencies with us, is strong.
Q: What are USI's specific goals for 2014?
A: First and foremost, we want to continue to grow organically, focusing first on our existing people and our existing clients and prospects. We're also going to focus on continued hiring. You will also continue to see us focus on great talent partnership acquisitions, like we think Wells Fargo will be. We would expect to continue to do acquisitions in 2014 and as we go beyond 2014 as well.
Q: Is operating as a private company easier or more advantageous than as a public entity?
A: I don't think one is inherently better or worse — they're different. We're private today, but USI has been public in the past, from 2001 to 2007. When USI went private in 2007, it presented an inherent advantage, as we were doing a fairly fundamental transformation of the firm. When you're undergoing a significant company transformation like that, there can be distinct advantages to being private. Today as a firm, both would be attractive alternatives for us. Going-forward, staying private is absolutely a continuing and viable alternative. Being public, however, and taking the company forward with an (initial public offering) is a viable alternative.
Q: Is the insurance industry fun?
A: I think it's a blast. What's exciting to me about the insurance industry is that we're working every day to help businesses figure out how to succeed, so it's one of the most exciting fields where you're helping companies grow.