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Veteran brokerage exec seeks to restart firm where he made his name

Veteran brokerage exec seeks to restart firm where he made his name

CRANFORD, N.J.—Dissatisfied with the direction Bank of America Corp. was taking with its insurance agency subsidiary and sensing opportunity, Tom Sharkey Sr. is resurrecting his family's agency more than seven years after Meeker Sharkey Financial Group was acquired by Summit Bancorp.

Cranford, N.J.-based Meeker Sharkey Associates will offer a full range of property/casualty and employee benefit services to middle- and upper middle-market clients in the three-state New York metropolitan area, said the 74-year-old Mr. Sharkey, who said he is financing the venture.

Similar to the original Meeker Sharkey, the new agency will focus on cross-selling commercial risk management and insurance with employee benefits and health care services.

"We feel that the opportunity to launch an agency today is a good one," Mr. Sharkey said, noting in particular the "turbulent" state of today's health care marketplace.

The agency has six employees, has secured contracts with "a number" of insurers and has written "a number" of accounts, Mr. Sharkey said.

He said he is looking to acquire an agency or two with as much as $7.5 million in commissions in the three states around New York to give the new Meeker Sharkey a greater infrastructure.

"We were one of the top three or four New York metropolitan agencies and we have aspirations to do the same thing," said Mr. Sharkey, referring to the original Meeker Sharkey, which was ranked as the 38th largest broker of U.S. business in 1999 with $28.5 million in 1998 brokerage revenues, the last time it appeared in Business Insurance's annual rankings.

A few months after Summit acquired Meeker Sharkey in early 2000, it was consolidated with a number of other agencies to form Summit Insurance Advisors. Mr. Sharkey was chairman of Summit, while son Tom Sharkey Jr. was president and chief executive officer. They continued at the helm of Fleet Insurance Services upon FleetBoston Financial Corp.'s acquisition of Summit Bancorp. later that year.

When Bank of America acquired FleetBoston in late 2003, Tom Sharkey Sr. stepped down as chairman but remained a consultant until this January, he said. Tom Sharkey Jr. stepped down as president and CEO of Banc of America Corporate Insurance Agency in 2006.

Mr. Sharkey said he and his son left BACIA because they didn't like the direction the bank was taking the insurance agency operation.

"We thought it was going to be a wonderful mutual relationship where we would be referring our clients to them and their clients to us, but there were so many walls, some artificial and some real," Mr. Sharkey said. "We had a great business model with Summit Bancorp and we had a great business model with Fleet. We didn't have the same opportunity to develop that with Bank of America."

In May, Bank of America said it was exploring strategic alternatives for Cranford, N.J.-based BACIA, which in 2006 ranked as the 27th largest broker of U.S. business with $78.5 million in 2005 brokerage revenues, according to BI's rankings.

While Tom Sharkey Jr. is an "affiliate" of the new Meeker Sharkey, he is neither an officer nor an investor, his father said. Whether he joins the firm "is a decision he's going to make."

Tom Sharkey Jr. is still bound by a non-solicitation clause in his BACIA employment contract, the elder Mr. Sharkey confirmed.