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CITB Top 10 under 40

Summer may be over, but things are just starting to heat up in the world of young, successful brokers. We assembled four industry experts;

  • Dean M. Bast (The Guarantee)
  • Chris French (Aviva)
  • Stephanie Dudley (Northbridge)
  • and Paul Jackson (Gore Mutual);

and asked them to name the top 10 brokers under 40. Making the selections was no easy task. We received nominations from all over the country. But, after much deliberation, our industry veterans managed to whittle the list down to 10.

Scroll down to meet the future of the industry. And in October, be sure to vote for your favourite brokers under 40. We’ll be naming three winners at our Top Broker Summit in November. Be there!

CREDIT: JAIME HOGGE

Vince Imbrogno

CLIENT MANAGER, PEARSON DUNN INSURANCE INC. (BURLINGTON, ONT.)

By Brynna Leslie

When Vince Imbrogno started out his career in insurance in 2010, he had a 15-year plan — get some underwriting experience and work his way into a senior management role, with the aspiration to become a broker one day.

Seven years later, Imbrogno is now a client manager for Pearson Dunn Insurance Inc. and one of the company’s top sellers.

“I started off processing larger accounts with Dominion – now Travelers – managing paperwork for our top producers, hand-delivering policy documents and risk-sharing proposals.

“At 23, to be involved in such big transactions, even on such a small scale, was inspiring,” he says.

Imbrogno first interviewed to be Pearson Dunn’s in-house underwriter in 2012. After being hired he quickly demonstrated his star quality, rapidly earning new business and volunteering as a director with the Insurance Brokers Association of Hamilton.

“When Pearson Dunn and Jones Brown merged in July 2015, every account manager was given a book to service. Jones Brown gave me a book of Toronto-based international business clients.”

Now 28, Imbrogno credits his success to a swarm of mentors and a passion for the people he serves.

He admits that insurance was not on his radar before he enrolled in Mohawk College’s business program in 2008.

“I remember walking through a hallway and finding pamphlets for Mohawk’s insurance program,” recalls Imbrogno, who switched to the course in his second semester.

“It captivated me that insurance is based on one product but it’s a product that deals with everything,” he says.

“It’s a mix of every kind of business around – law and policy, marketing, negotiating. It’s all-encompassing and I love it.”

CREDIT: CHRIS WEDMAN

Chris Sikorski

PRESIDENT, MAGNA INSURANCE CORPORATION (CALGARY, ALTA.)

By Brynna Leslie

When Chris Sikorski resigned as Arthur Gallagher’s youngest-ever senior vice-president in May, he knew it was a risk.

“It’s always been a big dream and ambition to start my own shop,” says Sikorski, who reached over a million dollars in commission revenue and grew his book nearly 300% within five years.

At 34, Sikorski speaks with the experience of someone decades older. He’s been at the periphery of the insurance industry since birth: his father was CEO of one of Canada’s largest insurance companies, and his mother was the risk manager for Alberta Health Services.

Sikorski’s brother-in-law, Brian Jardine, is now his business partner at Calgary-based Magna Insurance Corp., which they co-founded in May.

Magna is already a highly specialized team established in a 3,000-square-foot office. The business’s two partners have been working relentlessly to launch a brokerage in an environment that Sikorski admits is challenging.

“Almost every major insurance company is looking to get rid of brokers,” says Sikorski.

But he believes passionately in the role of the broker as an educator, and he’s earned an elite reputation in the industry. A key part of Magna’s business plan is a production cycle of materials to keep clients informed on industry nuances.

“The industry is going toward a transactional approach where everything is done on the Internet,” says Sikorski. “Technology is hugely important to the industry right now and we’re investing a lot in that. But insurance continues to be a complex product. Even if clients transact online, they need someone to educate them on what they should be buying, [and] why a product is priced the way it is.”

Sikorski’s passion is paying off. He’s never been busier and already has plans to double his staff by the end of next year.

CREDIT: JANNA GOBEIL

Brock Longworth

OPERATIONS MANAGER, CORNERSTONE INSURANCE SERVICES INC. (PRINCE ALBERT, SASK.)

By Brynna Leslie

Most teenagers cut their teeth in retail jobs, but Brock Longworth spent his teenage years writing government auto insurance policies for Cornerstone Insurance Services Incorporated in his hometown of Prince Albert, Sask.

“I actually wasn’t old enough to drive yet,” Longworth laughs.

Longworth’s father owned the brokerage, but he ended up getting the after-school job by negotiating with his dad’s business partner.

“Dad really wanted me to go out and find my own way,” he says.

Longworth went to the University of Saskatchewan, where he obtained a degree in physiology, with the intention of becoming a medical doctor. But he realized he could make a decent living in an industry outside of medicine that was still based on looking after people.

Longworth joined Cornerstone’s team of 13 in 2008, just as his dad’s business partner was retiring. Over the next few years, Longworth pushed hard for expansion, including the acquisition of brokerages in neighbouring towns and implementing cutting-edge technology.

“A lot of people say online is the domain of the directs,” notes Longworth. “But it’s essential for brokers as well. In the last 18 months, we’ve seen 15 percent of new business in personal lines online, and five percent of new commercial business.”

He grew personal lines from three to 12 staff within a few years and tripled the department’s annual sales. He has helped grow human resources threefold to 40 people. In 2016, Longworth led the company into the Alberta insurance market and is pushing for growth into Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario.

“I’m working really hard to foster a culture of growth,” says Longworth. “It’s not unusual for anyone here to have a book of 2,000 clients.”

CREDIT: AARON MCKENZIE FRASER

Jennifer Jackson

DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AND DIGITAL MARKETING MANAGER, CHEEP INSURANCE (HALIFAX, N.S.)

By Tessie Sanci

Jennifer Jackson isn’t your typical broker. She wears many hats: business strategist, marketing whiz and team motivator among them. “It’s that start-up life. You have to pitch in where they need you and go from there,” she says.

Her insurance career began in 2015 after meeting Steve Earle, managing partner of W.C.L. Bauld Insurance, and Jonathan Strum, vice-president of operations at Strum Insurance (both in Nova Scotia), as well as Amy Bates, a Montreal-based entrepreneur.

The three partners wanted to launch a smartphone-friendly digital brokerage where customers could go online to obtain quotes, track their policy and file claims, but still have access to knowledgeable brokers who could bind the policy and provide advice. They were looking for a tech-savvy go-getter who could promote and build a following for the brand.

Jackson’s experience in business development and marketing made her an almost-perfect candidate for the role. All that was missing was her broker’s licence, which she obtained before Cheep launched in June 2016.

Prior to the launch, Jackson designed the brokerage’s website and conducted brand research to determine how to market the company. Her findings? The insurance industry might think that “cheap” is a bad word, but Google thinks it’s a great one.

“I know the word ‘cheap’ is kind of a faux pas in insurance,” says Jackson. “What we found at the time [through the research] was that three of the top 10 Google searches for insurance had the word ‘cheap’ in it. So, we wanted to capitalize on that.”

Since the launch, Jackson has had less time to focus on marketing the brand as Cheep’s expanding customer base keeps her busy on the sales side, seeing her write 20 to 30 policies a month.

CREDIT: JAIME HOGGE

Dan Avon

VICE-PRESIDENT OF PERSONAL LINES, PARTNER, DALTON TIMMIS INSURANCE (BURLINGTON, ONT.)

By Tessie Sanci

In the early 2000s, Dan Avon had friends who were building high-end motorcycles. But they had a problem that prevented them from fully enjoying their rides.

“Bikes were being built for [$60,000 to] $100,000, and they were very difficult to insure. No one was insuring them,” he recalls.

That was the genesis of Avon’s initiative to build a motorcycle program at Dalton Timmis, a brokerage he joined in 2001— not long after leaving his first career building race cars. The project meant Avon could combine two of his key interests: sales and motor vehicles.

“At that time, you had three carriers that wrote bikes,” says Avon. “With what we [are] doing today, out of 22 markets, I only have one that doesn’t write bikes. So it shows you where we evolved and expanded the market and pushed things out as well.”

The move also helped Dalton Timmis sell their motorcycle clients on other policies.

“What we have found is that people with bikes tend to be very loyal and passionate about their bikes,” he explains. “That has allowed us to ask for commercial opportunities in a lot of our other niches.”

That could mean Avon selling a policy to a bike owner who then decides to entrust the insurance needs of his trucking company to Dalton Timmis.

Avon has also introduced a number of tech-savvy initiatives to Dalton Timmis. He counts a quoting tool for motorcycle coverage and voice-recorded insurance applications among them. The brokerage has not sent out applications through fax or by email for clients to sign in at least seven years.

“I like technology,” he says. “I am a guy that has a smart home and I am always trying to find ways to make things easier.”

CREDIT: ALEX TRAN

Mathieu Gagnon

VICE-PRESIDENT, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, CLIENT EXECUTIVE, VÉZINA ASSURANCES INC. (MONTREAL, QUE.)

By Brooke Smith

Mathieu Gagnon loves combining theory with practice. He began at Lombard Insurance (now Northbridge) in its internship program, where he learned all parts of the business: claims, prevention, underwriting. After he completed his CRM certificate at the Université du Québec à Montréal, he attained his CIP and FCIP while he was working in the industry.

“To me that’s an excellent learning path,” he says. “The CIP and the FCIP, when they’re done at the same time as working in the industry, all the links and the understanding are exponential because you don’t only learn the theory, you also see it in application.”

Two years ago, Gagnon was named partner at Vézina Assurances Inc. “I was very proud that, in the 30 years of existence of Vézina, I was named partner and was the youngest at 35 years old,” he says. “Thirty-five is pretty young, normally, to make partner in the firm.”

It’s not surprising, however, that Gagnon is leadership material. In 2012, he won the CIP Society’s Emerging Leader award. He is also driven to expand the business. “This is my ambition: growth, not staying in our little sandbox in our region and doing regional things,” he says. “I don’t think there’s any limit to what we can do.”

That “no limit” has led Gagnon to attain his out-of-province licences for B.C., Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick. “We’ve gained seven major accounts outside of Quebec over the past three years,” he says. The firm has also made some ground in the U.S.

While his job takes up much of his spare time, he continues to play team sports, hockey in particular. “I see a lot of analogies between how a sports team works and how a business team works,” he says. His hockey team? “Canadiens. I have no choice. I was born with it.”

CREDIT: JAIME HOGGE

Amanda Gouveia

ASSISTANT VICE-PRESIDENT, INTEGRO (TORONTO, ONT.)

By Brooke Smith

Amanda Gouveia worked at her mom’s insurance company during the summers when she was in high school and college. The boss there asked if she wanted a job. She said yes, but after three months decided to start her official career at Marsh. “I wanted to start my own name and not be known as my mom’s daughter at an organization.”

She received most of her training at Marsh and stayed four years. After her maternity leave, she returned to work at a few other brokerages that were within driving distance of her home in Woodbridge, Ont. But she missed city life: “I decided to go back downtown and enjoy the life of a downtown broker.”

In 2015, she interviewed at Integro, a place she says she knew she would fit into from the beginning. While working at Integro, she returned to school to complete her B.Comm. and studied for her CAIB designation. She completed both in June this year.

Her book smarts paid off—this July, she was promoted to assistant vice-president. She works with many different insurers and wears different hats; sometimes she’s the account executive, the account manager or the executive broker on the file.

Gouveia doesn’t just have the academic background; her colleagues describe her as “pathologically positive.” “I always try to find the brighter side of things,” she says. “Even with my clients, even when you have to give bad news, you have to spin it off with a positive.”

Gouveia says she’s a better broker because she knows how to talk with clients. “I know based on their personality what kind of language is going to work for interacting with them.”

She’s happy with her new role with Integro, but colleagues tell her she should explore sales because she’s a people person.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” she says. “Maybe in the future. Who knows?”

CREDIT: JAIME HOGGE

Jason Schneider

COMMERCIAL PRODUCER, MCFARLAN ROWLANDS INSURANCE BROKERS INC. (LONDON, ONT.)

By Brynna Leslie

Thirty-seven-year-old Jason Schneider is industrious. At 16, he became the manager of a bakery in London, Ont., a position he retained through two years at Fanshawe College’s Business of Insurance program and even into his early career with Economical Insurance.

His worth ethic didn’t go unnoticed. Within a few months, Schneider was hand-picked by Economical’s management to take part in an elite underwriting program designed to fast-track young assistants from junior to senior underwriters in four years.

“The people there really took me under their wing and gave me a lot of training and guidance, and made me feel more confident in what I was doing,” he recalls.

“After a couple of weeks of training, I was promoted and given a renewal book,” says Schneider. “The nice thing about being on the company side is that you get to work with all the brokerages in your area.”

Two years into Economical’s program, Schneider was hired by Aviva as an intermediate underwriter, handling larger commercial accounts with more capacity and an appetite for higher-risk accounts. He quickly became Aviva’s number one underwriter for new business.

Schneider was approached by McFarlan Rowans Insurance Brokers in July 2010, with an exceptional opportunity: a key broker was retiring. Would Schneider like to be mentored for one year and take over his book of business?

“I knew when I got into insurance that I wanted to go on to become a broker,” says Schneider, who’s grown his book of business nearly 300 percent in five years.

“You have to put your dues in, understand the product, the coverage, how the companies are developing pricing,” he says. “If I didn’t understand the product I was selling, I wouldn’t be as effective as I am today.”

CREDIT: CHRIS WEDMAN

Kevin Lea

PRESIDENT, FUSE INSURANCE (CALGARY, ALTA.)

By Brooke Smith

Kevin Lea attended business school at the University of Calgary. By third year, he still hadn’t chosen his concentration for the degree.

“This was right around the financial crisis in 07/08,” he recalls, “so I thought, I’m going to learn about risk management because, clearly, bad risk management is what led to this financial crisis occurring and paralyzing the world economy.”

Although he discovered that risk management was less about banks and derivatives and more about insurance, he actually quite liked it and ended up with a job at Federated Insurance working as a claims adjuster.

He then spent five years at Rogers Insurance, where he was top salesperson for three of the last four years. But in July, Lea left Rogers to start his own online commercial insurance brokerage, Fuse Insurance, scheduled to launch this fall.

“It’s going to be fully automated, small to mid-size commercial insurance policies, including quoting, binding, policy management, renewals, the whole nine yards—so people who want to buy commercial insurance online have an option to do that,” he says.

Lea is constantly learning and educating himself about the business. He completed his CIP, CAIB and CRM, and last year started teaching in the CAIB program at the Insurance Brokers Association of Alberta (IBAA).

While working at Rogers Insurance, he even took flying lessons so he could better understand aviation insurance.

While he has since given up the friendly skies—“I didn’t really like flying planes that were 20 years older than I was”— flying hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for travel.

In fact, he’s closing in on 60 countries visited and has travelled to six of the seven continents. Antarctica is yet to be conquered, but once Fuse Insurance is under way, the sky’s the limit.

CREDIT: ALEX TRAN

Marc Major

MANAGING DIRECTOR, MARSH CANADA (MONTREAL, QUE.)

By Brooke Smith

Marc Major’s dive into insurance came by fluke. He was lifeguarding and managing a pool when the president of the pool (who was also a managing director at Marsh) asked if he wanted to start working for Marsh. “I had no clue what they did,” he recalls. But he took the plunge.

While finishing up his degree in psychology at Concordia University and coaching at two swim clubs, he began working three days a week at Marsh, evaluating risks for large commercial clients. “My first big project was actually mapping out flood and earthquake hazards,” he says.

During this time, he also began studying for his broker’s licence, which he received in 2004—the same year he went full-time at Marsh.

Major is part of the Eastern Executive Leadership Team, which meets quarterly with other leaders from the region to discuss goals and targets for the year and to brainstorm on growing the business.

This past April, he was named a managing director at Marsh. He now manages a team of about 35 in Montreal’s risk management division.“It’s a big responsibility, making sure the team is servicing our clients to the best of their abilities, as well as hitting targets.”

And though he still has his own portfolio of clients, he’s now taking a more senior role with them to foster new relationships with colleagues at Marsh and allow him time to manage his team.

“Becoming a managing director is very nice recognition from the firm, in terms of [it being] the highest appointment that you can be given in terms of an office or title at the company.”

But Major isn’t big on titles and admits that he rarely signs off emails with his title. “To me it’s more important that I have the respect of the people I work with, that they trust me,” he says.

“But you can’t lie that getting the recognition isn’t a nice thing.”
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Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the September 2017 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine