|Copyright:||A.M. Best Company, Inc.|
A well-known name in the world of insurance brokers has been resurrected with the birth of the Hilb Group.
Robert H. Hilb, the former founder, chief executive officer and chairman of Hilb Rogal & Hobbs, and his son, Robert J. Hilb, a former corporate vice president of HRH, have launched the Hilb Group to pursue middle market speciality commercial business on the East Coast, the younger Hilb said.
Hilb Rogal & Hobbs was acquired by Willis Group Holdings for $2.1 billion in October 2008 (BestWire, Oct. 2, 2008). Willis’ North American retail brokerage business was called Willis HRH from Oct. 1, 2008 until Oct. 1, 2009, but on the one-year anniversary of the acquisition, Willis reverted back to the business’ former name, Willis North America, thus ending the legacy of the Hilb name — until now.
The younger Hilb, who spent 15 years with HRH, said he missed the insurance brokering business. “Ours is a relationship business. It is a business that is entirely focused on your ability to interact with other folks….if you have the right risk and the right relationship with carriers, you can pretty much get anything done. I enjoyed being a trusted adviser,” Robert J. Hilb, president and CEO of the Hilb Group, said.
Hilb’s father, Robert H. Hilb — who retired from HRH in 1997, but remained on the board until the company was sold to Willis — is chairman of the new Hilb group.
Robert J. Hilb said when he first decided to explore returning to the world of insurance brokering, he did not want to use the Hilb name.
“Like a lot of sons in my position, I have enormous respect for my dad and what he did at HRH. But our business plan is not about doing an HRH re-do. We’re here to build a very specialist, very focused insurance broker,” Robert J. Hilb said. “I was contemplating other names that didn’t have Hilb in them, but as I started to recruit our team, every one of them, to a man, said, ‘You are crazy, you’ve got to use this name.'”
Robert J. Hilb said the market conditions — a declining economy coupled with a reduction in aggregators — led him to believe that now was a good time to launch a new regional brokerage. When he ran the idea past his father, Robert H. Hilb not only agreed, but said there are almost identical conditions to those he faced in 1982 when the first Hilb brokerage was started.
That was “a green light for me,” the younger Hilb said.
He said the Hilb Group sees an under-served niche in middle market brokers, those with annual revenues of $1.5 million to $8 million. Of the 38,000 insurance agencies in the United States, about 11,000 fall into this middle market category, Robert J. Hilb said.
The company’s strategy is to bring together as many of those middle market speciality brokers as possible, he said, through strategic acquisitions and alliances.
“We think there is a growing number of folks — for whatever reason — who don’t have a succession plan in place,” Robert J. Hilb said. “The opportunity to do something new is really exciting for both us and the folks that are looking to partner with us.”
The company plans to target niche brokers, he said.
The Hilb Group has just announced its first two acquisitions, and is considering some 12 to 15 additional opportunities, Robert J. Hilb said.
The group said it acquired the business of Joseph Caruso, of Charlotte, N.C. and New York, which is focused on management liability and employee benefits for corporate clients across the country. Joseph Caruso, former managing director of Willis, will lead the Hilb Group’s financial services practice.
Also, the Hilb Group said it’s combined with J.J. Jerome Associates/EAI of Bay Shore, N.Y. The firm, under the leadership of Jerry Jerome, provides specialized insurance programs to the physician and dental professions throughout the state of New York. J.J. Jerome Associates/EAI has been in business for more than 50 years. James Jerome will head JJJ/EAI for the Hilb Group along with the founder of JJJ/EAI, Jerry Jerome.
Terms of the transactions were not disclosed.
The Hilb Group is based in Glen Allen, Va., with offices in Connecticut, New York and North Carolina.
To listen to the full audio interview with Robert J. Hilb, visit http://www.ambest.com/media/media.asp?RC=176012
(By Meg Green, senior associate editor, BestWeek: Meg.Green@ambest.com)