“I came out of college looking for a job. I couldn’t find one,” he recalls today. He told a search firm twice that he didn’t want to interview with an insurance company, but he needed a job. Moreover he had had an unpleasant experience with an insurance company that he thought had mishandled a claim of his, and well, maybe he could do better.
He went to the interview, liked the interviewer, and took the job. The person who hired him left shortly thereafter, but Abram was on his way. “I saw a career path,” he said. He left that first job to take a job on the East Coast with a carrier, who helped him go to graduate school and get his MBA. Eventually, though, he missed Northern California and came back, taking a job with an MGA. “I saw what they did, and I thought I’d like to do what they do, and I was tired of the East Coast rat race.”
He started Abram Interstate in 1996, cutting a deal with his prior employer to take over a book of business that was struggling, and that he thought he could make money with. He did.
Today, Abram does a wide variety of business, with specialties in wine and other agricultural business including crop, cattle, dude ranches and equine. He has 26 employees, works with about 600 agencies each month and about 2500 distinct agencies a year. When he’s hiring, he says, he looks for “fire in the belly, people who are willing to go above and beyond, are flexible and can be comfortable in inconvenient circumstances.”
He says the recent wave of mergers and acquisitions is fine with him as it gives people who want to get out of the business a way to do it. Those who want to stay independent just need to work harder, he said, and focus on solving problems for people. Staying on top of technology and other trends is key. He quotes former GE CEO Jack Welch: “Change before you have to.”
He said bigger companies aren’t able to solve the kinds of problems that find their way to MGAs, and probably never will.
Abram is a world traveler, having been to at least 84 countries, often going off the beaten path, spending time with indigenous people on the Amazon, for instance. He said such travel helps his business because it helps him look at the business in new and different ways.
“I have a mantra that I have lived by for many years, ‘Diligently, diligently, patiently and persistently, patiently and persistently, you are bound to be successful, bound to be successful,’ which he credits to S N Goenka, a Burmese/Indian teacher of Vipassanna meditation.
To say that Abram is not the usual insurance man is not to say that he isn’t a savvy insurance man. His company blog rises way above the norm, with new posts multiple times a week, each one thoughtfully covering an issue of interest to independent agents, but never just selling Abram products.
“The blog is by design. I looked at the impact of social media on the world, and I knew we could use it to help people be successful, to be the best they could be. We try to answer the kinds of questions that both agents and insureds have. I believe it is a differentiator for us. It helps us rise above the chaff,” he said.
Like any good insurance professional, though, he said his job is to “provide solutions to the end user, to our customers’ customers. If we solve their problems, then we all make money in the long run.”
To say that Ron Abram is not your usual insurance man would not be fair, because stereotypes are never fair. It is fair, though, to say he never planned to go into insurance. He turned his first insurance job down twice before he accepted it. That he owns a fairly substantial MGA operation today, Abram Interstate in Rocklin, California, is probably the least surprising thing in his life.