The Rowley Agency expands its service and business the old fashioned way– one client at a time
It is a cold and snowy New England winter day. Undeterred by the snow and ice, Dan Church has made the trip from Concord, New Hampshire to the company’s Maine base of operations in Portland’s Old Port district. It’s a trip Church, CEO of The Rowley Agency, has made many times since he took a leadership position at the agency in 1991.
Inside the offices, Rowley’s Maine staff is gathered around a conference table, talking about the economy, changes in the region’s insurance industry and prospects for the Maine construction industry. Since the insurance agency was founded in 1966, Rowley has maintained close ties to the construction industry, and today it accounts for more than half of the firm’s business.
Church, like many of his firm’s construction clients, is guardedly optimistic about the year ahead. With passage of the $100 million transportation bond in November 2013 and a recent surge in commercial construction, he believes the industry is experiencing an upswing.
As a seasoned veteran of the financial services industry, Church understands the value of the long view. He joined Rowley in 1970, just four years after Joe Rowley founded the agency in Concord, New Hampshire. Church was fresh out of the Navy having served two tours of duty in Vietnam.
He became president of the firm in 1991 when Joe Rowley retired and was elected CEO by the firm’s partners in 2004. Gary Stevens, who has been with Rowley since 1980, stepped into the role of president that same year.
Over the years, Church has seen many things change in the business, but one thing he believes has remained constant. “Despite all the new technology and innovations we’ve seen, it is basically the same process it was 40 years ago; it is relationship based. Our job is to get to know the client and what they need. That fundamental relationship with the client is very important.”
That long view and emphasis on the human side of the business has served The Rowley Agency well. When Church joined the agency in 1970, the agency had four employees. Today, the firm has more than 50 agents and support staff, including five based in Maine. It is among the top agencies in the region. Rowley provides contract and other surety bonds, employee and executive benefits, commercial insurance, risk management and claims management for business clients throughout New England.
In a strategy to help clients as they expand their businesses and take on projects outside of New England, Rowley joined Assurex, a network of 600 independent agents and brokers worldwide that was originally established in the 1950s. That alliance has come in handy more than once allowing Rowley to have a local broker contact for their clients on a world-wide basis.
Since the 1980s, the firm has had a strong presence in Maine and the Portland office has an experienced team that is well known on the local scene. Hughes, a senior vice president, has been with Rowley the longest; he joined the company in 1984 and founded the company’s Portland base of operations. He got his start in Maine, learning the business while working at Maine Bonding and Casualty.
Christine Holman, vice president and partner, manages all of the administration and quality control of Rowley’s Maine operations.
John Harbottle, a vice president and partner joined the firm in 1986 and specializes in commercial lines. Gary LaPierre and Mike O’Brien, both account executives, joined the firm in 1998 and 2007, respectively. O’Brien is the Portland office’s bond specialist with over 20 years experience in the field. The newest member of the Maine team is Bobby Donnelly, who joined the company as an account executive in 2013.
The five have a close-knit working relationship, and it is easy to see how their ability to step in where needed and share the load is central to Rowley’s success in the region.
“This is a team effort and we work as a team,” said Hughes. “If you call and John isn’t available, Gary is. That’s important, because time is of the essence and clients need answers and solutions, and those needs have to be satisfied.”
“We all like each other, and there’s no competition among us,” said Harbottle, adding that most important is making sure – whether it is researching a new policy or managing a claim – the job gets done well.
As the insurance and bonding market has grown increasingly competitive, the firm has stayed on top of technology and followed an innovative path to customer service. Fifteen years ago, the company made the decision to combine its support staff and customer service operations for New England under one roof at the company’s headquarters in Concord. That has proven remarkably efficient, enabling the staff to share research and expertise.
“We realized about 15 years ago that if we are going to do this and do it well, we needed to specialize and that is a real advantage for our clients,” said Harbottle.
The emphasis on developing good client relationships has been all the more important for the agency as it has navigated through recent challenging times marked by consolidation in the insurance industry and contraction in the commercial and construction markets. That the region’s economy is rebounding from the recession that hit New England hard in 2008, is evidenced by Rowley’s growth.
One thing Church and the other insurance professionals gathered around the table do not see in Rowley’s future is a merger or acquisition, like those that have happened to other agencies frequently over the past decade. The company is unabashedly proud of its independence – it is one of the largest independently owned firms in northern New England.
Hughes labels Rowley’s measured and thoughtful expansion “organic growth” and contrasts it with the current stream of agency mergers and acquisitions that have narrowed the field of choice for business clients looking for insurance and bonds. “This is hard work – finding a customer, working with them and making them more than a single policy or a one-time transaction,” said Hughes.
Another important part of the growing “organically,” according to Church, is staying involved in the community and investing in the issues and causes that help strengthen the region. The firm is active in many regional industry organizations, including the MBTA. Harbottle currently is a member of MBTA’s board of directors and also has served on various committees including the Convention and Infrastructure Development committees, as well as Membership.
The company will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in June 2016, and Church, Hughes, Harbottle and the others gathered at the conference table are eager to put clients’ and friends’ minds to rest: there is no acquisition or other major disruption on the horizon.
“There’s nothing but ‘more of the same,’” said Church. “There is no reason to change.”
FMI: Founded in 1966, The Rowley Agency is one of the largest, independently owned insurance agencies in northern New England. Information at www.rowleyagency.com.