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Business Observer Friday, May 3, 2019 5 months ago

Family ties strong as daughter moves to top of firm

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With a bigger appetite for risk, Taylor Collins takes over a stalwart area insurance business her father, JIm Tollerton, founded.  
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Taylor Collins wasn’t totally sure she wanted to follow her dad, Jim Tollerton, into the insurance industry, despite majoring in it in college.  

Then she interned for the esteemed Lloyd’s of London, and she was hooked. Collins worked on kidnapping/ransom insurance for celebrities, among other high-risk insurance cases. “It was fun to see the insurance business on the inside,” says Collins, who like her dad, graduated from Florida State University.  

A dozen years later, Collins is a rising star in the niche of executive/professional benefits and group insurance for companies, including disability and life insurance. Her accomplishments include being one of the youngest women to earn a Chartered Life Underwriter Designation, in addition to earning another designation from the Wharton School of Business. She was also recently named a 2018 Best Advisor Under 40 by NAIFA Florida, an insurance trade and lobbying group.

‘You’re much happier when you look to get to a yes for a client.’ Jim Tollerton, Professional Benefits Inc.

Backed by that experience, Collins, 33, now faces what could be one of her biggest career challenges yet: to guide the company Tollerton, 72, founded in 1970, Sarasota-based Professional Benefits Inc., into the next decade and beyond. The five-employee firm handles everything from executive pay to insurance benefits package consulting for a variety of clients, from hospitals and doctors groups to nonprofits. It’s grown revenues about 5% a year the past few years, she says, declining to provide specific figures. “We hit a homerun about every other quarter,” Collins says.

Collins began working at the firm, under her dad, in 2007. “I started from the bottom,” says Collins. Tollerton confirms it, adding he didn’t give her too high of a salary in the early days, so she could prove herself. “I worked on claims. I worked on contracts. I made calls.”

She did that for a few years, before moving into a partnership role when Tollerton gave her a loan to buy the business in increments. Collins paid off the loan slowly, raising her payments every year or so. She officially took ownership of the business in January, being named president after making the final payment. Tollerton will remain with the company, in a consultant and advisory role. “This transition is exciting,” says Tollerton, “but don’t think I’m going anywhere.”

The loan Tollerton gave Collins came with a twist: Collins thought Tollerton undervalued the business, and offered to pay more. “Just by a little bit,” quips Collins.

Lori Sax. Jim Tollerton founded his company in 1970 and his daughter, Taylor Collins, has been working there since 2007.

In addition to a leadership transition, the firm has a few other changes, namely a new office, now on Bee Ridge Road, and a hyper-focus on the benefits consulting side. Under Tollerton, the kind of insurance executive and master networker, says Collins, “who never meets a stranger,” the company would venture into a variety of other areas. If a client asked Tollerton to help, from wealth management to medical malpractice insurance, he would do it.

Collins, in thinking about how she wants to grow the company, says she looked for answers to two questions: What is she passionate about, and what is she really good at? That led Collins back to benefits consulting, where she says she’s driven to create benefits, focused on insurance, for organizations that help them recruit, retain and reward employees. “You get to be creative and help business owners,” says Collins. “We put together a plan for them, and it’s really exciting to see them use it.”

Another change? Collins says she’s looking forward to growing the client base outside the Sarasota region on an accelerated basis, in addition to other potential expansions. Says Collins: “I was willing to put more risk into it than he was.”

Collins expects to do more work with out of state health care clients, for example, including hospital systems in Indianapolis and Seattle that total more than 1,000 physicians. Working with medical clients, including Sarasota Memorial Hospital, has long been a cornerstone of Professional Benefits. “We just know how to speak to doctors,” Collins says. “It comes easy to us.”  

Tollerton, with no plans to retire, has spent time imparting some of his business wisdom to Collins, such as “you’re much happier when you look to get to a yes for a client.”

With an obvious bias, Tollerton also says he’s confident in the future of the company under Collins. “Your child is your child,” says Tollerton, “but I’ve seen how great a businesswoman she is. She’s really done some amazing things here.”

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