Tony Papa has taken quite a big chance for someone who built a successful career protecting businesses against risk.
Papa, after more than 20 years with the Sarasota office of London-based Willis Group Holdings, a $3.65 billion global insurance firm, has left the security and comfort of a well-heeled mothership. Papa defected from Willis in August when he bought an $8 million book of business in commercial insurance underwriting premiums he and his wife, Tina Papa, had built up there. Clients are mostly in construction, manufacturing and nonprofits. Says Tony Papa: “We have written everything from the smallest of risk to the largest of risk management programs for all types of business.”
The Papas, along with Sarasota-Bradenton area insurance executive Jamie Wood, formerly a senior underwriter with Lakewood Ranch-based FCCI Insurance Group, have formed a new entity with that portfolio: Guy Hurley of Florida. The company is co-owned by the Papas and Troy, Mich.-based Guy Hurley Blaser & Heuer. That firm was founded in 2001 with two employees and has since grown to about $20 million in annual premiums and 30 employees.
Tony Papa declines to disclose how much he spent to buy the book of business from Willis or to partner with Guy Hurley. Papa and the Guy Hurley team met through a mutual client. “We had Florida as a growth mission for a number of years,” says Guy Hurley Blaser & Heuer Vice President Bob Heuer. “But we didn't have the right people.”
Tony Papa says $8 million in premiums is a “nice size to get started,” but he doesn't plan to stay there for long. He projects the firm, with five employees, will grow premiums by at least 40% in 2015. New hires, project Papa, will coincide with that growth. He banks on a rebounding economy to back him.
“It's a sizable growth goal,” Papa says. “But a big driver is we are coming out of one of the worst recessions in a long time. So now is the greatest time to build an organization.”
The Papas and Wood, of course, realize it will take more than an improved economy to outcompete bigger rivals and meet those lofty projections. For that the firm hopes its dual approach of providing property and casualty commercial insurance and surety bonds services for clients will be a winner. Surety bonds protect clients against the failure of a principal to fulfill obligations in certain contracts, an especially relevant factor in construction. Most insurance firms do either commercial lines or surety bonds. “You see very few that blend the two together,” says Papa.
A Jackson, Miss., native who began his career with USF&G, Papa has been in insurance on the Gulf Coast since 1990, first in Tampa. In addition to the dual strategy, Papa says the combined insurance experience of the three Guy Hurley of Florida executives is a competitive asset when it targets new business. Tina Papa has worked in the industry for 35 years with several major firms, and Wood brings a mix of banking and insurance experience. He worked in surety underwriting at FCCI, and before that he was an associate vice president at Cadence Bank.
The core of the challenges the firm faces in the near future, says Tony Papa, are mostly big-picture issues somewhat out of its control. One major threat, he says, is a rise in lawsuits against businesses. Says Papa: “The litigious nature of our society and the effect that has on our clients is a worry.”
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