An unexpected leadership shift could ruffle a small business. One area executive aims to bring a steady hand to the insurance firm he now helms.
Sarasota area executive Russ Bobbitt is comfortable managing risk and helping clients overcome tough situations — something he's been doing for decades at Purmort & Martin Insurance Agency.
But Bobbitt's handling of a tough situation recently moved internal at the Sarasota-based firm, which offers personal and commercial insurance and turns 60 in 2018. That stems from a leadership change: On March 1, longtime executive Jamie Purmort resigned, citing personal reasons. Bobbitt assumed the role of president and CEO.
Bobbitt joined the firm in 1997, starting as a sales agent. He became an owner in 2004.
For the last several years, he and Purmort were 50-50 partners in the business. Although Bobbitt’s title recently changed officially, he says he took over management of all areas of the company about three years ago. “It was important that I stepped into the managing partner role to ensure the high levels of service and client care continued,” he says.
In the wake of the major changes, Bobbitt has learned how to help employees through internal challenges — and how the firm can maintain its focus on growth and other goals.
“Before a bad situation occurs, have some general knowledge of all the areas of your business.” — Russ Bobbitt, president and CEO, Purmort & Martin Insurance Agency
Bobbitt says because he’d been an owner of the firm for the past 13 years, he’d been managing in some capacity that whole time. A key lesson he’s learned? “Before a bad situation occurs, have some general knowledge of all the areas of your business,” he says.
When challenges begin, he says leaders need to follow the classic first step — admitting there’s a problem. Once there’s recognition of an issue that needs to be resolved, it’s crucial to listen to employees as they explain their issues, Bobbitt says. “When there is adversity at the top of a business, it affects everyone in that business. The leaders of the business need to be mindful and help their people through those tough times," he says. "If they do that, they will be rewarded with loyalty.”
Bobbitt declines to disclose Purmort & Martin’s 2017 revenue but says the company will focus on growth in the months ahead. “We need to put the past behind us and look to the future," he says. "Part of that is understanding the landscape.”
One key aspect of the insurance landscape is pressure on independent agencies to sell. Bobbitt says he gets calls regularly from national brokers who want to acquire Purmort & Martin. “I politely tell them, ‘No thank you.’ I want to continue to run this agency the way it’s been run, and that means with local control.”
For Bobbitt, that connection to the community is one of the ways Purmort & Martin sets itself apart. “The perspective we have is the same perspective they have,” he says of the firm’s clients. “We go through the same things they go through. We own and run our own small business in Sarasota.”
The company’s clients are centered in Sarasota, Bradenton and Venice, but it also has clients in Tampa, Fort Myers, Orlando and Jacksonville.
Purmort & Martin gains new clients through referrals, marketing efforts and prospecting. Real estate agents in particular have been good partners for the company, Bobbitt says. When buyers are in the process of purchasing a property, agents refer them to Purmort & Martin for insurance needs. The firm values and actively cultivates those relationships with real estate agents, he says.
Another key growth avenue is expanding the types of insurance it provides existing clients. Bobbitt says, “We like to earn all of the clients’ business.”
The firm, with 21 employees, is looking for new sales people and service representatives. “We’re confident that we’re going to grow, and we want to stay ahead of that growth,” he says. “I’m really bullish on the Sarasota-Bradenton economy for the next 24 months for sure.”
Bobbitt is also in the process of purchasing Purmort’s shares, so he could become full owner of the company. A minority partner also might be brought on in the future. In the meantime, Bobbitt says he will remain focused on moving forward. “I’m not much of a small talk person,” he says. “I’m very much a put-your-head-down-and-get-it-done kind of a leader.”