A Look Back at a Career of Changes
By Larry Bray, Vice President of Mutual Assistance (Retired)
I have loved this industry from the day I started working in it. My first opportunity to be part of the town mutual industry came about when I was walking past the Sugar Creek Mutual office in December 1980 on my way home from a particularly frustrating day of teaching. It was the first time I had ever taken that route. I met my uncle, who only went to the office once or twice per week for an hour or so, coming out of the office. He had previously talked to me about getting involved at Sugar Creek Mutual. When I said I was interested in considering that, he told me the quarterly board meeting was that evening. There were too many coincidences to ignore. Now, 39 years later, I am retiring from the industry.
During my 25 years at Sugar Creek Mutual, I had the opportunity to work as an agent, then manager, eventually a board member, and nearly every possible combination of those three positions, even administering my own policy. Yikes! The mutual was still billing on the post loss assessment basis and everything was done manually.
The Board of Directors at Sugar Creek Mutual hired me specifically because I had no insurance background and would not start changing the way things were done from the way that they wanted to do them. I soon discovered that I really did need to learn about insurance and studied for my agent’s license and attended every meeting that was offered through WAMIC and WRC. That eventually led to pursuing the CPCU program.
Learning the business
I served on the WAMIC board and in the early years of the PMIC board, serving as president (now titled chair of the board) in 1994. I also served for a time on the Town Mutual Services Board, which was essentially a forms committee for WAMIC.
I was most honored to be part of long-range planning groups and a committee called “Task Force 2000” in the mid-1980s. That name sounded really futuristic at the time. Those groups, and a Strategic Business Planning Committee I was asked to be part of, had an influence in purchasing the land and constructing the current building for WRC, as well as supporting the demutualization of WRC to raise capital to start 1st Auto and Casualty.
The WRC building was erected during my tenure as WAMIC president. I still have the construction helmet and shovel from the groundbreaking ceremony, as well as a piece of the ribbon from the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The WRC years
In later years, I served on the WRC Board of Directors, which was probably the best experience I had for learning about business, insurance and reinsurance. I was approached in 2007 about coming to work for WRC. That turned out to be a great move for me. I had spent my whole life preparing for this work, from growing up on a farm, teaching, being a firefighter, managing a mutual company and being involved with WAMIC and WRC.
At WRC, I had the opportunity to work with clients and associations in six states. I could identify with, and often commiserate with, companies that were struggling because I had lived through many of the things that they were experiencing. This reminds me of my grandfather who used to say that he was not very smart, but he was so old that he had experienced a lot of things!
WRC is a great place to work. It is an honor and a privilege to serve this industry. If there is something you do not like about WRC, the organization is small enough that you have a voice that will be heard. You have an opportunity to get to know every member of the Board of Directors personally.
Our client-owned corporation structure seems more like a mutual to me than the large mutual companies do. My influence at an American Family Mutual annual meeting is about as impactful as my voting rights for the two shares of Green Bay Packers stock that I control.
WRC does not dictate, demand or direct. We work with our client companies in providing the assistance that they want and need. Assistance is occasionally given proactively, but even then, the company boards of directors have the final say in how their companies are run.
WRC provides support that enables companies to successfully operate as close to how they wish to operate as possible. I think that is very important. That is how I got into this industry in the first place.
This industry is not about any one person, and it is certainly not about me. It is about the people we serve. I have had some wonderful conversations, emails and notes from many of you in recent weeks. Those mean a great deal to me and that is all that I need or want.
Many of you have heard me say this about our industry, and I believe in it absolutely: You are all great people doing the right things, for the right people, for the right reasons.
Thanks so much for allowing me to be part of this.