You were raised in New England. What made you move to Florida?
After I finished my studies, I was a stockbroker in Massachusetts and had a sister who lived here in Florida. I was married with 4 children living outside of Boston. I wanted to live and work in the same community. I thought Florida was a great place of opportunity.
You founded Nichols Insurance Associates Inc. in 2001, what did you do prior to that?
In 1989 I moved to Florida and bought a bare boat rental company which I operated for 5 years. My dad was diagnosed with leukemia and so I returned to New England for six months to take care of him. I sold both of those businesses. John Schirmer offered me a job working for him in the insurance industry in 1995. Eventually, I became president of the company and stepped down in mid-2000. In August 2001, I opened Nichols Insurance Associates Inc. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Once I opened my own agency, I went to John Connelly for some advice. I had met John at my church St. Cecelia’s in Clearwater. For the next five or six years, I’d meet him for breakfast and he’d offer me advice on owning and operating an insurance agency. John was completely unselfish in that regard. He was a great mentor.
What is your business philosophy?
I’m long term greedy. I don’t mean greedy in a negative sense. Perhaps, a better way to describe it is focused. I want to be successful in the long term which means I have to always focus on doing the right thing for the client. When you do the right thing for the client, your profit will follow. If your number one decision is based on doing the right thing for the client, you can’t help but be successful. Then you can charge an appropriate price for the product because the client recognizes it as valuable. Our motto at Nichols Insurance Associates was “WE MAKE INSURANCE EASY”. We weren’t product pushers. Initially, we listened to the client in order to assess their needs. After listening, we would try to determine what’s best for them. If a client is qualified properly then you can offer them the appropriate product. Sometimes, the fit isn’t right. I’m not afraid to tell them our agency isn’t the right fit. In the end, it’s better to do that and ensure the long-term happiness of the client.
Why did you form CCF&N?
The most important aspect of the deal involved the quality of the people and their backgrounds. I wanted to be in business with them. They are community based and men of high integrity which is both personally and professionally important to me. The expertise of the three different firms made sense. We are truly a full-service agency. There is no overlap between the three firms. We each have our niches and have specialists in these niches.
You specialize in Employee Benefits. What is the most important aspect of a benefits package in terms of an employer? What is the goal of our plan? Why am I implementing this plan?
Most of the time, it involves how a business owner delivers a benefits package that’s going to be of value to the employees. We strategize with employers regarding what they want their benefits to accomplish and deliver for the individual employee as well as the company. It has to be a package that satisfies employees. For example, we do total compensation statements so employees understand what they are receiving.
How do you see your role at CCF&N?
My role is to make sure that our resources are marshaled properly so that our benefits and property and casualty teams can deliver great product to clients. I also strive to develop relationships in the business community. It’s important that I focus some of my energies on letting businesses know that we provide great service and beneficial products that will help them succeed in their own business. Now, every agency will tout “customer service” as a benefit. At CCF&N, we define that in terms of a relationship we build with our clients. Essentially, we want each of our clients to view CCF&N as their business partners, as a real extension of themselves, as their advocates regarding insurance issues, employee benefits, and human resources.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
Personally, my wife & I have 4 children and all four are self-sufficient, happy and faithful adults. Professionally, United Healthcare recognized Nichols Insurance Associates, Inc. as the Top Producing Small Business Platinum Agency in the entire country for 2005. While this was a significant recognition for our agency, it also provided an important benefit to our clients. It provided us access to benefits services that only 1% of all brokers have in order to better serve our clients.
Who inspires you?
Cynthia Quinn inspires me. She was one of our vendor representatives for Humana and United Healthcare before I hired her as a sales manager in June 2009. In early 2010, she was diagnosed with a serious eye disease. She’s a single mom with two children. Even after the diagnosis, she continued to work and never complained about her health issues. She’s had nine different operations to save her sight. She remains upbeat and positive. She recently told me, “This has been the most incredible experience in my life. You have no idea of how this has increased my faith in God.” After hearing something like that, how can I complain about anything after what she’s gone through?
John Connelly, my partner, also inspires and motivates me. He has such great passion and focus. He wants to build up this community and helps others become successful.
People I have working for me, inspire me. There are so many people working here who care just as much about our agency as we do.
What is the greatest challenge for employers in terms of Employee Benefits and how does CCF&N help with this?
The biggest obstacle is navigating the future unknowns in healthcare and employee benefits. There are a multitude of changes because of health insurance reform and those changes may affect a business. How do I meet employee expectations given the uncertain economic future? These are challenges that we strive to overcome by collaborating with our clients who are really our business partners. Our success is very much connected to their own success.
You’ve served as a Big Brother, how has that affected your outlook on life?
The exciting thing for me (I’m 53 and my youngest child is 23) is working with a boy who’s now 11. The personal involvement with him gives me the satisfaction that I can still help youth. I’ve taught Sunday school and been involved with Scouting but the one-on-one aspect of Big Brothers has given me a whole new appreciation of what can be accomplished by getting involved in the life of an individual child. Material assistance is great but getting personally involved has been tremendously rewarding. There are tangible signs that you’re making a difference in a young life. I see the positive effect on this boy’s young life. I get a lot of rewards out of it. It brings joy to my life.