Brokers

Brokerage Prevails on Restrictive Agreements

Brown & Brown won a temporary injunction against a competitor and the former employees who it accused of taking clients with them when they left.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 4 min read

Recruiting the right people is crucial for insurance brokers. Retaining them can be a challenge.

It’s especially difficult when “nothing short of a corporate raid” takes place, and a broker not only loses key producers, but clients as well. Those are the charges laid against AssuredPartners of Lake Mary, Fla., by Brown & Brown, one of the largest global brokerages.

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On Oct. 24, a Florida circuit court judge issued a temporary injunction ordering AssuredPartners to “divest themselves of the former customers of Brown & Brown that are now customers of Assured.”

Brown & Brown was ordered to post a $1.6 million bond, which is “the best estimate we have as to the amount of business employees have effectively stolen in accounts from Brown & Brown through the wrongful solicitation,” said Katheleen Ehrhart, a partner in the litigation practice group at Freeborn & Peters, which represented B&B.

AssuredPartners was formed by two former Brown & Brown executives: Jim Henderson, CEO and chairman of AssuredPartners, was B&B’s vice chairman and COO until his retirement in 2010; and Thomas Riley, president and COO of AssuredPartners, was B&B’s chief acquisition officer.

Katheleen Ehrhart, partner, Freeborn & Peters

Katheleen Ehrhart, partner, Freeborn & Peters

“We disagree with the ruling,” said Walter Smith, chief counsel of AssuredPartners.

“This [lawsuit], I think, was an unnecessary thing that occurred because we’ve always been clear that we wanted to pay for the accounts that followed.”

He said it is a very common practice for brokerages to pay for accounts that want to follow employees to a new firm.

He said the judge “didn’t find there was solicitation of any customers and they are now our customers. The judge ruled that if there was harm to the customers they could stay with us. We believe it would be harmful [to force the clients to move],” Smith said.

According to the lawsuit, at least 10 accounts, representing more than 50 policies transferred their accounts to AssuredPartners.

“The point is we are going to protect our customers and employees from being solicited to compete against Brown & Brown for two years. That’s very reasonable.” — Katheleen Ehrhart, partner, Freeborn and Peters

“Each of them [the former employees] is free to make that decision on their own to go work for a competitor,” Ehrhart said. “It’s the collusion, if you will, of them doing it together that we say is a violation of the restrictive covenant. But the real focus here is the customers.

“The point is we are going to protect our customers and employees from being solicited to compete against Brown & Brown for two years. That’s very reasonable.

“We also recognize when a customer may … choose to go to another broker, but our employees should not be free to go to a competitor and lure that customer to that competitor,” she said.

The restrictive covenant violations “caused substantial harm and loss of customers to [Brown & Brown],” wrote Judge Dennis Craig in his order issuing the temporary injunction.

The order provided, however, that “if evidence arises that a former customer of Brown & Brown which is now a customer of Assured will suffer harm as a result of this order, the defendants may file a motion asking this Court to reconsider or modify this Order as to that customer.”

The litigation accused Assured of “poaching” eight former employees, who were mostly top executives and producers in B&B’s senior care sector (which brokers insurance for nursing homes, assisted living facilities and continuing care retirement community) or for habitational insurance (for condominium boards and units, and other multi-residence properties).

The employees, who left B&B within 15 days, had signed employment agreements with restrictive covenants, in which they agreed not to disclose confidential information, not to solicit clients or to inform clients of their leaving B&B for two years following their voluntary or involuntary termination.

The agreement also required the employees to not “directly or indirectly solicit or seek to induce any of the company’s employees to leave the company’s employ for any reason.”

The ruling did not require the employees to leave their new jobs, but said they must comply with the restrictive covenants.

On June 23, AssuredPartners announced the hiring of Phil Masi as senior vice president, and Negar Sharifi as vice president, to focus on new commercial property and retail clients. Masi had been SVP at Brown & Brown while Sharifi was a commercial insurance agent.

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Also named in the suit were Henderson and Riley of AssuredPartners; and former Brown & Brown employees, Richard Schwarz II, Brian Lindahl, Jennica Mandarano, Kathryn Bloodwell, Michael Randall and Danielle Mattson.

The ruling did not require the employees to leave their new jobs, but said they must comply with the restrictive covenants.

Ehrhart said a date has not yet been set for a trial on a permanent injunction.

If Brown & Brown ultimately prevails, she said, damages could include loss of revenue, loss of investment in business lines, loss of investment in employees, and loss of reputation and good will.

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

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I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

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Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]