Meet Zach Brown: A Broker With a ‘Get It Done’ Attitude

Humbled by his own experiences with homelessness, this P&C broker knows what it’s like to face a challenge. So he works for solutions instead.
By: | February 22, 2019

At just 23 years of age, Zach Brown decided it was time to pick up his entire life and move to California, where he would start fresh with a career in insurance.

“I didn’t know much about insurance other than I had it on my car,” said Brown. But, he thought, “what’s the worst that could happen? Would I have to sneak into a gas station and heat up hot dogs? Live out of my truck with two feet of snow on the ground? I already did that; I could handle 70 degrees and sunny all year.”

Homeless, But Hard Working

Before trying California, Brown grew up in a small farm town in Indiana. He earned a college scholarship for baseball at the Indiana Institute of Technology but soon learned it only covered tuition. He was on his own for room and board.

“I wasn’t about to give up a free education,” he said.

So Brown decided to live out of his truck for about a year. He put a mattress in the bed of the vehicle and pulled a tarp over top to keep the Indiana weather out — sometimes it could reach below zero degrees in the wintertime. He was sneaking into gas stations to use their microwaves to heat up the SpaghettiOs and hot dogs he could afford.

On top of that, Brown was attending his classes during regular school hours; honoring his baseball commitments, including attending practices, conditioning and games, in the afternoons; and rounding out his nights working with a construction firm tasked with remodeling McDonald’s restaurants.

“I had maybe one to two hours of sleep [each night] and did it all over again the next day. That was the hardest part, having a 24-hour schedule,” he said. “I had to do what I had to do, and it made me grow up really quickly.”

Zach Brown as pitcher for Indiana Tech. Above is from a tournament in Daytona Beach, FL.*

Once he graduated, Brown worked selling commercial lawnmowers for commission.

During this time, an idea came to Brown: If he sold lawnmowers anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 each, what kind of commission might he make on a more expensive product?

“I jumped on Google and looked for places where I could make the most.” Insurance, he said, was in the top five. “What I liked about insurance was that it was required, and it had to be bought every year.”

Then he looked to see where insurance prices were the highest. This time around, California and New York held the top spots.

“I had enough cold for a lifetime,” Brown quipped. He chose the Golden State.

Going ‘All In’ in California

The move was a no-brainer for Brown: “Everything before that, those experiences, allowed me to handle the small things that might be big issues to other people.”

He likened the decision to that of the Spanish conquistadors: “When they came upon a new land, the captains burned their boats and were all in. Win or fail.

“So, I burnt my boat and went all in on getting into the insurance world in California.”

He rented a truck, drove cross country and used the commissions from his lawnmower-sales days to stay at a hotel while he looked for a job — Brown didn’t want to settle into an apartment just yet; after all, he didn’t have a job lined up and wasn’t sure where he’d be working once he found one.

When the hotel bills became too expensive, Brown chose another plan of action: He would sleep on the sand of Newport Beach.

“That was paradise after the winters in Indiana.”

Zach (right) with business partner Josh Diggs in Costa Mesa, Calif. after a team dinner.*

Luck — and a lot of dedicated perseverance — was on Brown’s side: He found a job at a brokerage firm one town over from Newport. There, Brown met Josh Diggs, now the director of workers’ compensation at Orion Risk Management.

“Zach was a different guy,” said Diggs. “He was business-astute with a mind set on building an empire. He came in with this blue-collar, Indiana-Midwest mentality and approach.”

It made him stand out immediately. “He dove in head first. Zach was the first one there in the morning, and he was definitely the last one to leave,” said Diggs.

Diggs has a background in claims, spending 14 years on the carrier side. This aided the two in their next adventure: creating their own business, Brown & Diggs Insurance Services. “When we were at our previous agency, it was obvious to us that we did things differently. We were more hands on. So we used that as a springboard,” said Diggs.

And through Brown & Diggs, they met Cliff Davis, CEO of Orion Risk Management.

“Cliff gave us an opportunity to jump on a train rather than build a railroad,” explained Brown. They struck a deal: If Brown & Diggs became an affiliate of Orion, Orion would provide them with what they needed. As a small business just starting, this made sense.

“Capital had been the biggest challenge,” Brown said of his start-up. “If you have access to capital, it gives you the ability to do the things that are required to build a business. When we merged with Orion as an affiliate, some of that frustration went away, because we had essentially a line of credit with Orion.”

The move has proven successful in other ways, too: “Cliff has opened my eyes to the higher level of insurance, the banking and investment side of the industry, and really brought me to the executive level of owning a business, working deals with C-Suite executives,” Brown said.

Three years later, the partnership has enabled Brown to dive deep into his career, which already boasts, in abundance, top-tier success stories, which also includes winning a 2019 Power Broker® award in the workers’ compensation category. Additionally, Brown has been named a 2019 Rising Star.

Beyond the Boundaries of Brokerage

“He cares and takes things personally,” said Diggs. “A lot of people in business see it as a transaction. When you partner with someone who actively cares, it’s a partnership.”

That’s why Brown is not your typical broker; he’s dedicated to helping where he can. And that drive to lend a helping hand has defined the kind of broker he’s become.

In one such example of how Brown does things differently, he helped save nearly 90 people from unemployment while simultaneously preventing his client from receiving post-termination claims.
How? One, simple partnership.

Zach Brown (right) and Josh Diggs received 2nd & 1st in the National Broker of the Year Award for Comp Laude Awards in San Diego, Calif.*

The client, a clothing manufacturing company, contacted Brown and Diggs about a significant layoff — about 100 to 110 employees. “We were in a meeting with the client two days before the layoff. I approached it in the same way I approach every challenge: There is an answer here, we just need to find it,” Brown explained.

“When you have a layoff, you can bank on about 15 to 20 percent of employees to file a post-termination workers’ comp claim. So you try to stay ahead of it. And I get it; they do it because they’re either angry or they have uncertainty. If we could bridge that gap of uncertainty and decrease the reasons people have to file claims, why wouldn’t we?”

It was Diggs who first suggested the partnership. They had another client, a staffing agency, that placed people into clothing-retail specific jobs. They called the agency and were able to get a tent set up outside the manufacturer’s office on the day of the layoffs. Employees received their papers from one company and were able to walk outside and apply for a new job in minutes.

“They placed around 80 to 90 percent of the workers and haven’t received a single post-termination claim,” said Brown. “These types of problem-solving efforts have nothing to do with insurance but have everything to do with just trying to help people. We didn’t get paid for any of this; we wanted to help out. We wanted to be a solution center.”

Carol Dimaano, senior underwriter for national accounts, west division, Liberty Mutual Insurance, said Brown’s success is due in part to his desire for knowledge.

“He wants to learn about every aspect of insurance. He’s unique in that he sees things from every perspective. It’s beyond comprehensive. He knows it from all lenses.”

Another one of Brown’s clients needed assistance after her husband, who ran a construction business, passed away. She was not privy to the day-to-day activities of the operation and knew very little about the insurance requirements she needed to meet. She was prepping to close the whole operation down.

And while this client’s knowledge of construction insurance was minimal, “I didn’t know much either. All I knew about construction was that I used to renovate McDonald’s in college.”

But that didn’t stop Brown from helping. He spent hours digging through the company’s old policies, educating himself on construction insurance. Doing so, he discovered that he could save her 50 percent on insurance costs. This enabled the client to hire a right-hand man to help run the business and saved 75 workers from unemployment.

“We weren’t in a hurry,” Brown said of the process. “It wasn’t an inconvenience, and we genuinely wanted to help her through the hardest moment of her life. That has cemented our relationship, which became a friendship over the years.”

“He’s almost like an old soul,” added Dimaano. “The way he goes about his business is so detailed, and he hits on all points as if he has decades of experience … his solutions aren’t just to quote premium; his team strategy is to find solutions for every aspect of his [client’s] businesses. Zach stands out in the crowd.”

Ready for the Next Adventure

Brown has come a long way since his cold nights in Indiana.

Zach Brown, partner, Orion Risk Management

“Going through major life struggles has made the business struggles seem minor,” he said.

“Surrounding myself with great people has significantly moved up timelines of accomplishments that would traditionally take much longer. And, because I had to track down this industry and fight my way into this industry, I appreciate everything about it and every second of it.

“Burning my boat time and time again has allowed me to only look at what is next rather than what has happened in the past. Every experience is a stepping stone to something greater. I get to approach the next challenge with more knowledge and more experience every time.” &

*All photos courtesy of Zach Brown.

Autumn Demberger is a freelance writer and can be reached at [email protected].

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