Brokerage

On the Fast Track

EPIC is rapidly becoming one of the largest retail insurance brokers in the U.S.
By: | October 15, 2014 • 5 min read

From its starting point in 2007, San Francisco-based Edgewood Partners Insurance Center (EPIC) is rapidly becoming one of the largest retail insurance brokers in the United States.

With initial funding from Stone Point Capital, the company’s founders received additional investment from the Carlyle Group in 2013.

John Redett, managing director, financial services, The Carlyle Group

John Redett, managing director, financial services, The Carlyle Group

With more than $175 million in revenue projected by the end of 2014, up from $75.l million in 2013, EPIC ranks among the top 20 retail insurance brokers in the country, and the company’s growth plan calls for an increase in revenue to more than $250 million by 2018.

Currently EPIC, a retail property and casualty insurance brokerage and employee benefits consultant, has more than 620 employees operating in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

In the past nine months, EPIC has made four acquisitions that added $50 million in annual revenue. Those acquisitions were:

• The McCart Group of Atlanta, one of the largest privately held insurance and risk management firms in Georgia, acquired on Jan. 9.

“As a 43-year-old company, The McCart Group had been approached many times over the years with offers to sell out to other, larger organizations,” said Jeff McCart, president of the company.

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“Before EPIC, we were never seriously interested. But when John Hahn and Dan Francis (EPIC’s California-based co-founders) introduced their vision to build a national brokerage comprised of firms with specialized expertise who want to share their collective knowledge and resources to compete against the largest brokers, it was a game changer,” he said.

(Francis announced on Oct. 14 that he was leaving the company “to begin a new journey outside of insurance that will afford me the opportunity to further ‘give back’ and focus on some personal interests/worthy causes that have meant a lot to me over the years.”)

• On Jan. 21, EPIC announced it acquired the program business of Boston-based Altus Specialty Group.

• On July 22, the shareholders of Jenkins Insurance Services sold 100 percent of their shares to EPIC. Jenkins employs 160 people in Reno, Nev., and in California offices in Concord, Sacramento, San Jose, and Orange County.

• On Aug. 13, EPIC added the retail risk management and property/casualty team of Stamford, Conn.-based JLT Towers Re. This strategic build-out of a team serving large, complex risk management accounts is a product of EPIC’s broadening alliance, and partnership and collaboration with JLT/Towers Re.

“This team enhances EPIC’s risk management services and offerings for our middle market and upper middle market clients, expands our reach into the public entity sector and gives us additional depth to serve clients in metropolitan New York,” said EPIC co-founder and CEO John Hahn.

Future Growth

Derek Thomas, chief strategy officer, EPIC

Derek Thomas, chief strategy officer, EPIC

“The multi-prong approach of acquisitions and the aggressive recruiting of producers and service teams has enabled us to grow organically and strategically,” said Derek Thomas, chief strategy officer. “Our plan is to advance a similar model in key regions across the United States.”

Specific geographic areas eyed for growth potential include tier 1 and tier 2 cities in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southeast, Thomas said.

“Our strategy is to maintain the local, client-specific success drivers of our new partners while providing them with access to broader national and global resources that can also be deployed for the benefit of their clients locally,” he said.

John Redett, managing director, financial services at The Carlyle Group, added: “We see tremendous opportunity for EPIC. Since we made our initial investment in late 2013, EPIC has already expanded its footprint into the Southeast and the Northeast, as well as bolstering its West Coast operations, product capabilities and client service strength.”

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Whether it comes through additional acquisitions, geographic expansion or product growth, Carlyle supports an expansion of EPIC’s business in its effort to become a major national player, he said.

Hahn said the launch of the brokerage’s new growth phase, EPIC 2.0, “is off to a roaring start and we think the prospects for achieving our goal of $250 million in revenue in less than the original five-year plan are very favorable.”

On the Fast Track

EPIC has been on a fast-track growth pattern ever since it was launched in California in 2007, when Stone Point Capital and co-founders Hahn and Francis committed $100 million to create the groundwork for the current EPIC organization.

From the start, the company has had an investment structure that provided key employees, producers, acquired principals and executive management the opportunity to hold significant equity ownership stakes in the firm, said Francis, who serves as executive chairman.

The newly formed, California-based company went from zero to approximately $80 million in revenue in less than seven years, with average annual organic growth rates in excess of 10 percent, Francis said.

About midway through 2012, Hahn and Francis began taking a hard look at the company and its future prospects.

John Hahn, co-founder and president, EPIC

John Hahn, co-founder and CEO, EPIC

“When all was said and done,” Hahn said, “we believed we could build a super-regional/national platform through maintaining our entrepreneurial approach; improving our product and service offerings by acquiring and attracting high-quality, specialized talent; and offering successful regional broker owners and operators an opportunity to partner with us to build a national brokerage and consulting firm.”

After a thorough examination of the investor universe over the course of 2013, it became clear to EPIC that The Carlyle Group would be its best option to provide it with the additional capital required to execute EPIC 2.0 as well as offer it significant revenue potential through access to Carlyle’s portfolio companies, Francis said.

Over the course of 2013, EPIC began to restructure the company and build out its infrastructure in order to support the growth and expansion it anticipated would be necessary to drive EPIC 2.0.

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“While doing so, we also began developing an M&A and talent pipeline that would serve as the foundation of our super regional strategy,” Hahn said.

The company’s first two non-California deals closed mid-2013 with the launch of a national real estate practice with Kathleen Felderman in Denver and Jonathan Griffiths in San Francisco, and a closing of a deal in New York with Safe Harbor, which brought another property and casualty, risk management, employee benefits and private client services consulting firm into the fold. Safe Harbor was led by Tom O’Neil, who is now EPIC’s West Coast region president.

Currently, EPIC has several new deals in due diligence and a robust acquisition pipeline, with other possible deals in various stages of discussion and evaluation, said Thomas.

“And we are actively looking for other potential partners,” he said.

“In addition to targeted geographic expansion,” Thomas added, “our plan is to identify and recruit production and service teams who have proven track records in growth oriented industry sectors.”

Steve Yahn was a freelance writer based in New York. He had more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. Comments can be directed to [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now and where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]