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Three cheers for youth in the insurance industry

Rough Notes magazine and PIA National partner to honor a young insurance professional

By Phil Zinkewicz

Essayist, theater critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw once quipped, “Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.”

Well, the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA National) apparently does not subscribe to that theory, at least not in terms of its young members. Last year, PIA National partnered with Rough Notes magazine to create its Young Insurance Professional of the Year Award to honor one of the association’s members and to encourage young people to consider a career in the independent agency system.

Last year, the award went to Peter Thornton of the Thornton Agency in Parsippany, New Jersey. Thornton more than adequately fulfilled the requirements of the award, which included being under the age of 40 and demonstrating professional experience in the industry through education, previous awards, industry involvement and community involvement, among other things.

This year, the award went to Michael J. Moore, executive vice president of insurance operations, of Mortenson, Matzelle & Meldrum in Madison, Wisconsin, which writes property and casualty insurance and provides employee benefits and financial services.

Commenting on the award, Walter J. Gdowski, The Rough Notes Company president and CEO, said: “Attracting more young people to join our industry is a critical mission. We are pleased to join with the PIA to recognize the outstanding young insurance professionals who are making our industry their career choice.”

“Mike is an outstanding example of a young insurance professional who has contributed greatly to his profession, his industry and his community,” says PIA National President Donna L. Pile. “He exemplifies the high level of commitment and achievement this award is designed to reflect.”

“Encouraging young people to consider a career in the independent insurance agency system must be a top priority for all of us,” Pile continues. “We are particularly pleased to partner with The Rough Notes Company in this important effort.”

Moore, who lives in Madison with his wife, Nikki, and sons Ryan, 14, and Jacob, 8, says he feels humbled to be considered for the PIA Young Professional Award. “I owe my place in the insurance business to Charlie Meldrum, who is retired from the agency now. Without Charlie, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and whatever I’ve accomplished is due to his guidance.”

Lewis L. Wilson, former PIA national director for New York, was the driving force behind the creation of the PIA National Young Insurance Professional of the Year Award. Wilson believed strongly that there was a need to attract young people into the insurance industry.

In the September 2005 issue of PIAConnection, a PIA publication, Wilson wrote: “Those of us who have spent many years as independent insurance agents might like to think that we will be around forever. But we know better. As business owners, we know that no enterprise can achieve long-term success without attracting a steady stream of new talent that will one day be in charge.”

Wilson noted that, in several states, PIA associations have sponsored organizations to encourage the young professionals who already work in the insurance industry and also to attract others to join. As strong as those associations are, however, Wilson’s dream was the establishment of a national award. He firmly believed that national recognition is of paramount importance to young agents.

Charlie Meldrum, Moore’s mentor, agrees. “Any time a national association gives special recognition to someone, it means that person has been judged favorably by his or her peers. I have known Michael since he was 12 years old, his father and I having had a friendship. I’m proud that he has received this award, which he richly deserves. He is a talented individual, and his military background has trained him to take leadership positions.”

A man of action

Mike’s credits prove that he is not a man to sit idly and watch the world go by. His professional activities alone would be enough to qualify him for this award. He has held every office in PIA of Wisconsin, including president in 2005-2006. He has been chair of several PIAW committees, including executive, membership and public relations. He was instrumental in developing marketing materials now used by the PIAW members; he also helped create press releases and public service announcements that promote PIA and PIA members in newspapers and radio stations across Wisconsin.

He personally recruited insurance companies to actively participate in PIAW television ad campaigns to promote independent agents. Mike also took the lead in the development of a college intern program to place interns in independent agencies and helped organize a consortium of educators and administrators from several independent colleges and universities and technical colleges in Wisconsin to increase the insurance curriculum at those schools and provide qualified new personnel to the insurance industry. He continues his involvement in those programs today.

Community involvement is very important to Mike. He is a member of the Key Club for United Way of Dane County. He serves on the board of directors of Ice, Inc., a youth hockey association, and dedicates hundreds of hours as a youth hockey coach. In addition, he is a member of the coaches’ committee for the South West Youth Hockey Association. He serves on the Phi Delta Theta housing corporation, which oversees the housing needs of his college fraternity.

Mike’s career began in 1994. “I was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army on active duty. I was interested in a career in insurance, so I went to see Charlie Meldrum, my father’s friend. Charlie told me that if I wanted a career in the agency segment of the business, I should work for an insurance company for a while and learn the basics. So that’s what I did. In 2000, Charlie hired me as a salesman, while I was still active in the National Guard. In 2002, I was put in charge of the agency’s entire property and casualty book of business. I couldn’t take this on in addition to my work in the National Guard and still have time for my family, so the military had to go.”

Mike comments on the changes that have taken place in the insurance business since he came on board in the mid-1990s. “I think that client expectations of the insurance industry have risen dramatically. We have 160 employees in our agency, and about 75 of them report to me. I believe that our clients expect us to provide value-added services, and that’s what we do. Higher client expectations are a good thing. They keep us on our toes and signal that the independent agency system is strong.”

Technology also has changed dramatically, Michael observes. “The ways we communicate with our carriers and with our clients are light years ahead of what they were a decade ago.”

Transparency is an important issue as well, he says. “I think it has more of an effect on the larger national brokers than on Main Street agents, however.”

But the big issue, as Mike sees it, is TRIA, the federal Terrorism Risk and Insurance Act. “We need a federal backstop to protect against terrorism events, and we need it on a long-term basis.”

Regarding new players coming into the insurance business in the form of institutional investors, Mike offers a warning. “It’s always a good sign when new capacity comes into the insurance business because it is a sign that the industry is healthy. However, I believe that independent agents should concentrate on partnering with carriers that are stable and in the business for the long term.”

And that’s exactly where Mike intends to remain—in the business for the long term. *

Click on image for enlargement 

2007 PIA National Young Insurance Professional of the Year Michael J. Moore of Mortenson, Matzelle & Meldrum, Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin.


Kenneth R. Auerbach, Esq., Vice President/Treasurer, PIA National (left) and Walter J. Gdowski, President/CEO of The Rough Notes Company and the publisher of Rough Notes magazine (right) present Michael J. Moore with the 2007 PIA National Young Insurance Professional of the Year award.


Mike credits several people for his success, including Charlie Meldrum (not pictured) and President and CEO Michael E. Victorson, REBC, (pictured with Mike in photo).


Day-to-day operations run efficiently with help from Laura L. Schurman (standing), Manager of Core Business Solutions, and Kama Amidon Pirkl (seated), Account Manager for the agency’s Private Client Group.