Reflections on Growth
Peter Cazzolla spent 21 successful years as president and CEO of Capital Insurance Group (CIG), a regional property and casualty insurance company.
When he joined in 1993, CIG was doing business in California and Nevada. The company had $100m in premiums and $60m in surplus equity. Upon retiring in 2014, CIG was active in California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington and had $440m in premiums and $320m in surplus equity.
CIG was repeatedly featured on A.M. Best’s Top 200 U.S. Property/Casualty Writers list, and in 2014 the company reached its highest ranking of 131. For multiple years during Peter’s leadership, the business was also named to Ward’s 50 top performing property/casualty insurance companies list.
While he was president and CEO, Peter and the owner of CIG put in place an employee stock ownership plan so the employees own 42 percent of the company.
A Relationship Culture
Peter attributes his success at CIG to his relationship management strategy. “The basic principle I followed was relationship management, and over the course of 20-plus years, every month, every year I built on that,” Peter says. “I would meet with our agents at least twice a year and got very close with agency partners and distributors.”
Peter ignited this relationship-based culture as soon as he joined CIG. “When you take on a new assignment, you first do your assessments,” says Peter. “You figure out what is working, what’s not working, areas in need of immediate improvement and areas of long-term improvement. This all starts with the people and assessing the people you have working with you.”
Over the course of his first six months at the company, Peter spent a great deal of time getting to know his employees, distribution system, agents that represented CIG, business vendors, and people the company bought product from. “I got acquainted on a 360-degree basis with the team internally and externally,” Peter says. “And once I got that under my belt, the relationships from that point forward were very critical to the success of the company.”
Peter says his team was in it together and they relied on each other to achieve the uppermost level of success. His team set goals, strategies, and tactics together. “If you have people truly believing in what you do, the likelihood of success is going to be very high.”
Keeping in Contact
Peter oversaw ten geographic territories, and spent two to four days with each agency twice a year. Peter’s schedule was jam-packed during each trip, ensuring he would spend time with each agent. During breakfast, he met with a group of three to five agents. Between breakfast and lunch, he met with two or three agents in one-on-one settings. He would then have a lunch meeting with five to eight agents. Between lunch and dinner, he again met with two or three agents one-on-one, and during dinner he met with five to eight agents.
On top of these visits, Peter scheduled quarterly meetings with all employees and had regular team meetings. Peter provided agents and employees with updates on company results, and gave them an understanding of CIG’s yearly goals and strategic five-year plans.
Every business strives to get to the point where they can provide and excellent product and quality service at a fair price, Peter explains. Most companies achieve that goal roughly 80 percent of the time. “So how do you keep the buyers, customers, employees, and vendors still engaged when you don’t meet targets? That’s where the relationship piece really becomes critical,” says Peter. “That’s the true key to a long-term successful organization.”
He also notes the importance of providing employees with the systems, technology, and tools that are necessary for them to meet their needs.
Peter is now in retirement and remains active in the industry through a company he founded, PMC Advisors, and runs with his wife.
“It was a very good run for me,” Peter says, reflecting back on his career at CIG. “I enjoyed it tremendously.”
He is extremely proud of the company’s high retention ratio. “The people stuck with us through thick and thin.”
When Peter announced his retirement, the response and appreciation he received from the people he did business with was overwhelming. He received several plaques from major associations in the US, recognizing him and his contribution to the industry. CIG also presented Peter with a bronze eagle, the company’s symbol.
“With all the money and everything else, what it comes down to is the appreciation for all that you do,” says Peter. “With more time to reflect, it becomes obvious what you did with your life and how you impacted people.”