For those who aren’t familiar with the name, Seacrest Partners is a group of insurance brokers who represent insurance carriers and consult clients on what types of insurance they need to help their business run smoothly.
“The main thing we do is we provide advice and counsel to our clients to help make their business lives easier in areas that surround managing their risks. … You can’t go into business without having a safety net of insurance,” says President and CEO David Paddison.
And while companies go to the insurance advisers at Seacrest Partners to minimize their risks, there would be no Seacrest Partners if Paddison and six colleagues had not embarked on one of the riskiest business decisions of their lives.
In order to understand the vision and business principles of Seacrest Partners, you first have to understand the former glory days of homegrown insurance companies in Savannah and where the original team started.
Paddison said he grew up in Savannah and intended to have a career in Savannah. While in college in New Jersey, he spent his summers as an intern with Palmer & Cay in Savannah. That was 1984, and the company had about 28 employees.
“In the mid ’80s, there weren’t that many great jobs here,” he said. “There were a lot of good family businesses, so if you were a part of that family, you could come back here for work. But if you weren’t a part of that, there weren’t a lot of great opportunities to come back here and work.”
Paddison was able to find a family with Palmer & Cay and landed a job with the small firm just in time to watch them get big.
“Over the next 15 years, the company went on an incredible growth path. … In 1985, they merged with John D. Carswell and more than doubled their size overnight.”
Paddison said Palmer & Cay had 60 employees in 1986 and the company was doing $8 million in revenue. By 2003, the company was doing $135 million with close to 1,000 employees in 29 offices.
“So, I got to watch this amazing thing happen,” he said. “I got to learn from some of the great John Cays … of the insurance world and watch how to build a really, really high-quality brokerage that focused on the people, the customers and the relationships with insurance carriers.”
Then in 2005, something changed that Paddison considered “a very unfortunate circumstance.”
Palmer & Cay, a 137-year-old Savannah based company, was sold to Wachovia Corp. At the time, Palmer & Cay was the 15th largest insurance brokerage and benefits consulting firm in the U.S.
“We were the jewel of Savannah with 128 employees here and the good stuff that goes along being the headquarters company, and then we wake up one day … and we are owned by a bank. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand that when you are owned by a big company that is not located here, it’s just a matter of time before … the jobs are gone.
“For some reason, Savannah was always like a very sophisticated and robust insurance community, and in 2006, we knew that in the next 10 years that was going to change dramatically unless we took some bold action.”
So, Paddison along with Debbie Rich, Cindy Robinett, Michael Butler, Steve Eagle, Allan Reynolds and Kavin Smith decided to leave Palmer & Cay and start from zero.
“It’s not uncommon to leave and go work for another company, but it’s very uncommon for people to start new,” Paddison said.
These seven daredevils were all between the ages of 40 and 50 with tons to lose. Their departure shook the insurance world in Savannah.
Cliff McCurry, director of business development at Seacrest, was not part of the original seven but was part of the good old days of homegrown insurance brokerage firms in Savannah. He spent about 30 years in the business with firms like Willis HRH, HRH and Jones Hill & Mercer, and he knew the crew over at Palmer & Cay.
He said he remembers the day he heard the group had left to start their own business.
“I was very surprised,” he recalled. “I remember getting a phone call that day and thinking, ‘Gosh, they were at the top of their game.’ I didn’t understand it, but I always stayed in touch with them.”
He said Paddison told him the door was always open to join them at Seacrest. So, after McCurry’s firm was sold to a larger company, he decided to go back to his roots at a locally owned company and joined Seacrest in 2009.
“The great thing about this, even though I’m the old guy, I feel like I’m having the opportunity to mentor the employees we have brought in. It’s just really a great source of pride to see these guys coming in on the ground floor and seeing they want to grow professionally.”
Paddison said watching the newer employees is a great source of pride for him as well.
“I’m most proud of the people we’ve been able to attract to Seacrest,” he said. “They come from all over with different backgrounds, and many had never been exposed to the insurance business.
“When an employee who might have been here a few years says I love my job and I love this industry, that’s what I’m most proud of. When I can take my passion and the things that this business has given me over the years and expose that to someone else … that’s great.
“Seacrest was born more out of the desire to not work for a big out-of-town company and have a place where you can raise a family,” Paddison said. “It wasn’t really a financial decision; it was more of philosophical decision. And so if we had done it on financial basis, we probably wouldn’t have done it.”
Cindy Robinett, one of the original seven who also grew up in Savannah, said she was married with three children in private school when she decided to take what she called “a pretty big leap of faith.”
“I decided to walk away and take a loan to invest in a business with zero clients — it was scary,” she said. “But we were advised that if we waited until it was obvious, it will be too late. So, we took that risk, and 10 years later I’m glad we did.”
Steve Eagle, another one of the original seven, had two young children at home and was two years into a new mortgage when he agreed to start the new Seacrest Partners.
“It was certainly a huge risk, but we took this step because we felt it was for all the right reasons. We were just seeking a good culture that fits with our values in this community.
“… Work is making money; being engaged in a community is making a living. We knew we had a good group, too. We were all hard working and client focused.”
And while the group decided to part ways with Palmer & Cay, they all agreed they would not part with the core values they learned during their time there.
Giving back to community
“The one common thread in this office and the Palmer & Cay office … was that making your community a better place to live has more to do with the holistic approach rather than just what you are doing and the impact you are having on yourself and your family,” Paddison said. “For Savannah to grow and prosper, you have to have the support network and amenities that make people want to live and work here.”
To enable better infrastructure and services in Savannah, Seacrest Partners expects employees to be engaged with something that fuels their passions. They also enable employees to be a part of the community by supporting their schedules to serve on local boards, volunteer or raise funds as well as spend time with their own families.
“Everyone wants to help somebody, and it’s our job to not just give them a fulfilling career, but to keep them whole as a person from the standpoint of creating a legacy and making an impact,” Paddison said.
And Robinett agreed. “We didn’t necessarily start Seacrest Partners for financial benefits … but for quality of life. It’s great to live in Savannah and have a career that is rewarding and to have time to spend with family and love the people you work with.
“It’s my experience and my motto that when people are happy at work and can balance their lives, they tend to be more successful.”
Eagle continued on this sentiment and said that while there was no single moment that stands out in his mind, it was the affirmation that their business model was working that made him most proud.
“It showed that hard work and doing it the right way can lead not only to success professionally, but also personally. We started from scratch. We did not know what we were getting into, but it’s one of being very grateful to those clients and carriers that supported us early on. They recognized that we were going about our work the right way and that we were going to deliver, and I’m very grateful for that.”
1001 Whitaker St.
Savannah, GA 31401
P.O. Box 8004
Savannah, GA 31402-8004
The Piedmont Center
Building 2, Suite 540
3565 Piedmont Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30305
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