Q&A: Tampa is on fire, says Guy King of ME Wilson

Guy King III and his brother, Doug, are the third generation of their family to run the ME Wilson insurance company (Guy as president, Doug as CEO), which was started by their grandfather 95 years ago.

The company currently employs 40, up 2 from a year ago, following the “best year ever’’ in 2014. Best, Guys says, in terms of profitability and new accounts written. The company primarily writes policies around workers compensation, group health and property insurance - both commercial and higher-end homes. 

“We have three departments: Commercial, Insurance and Risk Management, and Corporate and Employee Benefits,’’ says King. “We also have a private client division that does home owners.’’

ME Wilson recently added two new positions in the corporate benefits division. One is a new advisor agent and the other is an experienced benefits consultant.

Guy talks with 83 Degrees Media Managing Editor Diane Egner about how the business has evolved, what’s new and what’s next. Here is a condensed version of their conversation: 

83D: What characteristics are you looking for in employees?

GK: First they have to be self-starters. We're not the overlord mechanical bosses. We expect everyone to be inspired internally. Second, we look for people who've been successful in other places. And we look for someone with an excellent reputation, someone who is well-liked for their attitude. 

83D: What's the most innovative thing ME Wilson has done as a company since you took over? 

GK: Compared to other commercial insurance agents, we never have been into aggressive sales. We always try to be very thoughtful and help our clients become educated on what more they could do to avoid risk. For example, we encourage and train companies to create a risk management committee. 

83D: Why? 

GK: The ultimate cost of insurance is determined by losses. If a company has a greater frequency of risk, it probably can't protect its team members. So it’s all about reducing the risk. Our full-time risk manager (Mark Betten) can help set up safety training, OSHA classes, do site inspections, training of supervisors. If the client is amenable to this, we can make a huge difference in their risk profile. 

Also, we will suggest people look at limited self insurance as a way to finance part of the risk. We’ve been able to show bigger clients the advantages of a captive insurance program. In a captive, you can take several businesses that are similar, like distributors, put 10-12 in a group. They become the insurance carrier as a group. They pay a certain of amount of losses and hire reinsurance to pay anything over a certain amount. So if claims got to be too big, reinsurance would kick in. Many clients find that's an excellent way to manage risk if they're focused on safety. 

83D: What kind of companies do you target? 

GK: Our focus is on companies with 50 employees or more. We have to have capital to be able to afford that approach. It’s not a brand new concept but it is innovative in this area. 

83D: What’s the greatest value ME Wilson brings to clients?

GK: We’re adding risk management to our value proposition and not charging any more for risk management and safety training. It is the right thing to do for the client, and another approach other than straight insurance. Basically we want to use our expertise to improve everyone's risk profile.  

83D: Any plans for expansion? 

GK: We’re growing at a really good clip now. We’re 15 percent ahead of where we were last year. Our fiscal year ends October 31st. In November, December, January, we were up 15 percent. Overall, last year was our best year ever. We tend to do well when everyone else also does well. Premiums are based on lots of data. So as companies and the economy grow, we grow. 

83D: What is the state of the insurance industry today? 

GK: Workers comp is always challenging. … because it's the sole solution or sole remedy when someone gets hurts. State statutes lay out what benefits will be paid. The plaintiff attorneys are always doing their jobs, trying to get more benefits. Recently the cost of workers comp has been going down slightly. That could change and we could all of sudden see it explode if the Legislature changes just a few statutes.

Property insurance is better. Consumers currently have lots of different options. So pricing is soft. Generally, the costs are going down for commercial insurance, with the exception of auto. Auto rates are going up. 

83D: Why? 

GK: Companies that don't have aggressive defensive driving programs and don’t monitor their own drivers are costing everyone more and are going to pay more.  

83D: What's next for ME Wilson? 

We’re just really enjoying a period of sustainable growth. We have a lot of people who are very experienced and are out in the community making connections. Everyone we hire, we look for community leadership because we get all our clients by referral and do no cold calling. It’s part of our convening strategy. 

83D: What do you mean by ‘convening strategy’?

GK: We like to educate, we like to do seminars -- like teaching people about the Affordable Care Act. We just did a small workshop on the captive insurance approach. We participate in community organizations, including the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. It’s not just about me as chair-elect of the Chamber, but about getting people on committees. Anyway that we can help solve community problems by our participation, we're doing it.  

83D: Why does community engagement matter to you beyond that it’s good for business? 

GK: You hear people talking about giving back all the time. Frequently, you hear about people giving back after they’ve already gotten what they want. My philosophy is you give as you go. If you're young, get involved. You don't have to be invited to do it. Just do it. My team gets that. They're involved in everything. For one thing, it keeps you informed so you’re way ahead of lots of others. Once you get involved, you will see the community’s shortcomings and your involvement may find the solutions.

83D: What's your assessment of the region’s economic future?

GK: We were hit harder than other parts of country in the economic cycle. So it’s gonna take longer to come back. We’re not where we were pre-recession, but we’re definitely making progress. The best thing is we now have terrific community leadership. A wonderful mayor (Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn). We have a terrific (Hillsborough) County Commission chair (Sandy Murman). And we have white knights like Mr. (Jeff) Vinik who want to make a difference and will make a difference. If the local economy gets fouled up, it won’t be caused by anything that happens in Tampa Bay. 

83D: So it’d be fair to say you’re bullish on Tampa?

GK: Very bullish. There’s lots of pent-up demand.

83D: What’s the greatest challenge in the local economy?

GK: We don't have the next generation of construction workers. The boomers are retiring. The next few generations aren’t trained in trades. Too many of them are college educated. I’m helping convene a group of people in construction and in education to find what can we do to rectify the situation. How do we get more of our young people to become plumbers, electricians, builders, contractors. With so many projects like Mr. Vinik’s coming on line, we have to create and recruit the appropriate workforce. Our goal is to convene people to find solutions.

83D: Why would people in the trades and with other special training opt to move here? 

GK: Tampa is on fire. I’ve never seen Tampa like this. Great leadership is key. Right now I can't see anything that can inhibit us. Only an outside force could get in the way. 

83D: So what’s on your bucket list, personally and professionally?

GK: Some people play golf for a hobby. Being involved in the community is what I do now and forever. It’s so rewarding. I get to do things and meet people that I wouldn't have otherwise. That’s what I want to do. 

This Q&A was edited for clarity and succinctness. Comments? E-mail 83 Degrees Media.

Read more articles by Diane Egner.

Diane Egner is the publisher and managing editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. 
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