Continuity is ensured at Gen 4 firm
Charles E. Rue began Rue Insurance in 1917, selling insurance out of the back room of his New Jersey feed mill. When customers came to see him, “I’m sure he ultimately then started talking to them about insuring their farm buildings with him,” says the founder’s grandson, William (Bill) Rue Sr., 65, now the firm’s chairman.
Today Rue Insurance, headquartered in Hamilton, N.J., takes “a risk management advisory” approach, says Bill Jr., 37, the fourth-generation president.
“We obviously provide the product of insurance, but what we really like to spend our time doing is providing advice to our clients” on how to reduce and cope with risk, says Bill. Services include reviewing contracts and employee structure, as well as helping clients comply with OSHA regulations.
When he joined the firm in 1969, “the only thing we really did was write insurance for individuals like automobile and homeowner’s insurance,” recalls Bill, who succeeded his father, Charles L. Rue Jr., as president in 1985. Over those years, the company transformed its client ratio from 95% individual and 5% business clients to 80% business and 20% personal lines—a shift achieved through focused solicitations to businesses as well strategic acquisitions of business-oriented insurance agencies.
>Between 1981 and 2011, annual revenues grew from $1 million to more than $10 million. Bill attributes part of the success to his business structure. “Even though we were—and still are—a small business, I tried to run the organization as though it was a lot bigger,” he says.
Bill Jr. joined the firm in 2002 and became president in January 2013. Bill Jr. “had experience in all areas of the company, and I thought it would be a good transition to let him take over the day-to-day leadership,” his father says. Bill remains at the company full-time, and says he plans to “do some special projects for the company that I’m really interested in.” A cousin on Bill’s side also works at Rue Insurance.
Bill Jr. says the industry needs to attract more young people—but he sees an opportunity in firms without family succession plans. Rue Insurance has an ambitious plan for 50% growth in the next five years by combining organic growth with the acquisition of firms whose second- or third-generation members don’t want to join the business. “We’re able to come in and maintain much of the cultural environment that goes along with a family business, yet we have the size and structure to feel like a highly professional firm,” Bill Jr. says. A firm acquired in 2010 became Rue’s Hazlet, N.J., branch office.
Bill Jr. says he has seen a shift toward use of the Internet “and the speed that people are looking for information.” Impersonal online transactions have resulted in “commoditization” of insurance services, he comments. Clients are focused on “reducing costs and saving money,” rather than “what actual coverage they’re getting or what happens outside of that premium payment time period,” he says. Consumers often don’t realize the impact of their choice until a claim is filed, he observes.
Bill Jr. says his plans include “continuing to expand our sales culture” and entering new regions. He also aims to broaden Rue’s client base and to take advantage of marketing tools like social media.
The 70-employee firm has been on the list of best places to work compiled by weekly business journal NJBIZ five times, including this year. “We’ve been really fortunate over the years to have great employees that will always go the extra mile to take care of their clients,” says Bill.
Rue Insurance lost power for a week during Hurricane Sandy but reopened with the aid of a generator to help clients file claims for storm damage. “We could have sat at home and let the insurance carriers handle everything,” Bill Jr. says, “but we really wanted to be there for our -clients.”
Sally M. Snell is a writer based in Lawrence, Kan.
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