The potato gun has been the featured event at a number of our sales retreats, much to the chagrin of the resorts.
Did you grow up in Birmingham?
I was born in New Orleans, but moved to Birmingham when I was three years old. My parents—my father was from St. Louis; my mother was from Hope, Arkansas—met at Columbia University in New York. My father was offered a career move to Birmingham with a food broker. He eventually started his own brokerage here.
Were you expecting to work in your father’s company?
Not really. After college he told me, “It would be best for you to find your own way in the world. You’ll always be welcome here at a future time.” My younger brother became the president of my father’s business.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a success.
Who was your childhood hero?
“Bear” Bryant. He came to the University of Alabama in 1957, when I first started watching football. “Bear” was a larger-than-life personality whose mere presence would silence a room when he entered.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
I’m an outdoorsman. I like to hunt and fish. I have a farm down in Selma, Alabama, where I hunt deer and turkeys.
If you could go hunting with three other people, living or dead, who would they be?
My three sons.
Tell me about Birmingham.
It is the financial and legal center of the state. Healthcare is the largest industry, although the steel industry and pipe manufacturing are still significant. Automobile manufacturing has also grown significantly.
Why did you choose the University of the South?
I wanted to have a liberal arts education. I wanted to meet people from different parts of the country and get exposed to different thoughts, ideas and people.
You’re now in your 46th year at McGriff, Seibels & Williams, including 27 years as CEO. How’d you get started there?
I started as a producer trainee in 1971. I had a relationship with Lee McGriff. We went to the same school and were president of the same fraternity—40 years apart.
What did the company look like in 1971?
We were a local agency at the time, with 25 to 30 employees. Lee McGriff and Dick Womack recruited a team of young people that learned the business really from scratch. Today we have 850 employees in 10 offices around the country. In 2015 we had $3.4 billion in premium sales and $250 million in net revenues.
You sold the company to BB&T in 2004. Why?
BB&T provided the best alternative to allow McGriff to continue to be McGriff. They invested in our strategic plans, provided capital for perpetuation and growth, and most importantly enabled us to maintain our corporate culture.
What’s the most interesting thing in your office?
A potato gun.
You’ve got to explain that.
Bobby Reagan, president of Reagan & Associates, did our agency appraisal for many years, assisted us in strategic planning, and ultimately helped facilitate our transaction with BB&T. He invited us to his lake house in north Georgia one year, where we had a great time, among other things, playing with a potato gun he had built—he’s got an engineering degree. Anyway, we participated in his annual “best practices” survey, so he sent us a plaque. I sent it back saying that I would rather have a potato gun. So he sent us a gun with the plaque attached. The gun has been the featured event at a number of our sales retreats, much to the chagrin of the resorts.
How would your employees describe your management style?
Team-oriented. Sales-oriented. There’s not a lot of bureaucracy at McGriff. We tell people it’s alright to suck up to the boss, but there’s no money in it.
What gives you your leader’s edge?
Without question, our culture. Our sales culture is pretty unique—the flexibility, the teamwork, the esprit de corps, quality people, the hard work and the success.
The Dunbar File
Favorite Birmingham Restaurants:
Botega’s (Pretty famous for their fish.)
The Highland Bar and Grill
Favorite Hunting Spots: South Alabama, South Texas
Favorite Fishing Spot: Gulf of Mexico
Favorite Vacation Spot: See above