Tom Corbett likes to be understated.
“We’ve been a little busy,” the chairman and chief executive of Alliant Insurance Services Inc. told the Business Journal in a recent interview.
That’s putting it mildly.
In the past year, the company’s made 15 acquisitions that have helped companywide sales jump from $1.8 billion in 2020 to an annual run rate of $3 billion. The Newport Beach-based firm is likely now among the top five insurance brokerages worldwide. Its employee count has almost doubled to 9,000.
It’s also done well in Orange County, where it continues to be the largest firm on the Business Journal’s annual list of insurance brokers, reporting a 9% climb to $204.6 million for 2020 (see list, page 28).
“Our presence in Orange County has gotten a lot bigger,” Corbett said.
When Corbett opened the Newport Beach office of Alliant in 1977, he was the only employee and had “zero business, which was unnerving.”
Corbett, who originally planned a career in medicine, had switched to insurance for a variety of reasons, including supporting his family.
Corbett differentiated himself by focusing on certain industries, beginning with municipalities.
Alliant designs proprietary insurance products for areas like health and workers’ compensation, and liability for specific industries such as construction firms.
His agents developed a deep expertise in the sectors they service such as law firms, restaurants and even valet parking companies. It represents most of the Indian nation tribes in the U.S.
It’s grown not only through dozens of acquisitions but also organic growth, which often topped double-digits annually.
He’s been CEO for almost 30 years at the company, which is majority owned by its employees and has investors such as sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and insurance investors.
It was 2017 when sales crossed the billion-dollar mark to place it 11th on A.M. Best list of the largest global insurance brokers. It ranked No. 9 on the Business Journal’s most recent list of the largest private companies in Orange County.
Corbett was the Business Journal’s Businessperson of the Year in the finance category for 2018.
The recent acquisitions have helped it expand geographically in areas like Houston, Northern California, the Northwest and Canada. It’s offering new product lines such as “political risk.”
Corbett pointed to two acquisitions that have boosted growth in the past year.
Last year, it acquired Senior Market Sales Inc. (SMS) of Omaha, Neb., allowing it to sell more products to the elderly.
“This has opened a whole new area to expand our focus to reach the senior market,” Corbett said.
Founded in 1982, SMS has more than 300 employees and 65,000 independent agents under contract.
SMS sells Medicare solutions, travel insurance and financial services ranging from annuities to life and long-term care insurance. Alliant called SMS “the premier insurance marketing organization in the senior market.”
In June, Alliant made its biggest acquisition in its history by buying Huntington Beach-based Confie, the largest personal lines insurance distributor in the U.S.
“They have over a million customers that they do business with,” Corbett said. “We think we can expand their product offerings.”
Confie, which had more than 3,500 employees, reported $508 million in sales in 2019, according to a Business Journal list of the largest privately owned companies based in Orange County.
The firm provides services nationwide via online purchasing, a national virtual call center, and walk-in personal support at more than 750 local stores.
Confie, which was founded in 2008, sells insurance products through its brands like Freeway Insurance, InsureOne Insurance, Bluefire Insurance, OneSource Dealer Services, Cost-U-Less Insurance Center, Baja Auto Insurance, and U.S. Agencies.
Last year was better than expected, Corbett said.
“When the pandemic started, we didn’t have an idea where it’d go,” he said. “Things didn’t go as near south as we thought they might.
“We rebounded fast. Business has been fantastic.”
The company learned its employees can function from remote locations.
“That’s been an eye opener for us. We are actively rebuilding our office plan where people don’t have to be in the office five days a week. We think that’s the future, not only in our industry, but others.”
Alliant will offer employees a “hoteling system” where they reserve a desk for the two to three times a week they are in the office.
“We’re looking at 20% to 25% reduction in needed space,” he said.
Alliant, which has long had its headquarters on Dove Street in Newport Beach, is in the process of moving down the street to the Irvine Towers office complex, a few blocks from John Wayne Airport.
Corbett is not planning to retire, saying he recently received a three-year contract extension.
As for future growth, the company is focusing on vertical industries including agriculture, aviation and construction. Geographically, he sees potential expansion in areas like the Southeast and Midwest.
“The size will follow us building better solutions for our clients,” Corbett said. “We’re committed to being the best, not the biggest.”