A different type of buyer emerged at this year’s Fort Worth Stock Show Sale of Champions, one of the show’s signature events.
It was Fort Worth insurance company Higginbotham, which stepped up to purchase Snoop Dog, a 1,343-pound black European Cross, for a record-setting $440,000.
“It’s really outside the norm for us,” said Rusty Reid, chairman and CEO of Higginbotham, an insurance, financial and human resources brokerage with 87 locations across 15 states.
But this year is a little special as the firm is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
To raise funds for the bid, the firm passed the hat with a number of partners at the firm.
“Thanks to a number of our very generous partners and our Higginbotham Community Fund, we thought this is the year that we were going to go in to really help out any and all things that happen in our backyard, which is Fort Worth,” Reid said.
Passing the hat for the firm that has 87 offices across 15 states is nothing new. Since 2011, the Higginbotham Community Fund has engaged the company’s employees in philanthropy in the communities where they have offices, said Reid.
“We were kind of doing that, but we didn’t really have a specific vehicle by which we can point to and say this is it and help us do that,” said Reid.
An employee, Tracy Jackson, suggested the fund, so that employees could give to causes they supported.
“We partnered up locally with the North Texas Community Foundation and seeded it with $50,000,” said Reid.
Today the fund has more than $6 million.
On a quarterly basis, each office gets together and decides what is needed in their respective communities.
“So it’s not based on giving to who Fort Worth wants to give to, it’s broader than that,” he said.
‘It seemed right to do something special here’
Since Higgenbothamn was founded in Fort Worth in 1948, it was time to celebrate a bit here, Reid said. And that resulted in the purchase of Snoop Dog at the Fort Worth Stock Show.
“Not many businesses have been around for 75 years that are still here,” said Reid. “So it seemed right to do something special here.”
Funds raised from the Sale of Champions go to the students who raise the livestock.
Higginbotham was founded by Paul C. Higginbotham, who had returned from military service in World War II. He had a modest ambition to serve a small group of neighbors as their insurance agent.
“I wonder what he would think of it now,” Reid said.
Higginbotham’s nephew, Bill Stroud, purchased the business in 1962, after the founder died.
Reid came to Higginbotham and the insurance business through a circuitous route that started with plans to be a pediatrician. He was at the University of North Texas when he took a class in organic chemistry. He passed the class, but this caused him to reconsider his career path.
The biology dean asked him what his parents did for a living and Reid noted his father and grandfather had been in the insurance business. Reid then headed to the business school. By his junior year, he was interning at Ramey King Insurance Agency in Denton. Ramey King is no slouch in the longevity department, notching 140 years in business this year.
Reid soon found himself working for American General, then a large firm in Fort Worth. By 1986, Reid had joined Higginbotham to help run the business insurance practice. By 1989, Reid was CEO and he began to plant the seeds of an idea that had come to him when he worked at American General.
Reid could clearly see that an insurance agency’s most valuable assets were their people. But even the best agents would leave if they didn’t have any ownership in the company.
“If they saw a better opportunity, they would pack their bags and many times become a competing firm,” said Reid.
So the company set up an employee stock ownership plan giving each employee a stake in the company.
Passing the ‘Thanksgiving test’
“The ESOP was a great vehicle to allow us to spread the ownership, not only amongst those that were here, but more importantly, prospectively allowed us to create a vehicle to get ownership in the hands of folks that joined us,” said Reid.
Higginbotham began expanding in 1998, opening an office in Dallas, then several others in north and central Texas. By 2007, the agency had grown throughout the state. The firm now has 2,400 employees, all with an ownership stake in the company. Reid said he expects to have north of $500 million in revenue for 2022. The firm ranks No. 18 on the Insurance Journal’s Top 100 Property/Casualty Agencies.
The company began merging to expand its footprint after several large publicly traded insurance brokers tried to acquire Higginbotham, Reid said.
Instead, Higgenbotham began to build out across Texas itself.
“We launched what we called our best in Texas strategy, which was to be the best place for employees to work, best client advocate, best insurance carrier partner, and best community partner,” said Reid.
When an agency merges with Higginbotham it has to be a cultural fit, Reid said.
Any new acquisition has to pass what Reid calls the “Thanksgiving test.”
Jim Hubbard, one of the managing directors at Higginbotham came up with the test, Reid said.
“He told me that and I didn’t know what he meant. He said, “If you can’t have Thanksgiving dinner with them, why in the world do you want them in the firm?”
So, Reid said, “If you can’t have Thanksgiving dinner with someone, why would you want them as a partner? That means looking at their culture and how they think about their employees and clients, employee turnover, things like that. We don’t want to put our culture at risk.”
In February 2022, Higginbotham merged with Fort Worth’s WhitneySmith Co., a provider of human resources advisory services, adding that speciality to the insurance provider’s portfolio.
Whit Smith, WhitneySmith’s founder and president said both organizations had been working together since 1991. The merger will benefit both organizations, he said.
“There is a compatibility between the Higginbotham and WhitneySmith teams that provides an opportunity to expand our services and client base,” Smith said.
Higginbotham’s focus on culture and the company’s employees have led the brokerage to garner several “Best Places to Work” awards over the years.
“It kind of makes me nervous when we are nominated for this because it’s the employees who get to give their thoughts, anonymously, about this and we’ve been fortunate to do well,” said Reid.
As Higginbotham continues growing, Reid said he still sees business being done the old-fashioned way.
“We still believe it’s a relationship business and our people are out every single day touching either our existing clients or identifying new prospects that we hope to convert into clients,” he said.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.