Melbourne brokerage director: why he sold to Gallagher

Is a common culture more important than money?

Melbourne brokerage director: why he sold to Gallagher

Insurance News

By Daniel Wood

When Insurance Business spoke to John Whiteside (pictured above) he was already in Gallagher’s Mulgrave office in Melbourne. Whiteside’s firm, Professional Insurance Solutions, was recently acquired by the giant insurance broker. Whiteside, together with his two co-workers, was learning about Gallagher’s systems.

The former brokerage director is now a client manager with Gallagher. In this interview with Insurance Business via Teams video, he was clearly pleased to have done the deal.

“I came from another AR [authorised representative] model which had a very good culture,” he said. “That was important to me.”

In brokerage acquisitions covered by IB, the importance of sharing a common culture is frequently emphasized on both sides of a deal. IB asked Whiteside if that was more important than the amount of money offered?

“I think it depends on what you want long term,” he said. “Long term I was looking at staying in the business and being part of it, so for that reason a culture issue would have been a deal breaker for me.”

He said it wasn’t just about the dollars.

“It was more around that I’ve got another 10 to 15 years of working life ahead of me so I don’t want to do that somewhere that I’m not enjoying,” said Whiteside.

How important is a common culture in business deals?

Whiteside said he’d had conversations with several other brokerages before Gallagher.

“I just couldn’t see myself working in those environments,” he said. “None of them felt right.”

He said some of those discussions took place during COVID-19 and Whiteside said he wasn’t impressed by how some of those firms were dealing with the pandemic in terms of managing staff.

However, the people focus of Gallagher, he said, impressed him.

“Then I was introduced to Michael [Michael Lewin, Gallagher’s head of mergers and acquisitions in Australia] through another colleague and when I spoke to him it just seemed like a good fit,” said Whiteside. “From the minute I left that meeting with Michael, I knew that it was the right fit for me and my staff.”

Meetings with Gallagher Australia CEO Sarah Lyons followed.

“I felt that it was going to be a very easy transition because of our very similar cultures, focused on people and on results but having a good work life balance,” said Whiteside.

A Gallagher media release announcing the acquisition said Whiteside had built “a thriving business over the past 15 years” and a “loyal commercial client base.”

Whiteside said his firm doesn’t specialise in one area. Their clients, he said, range from self-employed tradies to firms with about 150 staff. Transport companies and commercial property owners also represent a portion of the business.

“We’ve got some really decent sized civil contractors involved in importing and manufacturing but we’re not in that corporate space where we’d have massive ISRs (industrial special risks),” he said. “We really try and focus on SMEs.”

Under the deal, Whiteside’s firm becomes part of the Gallagher brand.

“We’ve contacted all of our clients and they’ve been very much, ‘That’s great, we know Gallagher and just as long you’re still managing our account, we really don’t mind,’” he said.

Whiteside said clients also appreciated the backing of a bigger brokerage with global powers.

“But they were also really happy to still have one on one contact with our small team,” he said. “I think they are quite happy to have the best of both worlds.”

Gallagher’s expansion in Australia

The acquisition expands the brokerage giant’s footprint in Victoria. In November, Gallagher acquired another Melbourne-based insurance brokerage, Smart Insurance Services (Smart).

That acquisition was welcomed by Gallagher’s long serving US based president and CEO.

“I am delighted to welcome Ian and his associates to our growing, global company,” said J. Patrick Gallagher, Jr. from Chicago. “Aviation Insurance Australia is a well-respected broker that enhances our aviation capabilities and offers cross-selling opportunities in Australia.”

Recent months have seen the global brokerage make numerous acquisitions. At the time of the Aviation Insurance deal, a company spokesperson said the firm had already acquired seven companies in Australia in as many months.

“Our merger activity is a great endorsement of what we have to offer new merger partners, from our culture and way of doing business to our market relationships and global capabilities,” said Lyons.

If you have sold your brokerage, what matters about the company making the purchase? Please comment below.

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