Five minutes with…Brian S. Cohen, Altamont Capital Partners

Brian Cohen talks the looming talent gap, deconstructing Abraham Lincoln and performing a makeover on a Farmers agent.

Five minutes with…Brian S. Cohen, Altamont Capital Partners



An attorney by training, Brian S. Cohen, Operating Partner at Altamont Capital Partners, has held a number of high-level roles in his impressive career. He took a moment to speak with Insurance Business on how he got his start in insurance and his view on the future of the industry.

Q. You began as a lawyer and a CPA. How did you get into the insurance industry?

A. While I enjoyed practicing law, I wanted to get in on the business side. I persuaded one of my clients to hire me to come in and do legal work, but he also took the time to teach me the business.

After a while, someone called me about running a small business unit at Farmers. As soon as I hear the words “business unit,” I went and interviewed. I loved it, and the unit I ran did well. I was subsequently promoted to run all of sales, marketing and distribution.

Q. What’s the best thing about working in insurance?

A. The core business itself is fascinating because it’s really both an art and a science. A lot of math and analysis goes into pricing and trying to underwrite risk, but there’s also the art of understanding the way the cycles work and the fact that even if a risk looks good on paper, it might not be in real life—and vice versa.

It’s a very sophisticated business. There’s never a dull moment and that’s why I love it.

Q. What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the insurance industry today?

A. The fundamental challenge out there is talent. The industry still—whether it’s carriers, broker or agents—is not attracting the best and the brightest. Most people just fall into it; it’s not like anyone wakes up and says ‘I wanted to be in insurance.’

I think the industry itself needs to urge more universities to develop a core risk management and insurance curriculum. When you expose people to it, they find it’s a fascinating way to make a living and spend a career. We have a poster child, and his name is Warren Buffet.
Q. What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

A. Listen and learn. That’s sort of vague, but in a very action-oriented, results-oriented environment, we have a tendency to think we’re not doing our job unless we’re doing something or telling someone to do something.

The best piece of advice I got was to listen and learn before you take action.

Q. What is your funniest insurance story?

A. When I was over the captive agents at Farmers, we organized a big agent convention to get all the agents exciting about selling a new line of business.

So, to introduce them to the product line, we took one of our long-tenured agents from the Midwest and we brought him to L.A. We spent four days with him and had his hair colored, had a trainer put him through some training to lose some weight, and took him to Rodeo Drive and bought him a new suit and tie.

We filmed the whole thing, and showed him when he got off the plane and then after the entire full days. The end result was when we had him come out on the stage. It was like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

The idea was that if he can change, so can you. That was the most fun I’ve had.

Q. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

A. I would want to have dinner with Abraham Lincoln. There’s so much that has been written about him being a great leader, as well as the challenges he faced in his early life and not having much success.

He’s almost too good to be true, so I’d like to really know the real Abraham Lincoln.

Q. If you weren’t in insurance, where would you be?

A. Well, I would definitely not be a lawyer. If I had not been in insurance, I would be in the high-tech industry given that I live in California and have always been drawn to entrepreneurial things.

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