Ringing the Bell, Eyeing the Future

Next week – if the schedule doesn’t change – I will stand at the dais above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and ring the bell that signifies the start of another trading day. This will celebrate Hagerty’s first day as a publicly traded company under the ticker symbol HGTY.

I just had to read that paragraph over a couple of times to believe it!

When my mom and dad started Hagerty 37 years ago in the basement of our home on Old Mission Peninsula, they never imagined this moment. Back then, they were matching their love of wooden boats with their entrepreneurial drive. They owned and loved wooden boats but couldn’t find the right insurance coverage because most insurers (for some crazy reason) viewed wooden boats full of gasoline to be a bit risky.

So, Frank and Louise filled that gap in the market and started the company that eventually became Hagerty.

It was mostly a family affair in the early days. My dad was the consummate salesman: very charismatic, very driven. The word “no” was not in his vocabulary. He designed the insurance product and pricing and headed up sales. Mom ran the operation, set up accounting, hired people and kept everything running. She eventually became our first CEO.

We had so much fun wrestling Hagerty out of its start-up phase. We worked tirelessly. My sister Tammy joined next. She learned the sales and underwriting side of the business from my dad. She also took on claims. She even became a judge at the Lake Tahoe wooden boat Concours d’Elegance to deepen her knowledge and to make connections with clients.

A few years later – once we moved into the classic car space – my sister Kim and I moved back to Traverse City to take the company to the next level. Kim – who passed away recently, God rest her soul – was passionate about building our workplace culture and keeping us legally compliant. Her career in law was invaluable in those days. She became the next CEO. I hit the road and built the brand, eventually launching our move into becoming a membership organization.

We’ve come a long way since the days when I knew everybody’s name and backstory. A wonderful part of being a small company is how close you become to the people you work with day in and day out. I miss that time.

But I also love the company that Hagerty has become over the last few decades. Today, in what seems like the blink of an eye, Hagerty is a multi-national company with more than 1,600 employees across North America, the U.K. and Germany, including 800 or so here in our Traverse City operations. We insure two million vehicles and we partner with nine of the top 10 U.S. automotive insurers, including the biggest of them all: State Farm.

We’ve been very intentional about our growth as a company but also as a place to work. The two go hand-in-hand. Here are a few of the key decisions that I think made a difference:

We stayed local but also invested in other communities. I’ve been asked two things countless times since the news broke about going public, “Has Hagerty been sold and is Hagerty leaving Traverse City?” The answer to both questions is a firm no. The Hagerty family will retain majority ownership. I will continue on as CEO. Traverse City will remain headquartered here. Traverse City has been incredibly good to us. It’s our home – period. But we have also invested in other communities where concentrations of our employees live and work. This has been very rewarding.

We expanded within our niche. It didn’t take long for us to realize that classic cars were a far bigger niche than wooden boats. How big? About 43 million vehicles. And we’ve also realized that we can do a lot more than just insurance. People are passionate about cars, so we have invested heavily in other automotive services and products aimed at helping all car lovers enjoy their passion. Think magazines, cool YouTube programs, car events, data tools to help buyers and sellers, a membership club, and more. Our purpose is simple: We want to save driving and car culture for future generations.

We invest in our people. We decided a long time ago that to make our company grow, we had to help our people grow right along with us. “Improve every day” is one of our values as a company, so for many years now we’ve run more than 50 Hagerty U classes a year on dozens of topics, from vehicle knowledge (important in a field like ours) to business skills and self-improvement. We’ve enhanced that recently by providing access to the LinkedIn Learning series of online lessons in areas like technology, business and creative skills. All of this is part of what we call our growth mindset, which encourages lifelong learning and the intentional building of strong habits. We think it makes us a better company and a better place to work.

We obsess over our members. Our goal is outrageously great customer service. We refer to it as “Hagerty Hospitality,” with the idea being that we treat customers, partners and vendors like guests in our homes. Recently, we ran our first national level car event in Greenwich, Connecticut. I was so proud of all the things we did to show the thousands of attendees a great time. Our teams pulled together to sell tickets, park cars and welcome people who walked onto the show field. When I saw a senior vice president – who is responsible for large revenue growth opportunities – clearing tables in a hospitality suite, I knew we had won the day. It reminded me of the days back in the basement at Mom and Dad’s house, the good old days when everyone did everything. But it also reinforced my confidence in the future of Hagerty. We can do this – because we do things the right way.

If you are a business owner or an entrepreneur, I hope some of this has been helpful to you. A reporter said to me recently that Hagerty is Traverse City’s first publicly traded company. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know this: If we can do it, others can do it – and it can be done right here in the Grand Traverse region. Find that niche and go for it.

Good luck, my friends. Onward and upward!

McKeel Hagerty is CEO of The Hagerty Group.

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