Readers of this blog may have noted that from time to time I refer to “the D&O Insurance industry,” or to the “Professional Lines Insurance industry” but may not be sure what I was talking about. The good news is that for anyone who wants or needs to find out about the industry, there is now a book for that. It is called “Professional Lines Insurance: An Oral History,” with the subtitle “The People and Companies Who Built a Niche.” The book is available here. It would be conventional to say that the book was “written by” industry veteran Larry Goanos, but that would suggest that this is a conventional book – which it is not. It is more like a literary form of performance art with the professional lines insurance industry as its subject, and with Larry’s own personal industry experience as the central organizing theme. It is also a detailed account of many of the people who made the industry what it is today.
What Larry has set out to do here is to tell the story of the professional lines insurance industry, as it has unfolded over time, through business relationships and transactions – and business lunches, golf outings, unscheduled business trips, cab rides, and a crazy quilt of incidents, experiences, and stories that Goanos has accumulated over a lifetime in the industry. Fairly early on, it becomes apparent that Larry has worked for just about every company in the industry. (Which almost as quickly raises the question, is there a reason why Larry changed jobs so frequently … ?)
The book is in some ways an ordinary sort of book. For example, it has a table of contents, and chapters, and even a format and structure of sorts, but it works mostly as a string of anecdotes and asides. Mostly asides. As Larry says early on, “I’m going to digress for a few more seconds here, please bear with me. (I know, I know, you’re thinking ‘This whole book is a digression.’ ) (Maybe a digression from a digression gets us back on the original track.)” The digressions and asides consist of stories and anecdotes drawn from the complicated, multi-stop career Larry has enjoyed in the professional liability insurance industry.
The book begins at the beginning, with the foundational myths of the professional liability industry (in the New York Standard Version). These stories may be familiar to many, at least to those who have been around awhile, but for those who are new to the industry or who have never spoken to anyone from New York, these oft-told tales will provide some historical perspective, as does the chapter on AIG (which, in the New York Standard Version of the foundation myth, is the Holy Mountain from which D&O emerged).
Where the book really gets going, and the part of the book that provides some interesting breadth and depth, is in the chapter in which Larry lays out the long list of firms that have contributed to the industry’s development. There are many interesting old friends in this section, including long-gone firms such as, for example, Axcelera, ERMA, HRH, MGIC, and Quanta, among many others, as well as long lists of the many people who worked at these and many others the book lists. (If you remember all of the firms listed, you may well be past your sell-by date. For the record, I did.) This chapter also usefully recaptures the mergers, splits, and other twists and turns that led to the current identities in which many of the companies are now doing business. With respect to most of the firms identified, Larry mentions key industry players who spent part or all of their careers at the firms.
In addition to the chapter describing the list of firms in the industry, the book also incorporates two separate chapters focusing on many of the key players. One chapter focuses on Larry’s list of the industry’s All-Stars and another focuses on Larry’s list of the industry’s Hall of Fame. Larry’s lists necessarily are subjective, and some may quibble about omissions, but that really isn’t the point. Any list anybody would come up with would be subjective, and these lists are meant to reflect Larry’s views (albeit apparently prepared in consultation with many industry friends and colleagues). It was a lot of fun for me to read these lists, to remember many industry participants I hadn’t thought about in a while, and to find out what others are now up to.
In addition to the All-Stars and Hall of Fame lists, the book also includes a separate chapter entitled “Laundry Listed” which apparently is an all-out effort to make sure that industry players not mentioned elsewhere at least see their name in print on one place in the book. Turn to Chapter 10, your name might be there!
Although most of the book is written in a very humorous vein, there are a couple of serious chapters. Larry’s account of September 11, 2001 is both very moving and very sobering. 9/11 was a tragic and unforgettable day in so many ways. It was also a tragic day in the professional liability industry, as the industry lost so many that day. All of us had friends and colleagues who died in the Twin Towers. (I also knew others who died at the Pentagon and on Flight 93, as well.) Larry provides a very gripping, moving account of the day’s events, which he experienced from close by in lower Manhattan. He also provides several vignettes describing others’ experiences of the day’s terrible events, as well as brief memorials to three individuals among the many who died that terrible day. I was far away when the day’s events happened, but I still remember, and reading Larry’s account vividly recalled for me the horror we all experienced that day.
The book does have one further serious chapter, an In Memoriam section recalling the many good people from our industry who have passed away. I knew many of these people well, but I was particularly glad to see that Larry included memorials to my good friends Steven Gladstone and Perry Granof, both of whom, along with the many others that Larry lists, are well-remembered as good friends and colleagues.
While the book unquestionably has its serious moments, levity and humor are the book’s more prevalent tones, and the book’s chapter entitled “Practical Jokes” is far more representative of the overall tenor. Among other tales, Larry recounts an April Fools’ Day memo that instructed all ACE professional staff that hereafter they were all required to travel by Greyhound Bus, which somehow managed to snare quite a few people. There are a variety of other stories in the same vein, in which one or another industry player got busted or busted on others for getting them in the first place. I was grateful that no incidents in which I have participated made their way into print.
Larry’s book is worth getting a hold of and reading for its own sake, but there is another good reason to go buy yourself a copy, and that is that a portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to one of four designated charities:
The Carolyn Sullivan Memorial Foundation – The Carolyn Sullivan Memorial Foundation was founded in loving memory of Carolyn Sullivan, a beautiful eight-year old girl who was tragically taken before her time by a brain tumor. More information is available at https://carolynsullivanmf.com.
The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation – The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) helps communities and enriches lives by uniting the collective strength of the insurance industry in providing grants, volunteer service and leadership. More information is available at IICF.org.
The Pura Maria Foundation – New Beginnings – This organization brings independence and choice to men and women caught in abusive relationships. Its volunteers help victims of domestic violence gain access to the training, skills and jobs that they need to make a fresh start, an important step towards ending abuse. More information is available at www.puramariafoundation.org.
The Toby Merrill Scholarship Fund – Toby Merrill was an executive at Chubb who passed away in 2016 after a courageous battle with cancer. Always wanting to help others, even in his final days Toby was focused on assisting the less fortunate. The Toby Merrill Scholarship was created to provide financial support to students possessing the traits exemplified by Toby, such as excellence in academics and athletics, ability to lead others, integrity, kindness and strength during times of adversity. Special consideration is given to candidates who are experiencing personal or family issues related to cancer or bereavement. More information is available at http://www.TobyMerrillScholarship.org.
Just a reminder, you can purchase your copy of Larry’s book here.