Q&A: Retiring Shelter Insurance CEO Rick Means on competition, the industry’s future

After more than 40 years with the same company, Rick Means will retire from his position as president and chief executive officer of Shelter Insurance in August.

Matt Moore, currently executive vice president, will be the company’s next CEO.

Means has spent nearly all of his adult life with Shelter, starting as a claims adjuster and working his way up the corporate ladder to claims supervisor, manager, vice president and eventually to his role as the leader of a 2,000-employee insurance company that wrote about $2 billion worth of premiums last year.

Missouri Business Alert sat down with Means in his office at Shelter’s Columbia headquarters to discuss his career, the future of the insurance industry and his plans for retirement.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Missouri Business Alert: When did you decide that you were going to retire? And how did you come to that decision?

Rick Means: We started working on a succession plan probably two years ago. We have mandatory retirement for officers at age 65, and I’m 64 now. I’ll be 65 in December, so I knew that this time was coming.

MBA: Without the mandatory retirement, would you have stayed here forever?

RM: No, no. I’ve been here for 42 years, and 42 years is enough. No, it’s time to retire. As my wife likes to say, Shelter’s had me for 42 years, and now it’s her turn.

MBA: How did you get started in the insurance business?

RM: I graduated from University of Missouri in 1977. I actually had an advanced personnel management class that required us to get three interviews, where we were to evaluate the interview process. During that process, I happened to pick insurance week, and I interviewed with State Farm, American Family and Shelter — we were MFA Insurance at that time; we’ve since changed our name. I was just doing it to help write a paper and get a good grade in the class, and I started getting job offers. And I knew a little bit about the insurance business. My dad owned his own auto body shop over in Fulton, Missouri, and I worked for him during summers, so I knew a little bit about the claims process. I actually got hired on as a claims adjuster with Shelter back in 1977, right here in Columbia.

MBA: What do you think are the biggest threats facing Shelter Insurance?

RM: I guess we all face the weather threats. We write business here in the Midwest. I will say that one of the things we’ve done over the last few years to help us in that area is to try to spread our risk out. You know, we used to be in 13 states, right here in the Midwest. Our four biggest states were Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. I mean, they’re great states, but they’re right in the middle of Tornado Alley. So what we’ve tried to do over the last seven to 10 years is spread our risk out by going out west. We’re now writing in Arizona and Oregon. We also write in the southeast part of the United States — in Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia. Places like that is kind of helping  spread our risk out so we’re not so susceptible to storms, to that exposure. But you’re still going to have that.

You know, competition, competition is what it is. I like to say, “Bring it on.” You know, we’ve been in business 70, almost 75 years. New people coming in the market, new companies are coming into the market — that’s OK. It just makes us all better. If they’re doing something that we need to be doing, that we need to do better, great. We learn from that and move on. We don’t back down from competition. We’ve been in business long enough to know. We’re the size, we’ll write over $2 billion in premium. I think out of all the property casualty companies United States, we’re the 30th largest. If I was 100 to 200, or 150 to 200, and fairly small, a single-state writer, then I’d be concerned about maybe someone being able to come in, absorb my business and take me over or something like that. But I think we’re at the size that we don’t have to be overly concerned about that.

MBA: What’s the secret sauce for Shelter? What is it that keeps you afloat and gives you a competitive edge?

RM: Well, I think for us, and I think it’s just been recognized by J.D. Power and Associates, is the customer service piece of it. I think it’s something that we’ve always stood out. We didn’t, just four years ago, go out and say, “Hey, we want to win the J.D. Power award.” We’ve been focused on customer service for 20-plus years. I think, whether it’s our agents, or whether it’s our claims adjusters or whether it’s our employees in this building, we want to make sure that we’re providing that top-notch service. We realize that our premium may not always be the lowest, we hope it’s not the highest. And so if somebody is insured with us, they may pay a little extra because they know they are going to get that top-notch service from us anyway. I think it gives us edge.

While we sell direct through a branch called Say Insurance, I think we’re also unique because of our agents. Our agents are out in the communities, people know our agents, they know that our agents are going to do what they can help take care of their customers. I think that’s still going to play a role.

MBA: Project this industry. What will happen in the next 10 years?

RM: One of the one of the big things that’s facing the industry is autonomous vehicles. What’s going to happen? You know, with Shelter, 65% of the business we write is private passenger auto business, cars like you and I drive. The question is, when will we start seeing driverless vehicles, autonomous vehicles, playing a more substantial role in the market than it is today? You see some driverless vehicles on the East Coast, West Coast, big cities. When will we see that here in the Midwest where our market is, in the in the 21 states we’re in? When you start to see that, how’s that going to affect automobile premiums? How’s it going to affect business? There’s some argument in the industry today that the manufacturers of those cars are going to assume that liability. I’ll be surprised if that happens. I still think there’s going to be a role there for private insurance companies like ourselves.

That role may change. It may be that we are more ensuring the physical damage part of the car. Maybe the liability may be insured through the software provider or the manufacturer of that car. So you may see some changes in that area. But I think that’s a ways off. I still think we’re a minimum of 10 years off before we’re going to see in our market that there’s going to be a substantial number of driverless vehicles that’s going to affect the market.

So I think in 10 years, we may start seeing some driverless vehicles. And and that’ll be a change for the insurance industry to figure out how we’re going to change how we insure those vehicles.

MBA: What are your favorite memories?

RM: Oh, wow. Well, there’s so many of them. You know, our current management staff, I’m talking about officers and above, there’s 16 of us. I’ve been fortunate enough, since I’ve been in this position, to be able to appoint six new vice presidents, and be able to promote five vice presidents into different roles. And to be able to see that group of folks flourish and do great — I knew they would, I had confidence they would — that makes you feel good.

Seeing our company grow that way we had, especially the last few years. I can remember when we celebrated having $300 million in premium and now last year, we exceeded $2 billion in premium. To see that growth and to see all the opportunities that growth brings with it. It gives you an opportunity to hire additional employees. You know, we’ve outgrown this building. We’re building a new building north of this building. We’re reinvesting in our infrastructure, not only here in Columbia, but out in our field offices as well. I’m proud of that.

MBA: What are your plans for retirement?

RM: You know, nothing set in stone right now. We have a place at the Lake of the Ozarks that we haven’t been able to spend as much time at as we’d like, so we’re hopefully going to spend more time there. We have our oldest daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter live in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We’ll spend some more time down there. Our youngest daughter and son-in-law, they live in Denton, Texas, right outside of Dallas, and they just had our first grandson about three weeks ago, so we’ll spend some time down there. I love to fly fish; I’m planning to spend more time to fly fishing. I love to duck hunt; I plan to go duck hunting more. If the weather’s as bad this coming January through March as it was this past January through March, we may try to spend some time in the warm weather somewhere.


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