The Art of Making the Deal:

by John Delach

Part Two of “A Foot in the Door”

Frank and I continued our conversation on the drive back to National. “Frank, I will never take this business for granted. You never know when an opportunity will come along and you never know if it will be real or a mirage.”

“True enough,” Frank replied. “I was almost ready to give up on Monster Defense Corporation and Bucky Bartlett. Bartlett kept jerking my chain whenever I asked about getting a shot at MDC’s property and casualty programs. If it hadn’t been for MDC’s latest annual report, I would have called it quits.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well John, when I opened it up, I was staring at a page featuring a large photo of a ship. ‘Does MDC have ships?’ I said out loud. So that’s what made me make the call and here we are.      

After Frank dropped me off, I called Martin McCluney from the shuttle terminal to brief him on our meeting and ask him to call Frank Hayes: “Martin, prepare a full list of all the insurance particulars, including claims that we will need to obtain market quotations for the MDC’s fleet. Also, Steve Beslity is in London. He should be at Bowring’s office as we speak. Let him alert Bill Boyle and our other British friends to start gathering whatever information they can on a hush-hush basis. I’ll check in with you as soon as I reach home.”

As my flight ascended over the Potomac River, I thought about all the things that can go right and go wrong when going after new business. Estimating the realistic cost of insurance is anything but a sure thing. The extent of what a broker can achieve for the client is based on a combination of that brokers knowledge, experience, guts and fears. It is also based on his / her  instinct and intuition of how far that broker can push, cajole, convince or otherwise exploit underwriters to accept the risk we are offering at the price we promised to our client.

Sometimes it can border on the bizarre. I once found myself in a dicey situation where my team had to convince an underwriter to accept certain coverage wording that he found less than satisfactory. This happened in a country where alcohol is heavily taxed. I insisted that each team member buy two liters of Johnny Walker Black, the duty-free limit, on their way into the country. I reserved a suite in one of the best hotels to have a sitting room for us to use as our conference room. I ordered a continental breakfast and lined up those eight liters of Johnny Walker Black on the mantlepiece.

When the underwriter arrived, I explained: “Viktor, each time we reach an agreement for one of the disputed clauses, you can help yourself to one bottle.”

Viktor, didn’t object and the meeting went remarkably well. We reached complete agreement. In return, we were out eight liters of Johnny Walker Black.

There is rarely a slam dunk placement especially if you are the new broker in town. I have led and participated in insurance proposals where we blew the perspective client away only to have them turn our presentation over to the existing broker without apology. Other times, we connect with our prospect who likes us enough that they provide us with short-cuts to reach our goal.

One time, after winning a hard-fought battle to secure a new account, the buyer, who was a tough veteran of many a fight with regulators and unions, (I was told he was once on the receiving end of a bullet that missed), confessed to me: “Want to know why I gave you our business?”

“Absolutely, Jack”

“I decided that I trusted you enough that I’d buy a used car from you. I didn’t trust the other guy to do the same.”

A backhanded compliment for sure, but I gladly took it. You never knew how it would go.

But I digress. We all knew securing the MDC would be difficult. We had to work up solid cost estimates and be ready to get into the market as soon as Bucky Bartlett gave us permission to do so. My intuition was correct, Bartlett alerted his current broker, Jackson & Poor, (J&P) to what was going on turning the MDC competition into a dog fight. Fortunately, we opened the contest in the lead and our team worked diligently to keep us there. We made several improvements to our proposal to meet challenges that J&P made to Bucky Bartlett. For a while, it seemed that they would arm Bucky with another hand grenade to roll down the table just as we disarmed the last one.

Nearing the end of the contest, Bucky had one more card to play. He told Frank: “Your numbers are good, but frankly, my confidence level is low that you can actually do this. Therefore, I am giving you provisional approval to find the lead insurers who will agree to your proposal and you must complete at least 75% of the placement in ten working days.”

Bless, Frank’s heart, he jumped at it, accepting the challenge. What Bucky didn’t realize is that his mandate forced J&P to cease their obstructionist activity for those ten days. Using our broking techniques; arm twisting, playing one market against the other, the strength of the MDC fleet, our knowledge of those similar fleets and our clout in the insurance market,  we met Bucky’s deadline forcing him to allow us to complete our placing which we did several days later. 

Interestingly, Frank’s confirmation to Bartlett that the placement was complete coincided with the start of our firm’s annual Managing Directors Conference scheduled for the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Four of us, Steve Beslity, Bill Boyle, Frank Hayes and I were all scheduled to be there. Fortunately, we were able to maintain a war room in a vacant conference room to communicate with our colleagues in London and New York.

The next day, Bucky called Frank to inform him that we had won the contest. Frank gathered us in the war room to celebrate. He ordered two bottles of champaign and we toasted each other. “Okay, guys, and now the bad news. Ole Bucky is insisting that he wants to hand us his Broker of Record appointment in person tomorrow morning in a little ceremony at his office in Tysons Corner. He doesn’t want to have lunch he doesn’t drink so all he wants is for us to be there.”

(To be continued)