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Top trailblazers

The eighth annual class of the IBA Hot 100 represents the top insurance leaders in the US in 2023, featuring the best in the industry across all specialties and markets. These are the people who have influenced, driven initiatives, and plotted the course of the sector over the past 12 months.

So, what distinguishes these leaders from the rest?

For the first six years of his career, James McNitt assumed a variety of roles. Upon finishing his MBA, he set out to find a new challenge and was offered a job at Risk Placement Services (RPS) in the wholesale space. Back then, he had no knowledge of the industry, no prospective clients, and no relationships with underwriters.

“To quote a great business book title and common adage, ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get’ ”

 James McNitt, Risk Placement Services

McNitt told his mentor about the opportunity, who dismissively retorted, “You’ll never make it.”

“That was the only motivation I needed,” says McNitt. He embraced the challenge and developed the relationships and placements necessary to succeed.

Rising to the top

McNitt, a healthcare practice leader, was one of the top five new business brokers at RPS in 2017 and 2019. He pulled in $4 million in revenue and made it to the IBA Hot 100 in 2022.

Testimonies from his colleagues illustrate just how highly he is regarded. One says, “He gives us every resource we need to be successful. He must have 48 hours in his day, because he is always available to me and our team. I attribute a lot of my own success to his leadership and rebranding of the practice in the market.” Another team member adds, “It’s so hard to put into words how much work he does, and he does it flawlessly. Working for him is a big treat.”

Sharing his approach, McNitt explains, “In our industry, every leader needs to think of themselves as a role model. We have a very talented next generation of underwriters and brokers entering the industry, and current industry leaders will have a large impact on the culture that is created by this next cohort. With the increasing complexity of placements, it’s more important than ever that we lead ethically, authentically, and with integrity.”

And what does he recommend for others interested in making the Hot 100 in future years? “Every single successful person in our industry has one thing in common: they work very hard,” he says. “This has remained true even during the pandemic shutdowns. The hardest-working insurance brokers found ways to create their own success during unpredictable marketplace conditions.

“To quote a great business book title and common adage, ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get.’”

Karen Frany, also part of this year’s Hot 100, got her break in the industry via a diversity internship program whilst attending Providence College.

She explains, “As a first generation Asian-American woman, I initially questioned my ability to rise in corporate America, but I’ve always been taught that hard work leads to success. Being recognized as part of this year’s Hot 100 due to my hard work has certainly surpassed my career expectations.”

The skillset that Frany, managing director of executive liability at Brown & Brown, feels has enabled her to prosper is her comprehensive knowledge base – as she’s been both an underwriter and broker over the past 15 years.

“My experience as an underwriter has truly guided my approach as a broker and has served me well over the years”, she says. “By thoroughly understanding my clients’ needs, I can best develop and customize an insurance program best suited for each of their unique risks.”

Someone who also took an unorthodox route is Andreas Kleiner. The president and CEO of American Modern Insurance Group was educated as an engineer and applied for a job at Munich Re, not knowing what reinsurance was.

“I never regretted joining the insurance industry. My career has not only greatly shaped who I have become, it has led my family and me to so many exciting places, “explains Kleiner. “So far, we have been able to work and live on four continents. The experiences from living in different cultural environments are simply priceless, and we are very grateful for that.”

Kleiner’s unconventional path to a career in insurance hasn’t stopped him flourishing and he is part of the Hot 100. And he credits one strategy that’s allowed him to stand out. “We have been able to leave all of our IT and product legacy issues behind through our business transformation project. There are very few larger insurance companies who have achieved that and this is difficult to replicate.”

“When one person gets success, we have success. There are other wholesalers out there who are cutthroat and compete with one another. For us, if somebody gets a good deal or a win, the whole group gets the win”

 George Sella, Brown & Riding

“Your ego is not your amigo”

Another member of this year’s Hot 100 is Curtis Barton, who joined his father in the industry back in 1997.

He pursued a wide range of avenues, such as immersing himself in the middle-market commercial sector, doing a lot of alternative risk programs, and establishing himself as a leading salesman.

And he has maintained that attitude. “Your ego is not your amigo,” explains Barton. “I love that line. I think that means a lot. When they get some success, people tend to get overly proud of themselves, and it clouds their judgment. So, just don’t let your ego get involved. Do what’s right. If you do what’s right consistently, good things will happen.”

Barton has proactively carved out a career. He placed up to 150 cold calls a day to create a book of business that was sustainable. He dealt with the collapse of the construction market in 2008. And he orchestrated the merger of seven friends’ businesses to ultimately create ALKEME Insurance.

Now, as CEO of ALKEME Insurance, he oversees a run-rate revenue of close to $100 million, maintains a 94% employee retention rate, and enjoys 13.3% organic growth. “The KPIs [key performance indicators] are there,” he says. “We’re doing a good job of growing 70% of our business in middle-market commercial.”

One of his colleagues says, “As CEO, he has guided the organization through 15 acquisitions while maintaining double-digit growth. He expanded operations to five additional states. He developed and launched two significant tech plays in a digital MGA with five programs called Brokkrr Insurance Services.”

Barton pinpoints two factors that have enabled him to make his mark.

“First, let your people know you’re in the boat with them rowing – you’re willing to do whatever you’re asking them to do. Second, have vision. It’s being able to see beyond the next movie and really look downstream and say, ‘What issues are going to face me in the next 10 years or the next five years?’”

What would he say to others eager to build a reputation in the industry? “Go around and talk to people in your office – other producers – shadow them, learn from them, and take what you want and leave behind what you don’t want and start to form your own path forward,” says Barton. “And we’ve always been niche-focused – that’s the winner. If you’re going to be in this business, you have to be proficient and efficient at what you do. As a salesperson, you need something to differentiate yourself right from the get-go.

“Ultimately, get good at what you do. Start with education first. Put out a lot of content, content, content. And once people start to see you’re a leader and have a sphere of influence within that space, they’ll start coming to you, and the job gets a lot easier.”

“Do what’s right. If you do what’s right consistently, good things will happen”

 Curtis Barton, ALKEME Insurance

Do what you love

After studying insurance at the University of Mississippi, George Sella moved to Los Angeles. He partnered with Chris Brown of Brown & Riding, focusing on the construction sector.

“I started building a book,” says Sella. “When you’re young, it’s hard to get a good stronghold with some strategic big clients, so Chris Brown, our chairman, mentored me through that process, and he really took me under his wing.”

Sella’s work life became increasingly challenging. He has overseen growth of up to 60% each year over the past 12 years, and despite being relatively young, he has managed people across a wide variety of age groups and demographics.

Now, he’s been a partner for nine years, and six years ago, he moved to Atlanta to build up the team there, which has grown to 13 people. The company has expanded from three offices to 14, with more than 400 employees.

Recognized in the 2022 Hot 100, Sella brings in the highest revenue of all brokers at Brown & Riding and has been in the top five for the past four years.

“[Sella] has contributed greatly to Brown & Riding’s growth and continues to play a leading role in the CPG [construction practice group] and in the firm overall,” says Brown.

Sella is open about what has allowed him to build such a stellar list of achievements. “It’s more about helping other people become successful and seeing other people thrive,” he says. “For me, as a partner at Brown & Riding, all of my partners are also employees at Brown & Riding. When one person gets success, we have success. There are other wholesalers out there who are cutthroat and compete with one another. For us, if somebody gets a good deal or a win, the whole group gets the win.”

His advice to those embarking on a career in insurance or those who are still relatively early in their journey is to craft a niche. “I always tell people to try to specialize, because our industry is going towards specialization, and to try to specialize in what you’re passionate about and what you enjoy,” he says.

“You have to wake up every morning and do this as a young person for 40 years, so you want to do what you enjoy and do what gets you excited. I found that everyone who is passionate about what they do, they’re wildly more successful than people who just do it for a job.”

This is also something that resonates with Frany. She’s eager to instill standards and expertise in the younger colleagues who she oversees. “Being entrusted by the Brown & Brown executive team to guide the company’s next generation of brokers is what I feel to be a testament to my ongoing diligence and professional growth,” she adds. “I view my professional reputation as inherently linked to my personal reputation. As such, I strive to be a good person, exercise good judgment, work diligently and genuinely care about others.”

“By thoroughly understanding my clients’ needs, I can best develop and customize an insurance program best suited for each of their unique risks”

Karen Frany, Brown & Brown Karen Frany, Brown & Brown

    • Adam Jakubowitz

      Assistant Vice President

      HUB International


    • Akhil Chopra

      Managing Director and Cyber Growth Leader

      Lockton Financial Services


    • Alex Furlong

      National Wholesale Brokerage Practice Leader

      One80 Intermediaries


    • Alka Manaktala

      Managing Partner

      Insurance Office of America


    • Amy O’Brien

      Vice President – Carrier Practice Sales

      Gallagher Bassett


    • Amy Shore

      Chief Customer Officer and Executive Vice President



    • Andrew Silva

      Senior Financial Lines Manager

      Woodruff Sawyer


    • Anna Tan

      Head, Excess Casualty Wholesale

      Navigators, a brand of The Hartford


    • Anne Anastasi

      First Vice President

      Old Republic Title


    • Anton Rosandic

      Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer

      ALKEME Insurance


    • Ashley Engl, ACSR, GBDS, VBS

      Employee Benefits Client Success Account Executive



    • Bill Creedon

      Global Head, Construction

      Willis Towers Watson


    • Bill Gatewood

      Corporate Senior Vice President and National Personal Insurance Practice Leader

      Burns & Wilcox


    • Bridget Gainer

      Global Head, Public Affairs and Policy



    • Bruce Peddle


      Jencap Insurance Services


    • Bryan Clark


      Gorst & Compass Insurance


    • Christiana Flaherty

      Senior Marine Underwriter

      The Hartford


    • Christopher Alviggi

      Managing Director and Environmental Practice Group Leader



    • Clinton Anderson

      President, National Specialty Practice

      HUB International


    • Cory Schilling

      Executive Managing Director and MGA and Program Solutions Leader



    • Coryn Thalmann, CIC, CIW

      Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer

      Jimcor Agencies


    • Daniel Ginden

      Chief Everything Officer

      Scottish American


    • Danielle Larsen

      Head, Underwriting Services

      Everest Insurance


    • Dave Obenauer

      Chief Executive Officer

      CRC Group


    • David M. Barnes

      Senior Vice President and Transactional Liability Practice Lead

      CAC Specialty


    • Davis Moore

      Vice Chairman, Brokerage of Amwins



    • Deborah Fox

      Vice President



    • Denise Campbell, CPM

      Senior Vice President, Client Executive



    • Emily Golecki

      Surety Specialist

      Florida Surety Bonds


    • Emma Ye, ASA, MAAA

      Vice President, Risk



    • Eric Goldberg

      Vice President, Texas Market Leader

      IMA Select


    • Errica Rivera

      Culture and Inclusion Lead

      State Auto Insurance


    • Garrett Droege

      Director, Innovation + Strategy

      IMA Financial Group


    • Gary Leonard

      Executive Vice President and National Director, Account Management

      Gallagher Bassett


    • George Woods

      Head, US P&C Broker Sales Management

      Swiss Re


    • Greg Barats

      Chief Executive Officer and President; Global Head of IoT – Munich Re



    • Greg Gunn, CIC

      Chief Executive Officer and President



    • Gregory Chaples

      Vice President, Property and Casualty

      Capstone Group


    • Jacob Ingerslev

      Head, Cyber and Tech Underwriting

      Tokio Marine HCC


    • Janet Jordan-Foster

      Executive Vice President and Head, Primary Casualty



    • Jason Rodriguez

      Chief Executive Officer

      Prominent Insurance Services


    • Jeff Cunningham

      Vice President and Senior Broker



    • Jeffrey Duncan

      Executive Vice President, Commercial Lines



    • Jeffrey T. Benson Jr.

      Managing Partner

      Prominent Insurance Services


    • Jenni Lee Crocker

      Senior Vice President Agency, Operations and Growth

      PCF Insurance Services


    • Jessica Scelzi

      Chief Commercial Officer

      The Zebra


    • Jill M. Kizyma

      Area Vice President and Senior Director – Public Sector Practice



    • Jim Untiedt, CPCU, ARM, CRIS

      Construction Practice Leader



    • Jody Yee

      Global Industry Solutions Director – Technology, Media and Telecommunications

      Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty


    • Jordan Tamchin

      Senior Vice President and Tax Insurance Practice Leader

      CAC Specialty


    • Jude DiBattista

      Head, Casualty

      GuideOne Insurance


    • Karen S. Williams

      Senior Managing Director

      Risk Strategies Company


    • Karin Venegas

      Managing Director – Business Insurance



    • Karl Henley

      Executive Vice President and Partner

      SeibertKeck Insurance Partners


    • Kyle Burnett

      Senior Vice President, E&S Property

      Swiss Re


    • Lael Chappell

      Chief Market and Business Development Officer



    • Larry Fine

      Management Liability Coverage Leader

      Willis Towers Watson


    • Lisa Gentile

      Vice President

      Liberty Mutual Insurance


    • Mark Engel

      Managing Director and Corporate Vice President

      RB Jones


    • Matthew McLellan

      Managing Director



    • Michael Gordon

      Vice President

      Marsh Mclennan Agency


    • Michael Gruetzmacher

      Head, Alternative Risk Transfer and Innovation



    • Michael J. Sicard

      Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

      USI Insurance Services


    • Michael Palotay


      Tokio Marine HCC


    • Morgan Cook

      Vice President

      Brown & Brown


    • Nancy Bewlay

      Chief Executive Officer, Reinsurance

      AXA XL


    • Ngozi Nnaji

      Founder and Managing Partner



    • Norman Ives

      Cannabis Practice Leader



    • Pam Humphrey

      Global Client Executive



    • Paul Roberts

      Senior Director, Education and Market Development

      Word & Brown General Agency


    • Peter R. Taffae, MLIS, CFE

      Managing Director



    • Phillip Lane

      Vice President and Partner

      Insurance Office of America


    • Ray Deaton

      Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

      Commercial Insurance Solutions


    • Ricky Bryan

      Executive Vice President and Director, Houston Energy

      IMA Financial Group


    • Rob Carney

      Chief Executive Officer, Retirement and Benefits Solutions

      CRC Group


    • Scott Konrad

      North American Nonprofit Practice Leader

      HUB International


    • Shawn Woedl

      Chief Executive Officer and President



    • Sonji K. Grandy

      National Personal Lines Co-Manager, DE&I

      The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers


    • Steve Brown

      Chief Executive Officer

      Hoffman Brown Company


    • Susan Johnson

      Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer

      The Hartford


    • Teresa Milano

      Vice President, Management Liability

      Woodruff Sawyer


    • Thomas Reagan

      Managing Director and US Cyber Practice Leader



    • Tony McIntosh

      President; Executive Vice President and Partner

      Aura Risk Management & Insurance Services; The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers


    • Tyler Asher

      President, Independent Agent Distribution

      Liberty Mutual Insurance


    • Wes Becknell

      Vice President, Business Development

      Rocklake Insurance Group


    • Yiana Stavrakis


      Monarch E & S Insurance Services


Starting in August 2022, Insurance Business America invited insurance professionals from across the country to nominate their most exceptional leaders for the eighth annual Hot 100 list. After receiving hundreds of nominations, IBA narrowed the list down to 100 movers and shakers whose contributions have helped shape the insurance industry over the past 12 months.

From innovators at the forefront of change to leaders who are transforming the way the industry does business, this year’s Hot 100 list represents the best the industry has to offer.

The IBA Hot 100 report is proudly supported by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (the Big “I”).

Founded in 1896, the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (the Big “I”) is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and brokers, representing more than 25,000 agency locations united under the Trusted Choice brand. Trusted Choice independent agents offer consumers all types of insurance – property, casualty, life, health, employee benefit plans, and retirement products – from a variety of insurance companies. The Big “I” strives to provide independent insurance agents and brokers with a sustainable competitive advantage in the insurance marketplace by equipping members with tools and resources and providing advocacy and support to maintain excellence in business and customer service.


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