Tulsa Proud

As Vaughan Insurance Group expands to better serve Tulsa’s economic powerhouse industries, it aims to build itself into a magnet for top-quality employees.
Since principals David and Lisa Vaughan struck out on their own in early 2007, premium volume at the eight-person property and casualty insurance firm, which serves members of Tulsa’s oil and gas and construction industries along with professional associations across the U.S., has grown 20 percent.
The Vaughans attribute their success in the insurance industry to employees and family, as well as its 48 insurers that stood behind David as he left his then-partnership to try his hand at operating as an independent business owner.
“We have top-notch, quality employees; we don’t know what we would do without them. We call ourselves a family. We’re able to treat them the way we would want to be treated,” Lisa said.
Made to be his own boss, Vaughan felt limited during his time as partner and vice president at Tulsa-based Rich & Cartmill, 2738 E. 51st St., Ste. 400. He couldn’t apply his ideals of quality and customer service under someone else’s flag, he said.
“We were headed in different directions as far as what I wanted to do with my customers and where my former partners were going,” David said. “I was headed in a different direction than your conventional insurance.”
David and Lisa dreamed of the freedom to provide “a personal approach to all of your insurance needs,” now the motto at VIG, as well as the capability to test some unconventional thinking.
“David is not a black-and-white thinker,” Lisa said. “With a lot of his ideas, at first people will say, ‘That’s crazy. That’s not feasible, and it’s not going to be profitable.’”
“But, David has a vision, and he knows exactly where he wants to go with it and what he wants to do. When you have to get approval from other people, it’s difficult.”
“I am never satisfied with the status quo – you have to always try to do better. Better doesn’t mean more. You always have to try to do better than what you’ve been doing with the expectation of never letting your customer down,” David said.
Even as they retained 99 percent of David’s customer base, the Vaughans had their work cut out for them as they gained momentum in their new venture.
“There were days when David was here from six in the morning until midnight, or I would pick up our daughter from school and work on the computer after dinner until two in the morning,” Lisa said. “Now, we look back at that, we say, ‘Oh, that wasn’t so bad.’”
After a few hiccups – David and Lisa had to completely replace staff shortly after the VIG launch – the group was ready to grow.
“We want growth, but we want controlled growth,” Lisa said. “We could bring on several new producers of insurance, but we want to make sure we have quality individuals who are professional and dedicated to the insurance profession, with quality clientele.”
The nut of VIG’s business is professional association insurance. General liability/professional liability insurance is made available via professional associations as a member benefit.
“Say an association has 3,000 members. They would call their association and say, ‘I’m having a really hard time finding this insurance. Do you offer it?’ That’s where I found I can be of service,” David said.
“It’s a win-win for me and the association. It makes the association look good that there is a value-added service to being a member of their organization.”
Coverage includes bodily injury, property damage, personal injury and professional liability. The primary policy form provides a $1 million occurrence with a $2 million aggregate of liability.
Members of the eight associations working with VIG can apply for the insurance via the Internet on the VIG Web site at www.vaughanins.com – simply click on the association logo and complete an interactive form to bind coverage. The application process takes less than 10 minutes.
In the late 1990s, before insurance was widely available via Internet, David began to forge the path toward what is now an Internet phenomenon. Insurance applications via Internet were cutting-edge, especially for fly-over country.
“As far as I know – and there is a marketplace, some competition out there – no one has the form that we provide and the simplicity of the Internet. You have to download the form, complete it, copy it and send it back. It’s still difficult with other entities out there who have tried to replicate this.”
Vaughan has sold to eight professional associations, and he aims to increase that number by at least two each year. The associations working with VIG include Members of Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society, the Clinical Research Professional Consultant program, the Clinical Research Site Management program, National Environmental Safety and Health Training Association, Society of Wetland Scientists, International Erosion Control Association, the Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control program, and the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration.
This program line of business started with 80 customers at $1,000 per policy and is now a $1.5 million book of business.
“One carrier [Mid-Continent Casualty Company in Tulsa] has really believed in that vision of what we can accomplish and do,” David said. “We’re expanding on the original idea.”
The make-up of Vaughan’s customer portfolio, which is weighted heavily with manufacturers, construction contractors and oil and gas businesses, reflects the powerhouse industries that built Tulsa.
“When I joined Rich & Cartmill, that was my target market, was for those two industries, along with manufacturing. Contractors, manufacturers and oil and gas were my specialties.”
Vaughan, a 26-year veteran of the insurance industry, began work with these industries as a casualty underwriter at Aetna Life & Casualty, his inaugural position in Tulsa’s insurance industry.
Lisa started her career in insurance at Aetna in 1986 in the claims department and was eventually promoted to the Aetna home office in Hartford as a field claims operations consultant. Her career took a turn back toward the heartland when she joined Citgo Petroleum Corp. as its assistant risk and claim manager. She retired from the company in 2000 to raise her daughter and to work as a community volunteer.
The experience Lisa gained as a claims and risk manager “differentiates us from other agencies,” David said. “Lisa knows the ins and outs of the claims system very well. That gives us a strong advantage, that we can provide another help point for our clients.
“It’s not just that we underwrite their business and place it. We follow through with claims, with risk management and try to be a full-service agency.”
David and Lisa met during their tours of duty in the Aetna Tulsa office and married in 1994.
As VIG grows, David and Lisa aim to build the company into one of the best places to work in Tulsa.
While Lisa hails from upstate New York, David’s Tulsa ancestry dates back to Indian Territory. From the looks of the VIG office and Web site – each are detailed with Tulsa photos and memorabilia – it’s no secret that the firm is Tulsa-proud.
“We’re very deeply rooted. We have a sincere love for this city,” David said. “Even though we provide business all over the country and internationally, we desire to be here in Tulsa.”
Not wanting to stop with just doing business in Tulsa, the Vaughans set the pace for community involvement, supporting the Tulsa Drillers, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Meals on Wheels, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
“We encourage our employees to give back to the community. We think it’s important because we’re all so close here,” Lisa said. “If they want to take time off to do that, they can.”
VIG offers employees flexible work schedules, particularly during summer. Children of employees can accompany parents to work, and some work part time for the company.
“We are small in terms of number of staff, but to us, that’s a great advantage. We are able to have one person who handles all of our personal lines of business, not five or six people. That enables that one person to know the entire customer base and have that one-on-one relationship with all of our personal-lines customers,” David said.
The small staff acts as a large rudder, enabling the company to take action quickly.
“We set our own protocol. Our flexibility is a great advantage, with only two of us in decision-making positions,” though employees are included in decision making, David said.
True to the credo of the Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma, a trade association and advocacy group for independent agents in the state, the VIG staff is available to customers 24/7. Each Vaughan employee was issued a BlackBerry to maintain around-the-clock customer access.
With nearly 450 independent insurance agency members, the IIAO represents more than 3,000 independent insurance agents and their employees.
Along with the freedom to dream big has come swanky new digs for VIG. The Vaughans’ third-floor space in the 1515 S. Utica building, built and managed by Utica Place’s Chris Bumgarner, measures about 4,300 SF. Vaughan’s 1,000-SF office loft, with a feel more like a family room than an insurance office, boasts a panoramic view of the downtown skyline, as well as the Cherry Street district.
“He [Bumgarner] made it so easy for us to do business,” David said. “Lisa called him at 9 o’clock, and at 11 o’clock we met him over here. By 3 o’clock that afternoon, I was in the Kinslow, Keith & Todd offices, and they laid out the blueprint and asked, ‘What do you want it to look like?’
“In two days, they already had it all put together.”
“David came home that evening and said, ‘I think you’ll like the color I picked for your office,’” Lisa joked.
“He really customized the space for our needs,” she said.
“We’re always looking at unique areas of insurance,” Lisa said. “We travel, and we’ll be at a resort in the mountains, and even there David’s mind is always going, ‘What if we wrote this or that kind of insurance?’
“I really do hope that next year we follow up on some of those ideas,” she said, some of which involve accident insurance for athletes who participate in sports with a high risk of physical injury.
David and Lisa were interviewed for this story on their 14th wedding anniversary.
“We used to have lunch together every day,” David said. “Now that we’re business partners, we actually see less of each other.”
The keys to partnering in business with a spouse are love, respect, appreciation and “being able to read each other’s minds,” Lisa joked.
“We have a great time together,” David said. “It’s very, very easy to work with Lisa. Now that we have started our own business, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”
“We’re not looking back. We hope we can pass this business down to future generations,” he said. ?



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