For someone who backed into the insurance industry by way of real estate, Ronnie Tubertini certainly found his niche. He is president and CEO of SouthGroup Insurance and Financial Services, which has 180 employees in 17 locations across the state.
Born and reared in Greenville, Tubertini is the oldest of four children and a fourth-generation Mississippian. His great, great grandparents on both sides emigrated from Italy to the Mississippi Delta to find the American dream for themselves and their families. Because there were no large enclaves of Italians in the area’s small towns, the children were encouraged to fit in and were discouraged from speaking Italian.
While there was no epiphany-type turning point in his early years, Tubertini learned great lessons from his father and a high school football coach and teacher, Dom Bevalaque.
“I always admired my father as a businessman, and both of these men instilled in me that giving 100% effort was the route to success,” he said. “In four years of high school football as a small, slow lineman 40 years ago, Coach Bevalaque taught me that I could overcome my lack of ability if the ‘fire in the belly’ burned hot enough. There were two statements he made many times that I still call on today in business. One is that ‘winning takes 90% desire and 10% ability.’ The other is that ‘quitters never win.’ I don’t quit until somebody pulls me off a project.”
Tubertini, 57, says he never gave any consideration in college to being in the insurance business. After graduation from Delta State University, he worked for his dad in real estate and the home building business. He is a past president of the Greenville Board of Realtors and the Greenville Home Builders Association, and was named Realtor of the Year.
Then, he and a partner created an insurance agency, but it took a long time for the fledgling agency to be profitable.
“I had to depend on real estate for a while, but I really enjoyed the insurance business a lot and took professional development courses in insurance,” he said. “By the late ‘70s I moved completely to insurance, and I don’t miss the real estate business.”
He says the challenge fit well with his passion to improve his business and set it up so it had the best chances of success. “I faced early on trying to move from a small, newly-created insurance agency to a position to compete with larger agencies,” he said. “I needed more internal support to make a bigger challenge.”
That came about through a series of acquisitions over 30 years. The SouthGroup was formed four years ago. Tubertini says it’s an unusual merger of 12 insurance agencies from across the state that occurred as insurance laws changed.
“We observed the changes in insurance distribution that allows banks to own insurance agencies,” he said. “Several of us had been approached by banks, which was flattering and interesting, but was not the route we wanted to go. Some were also approached by large national companies.”
The 12 independent agencies were all old, successful and reputable agencies. They began merger discussions 18 months before the merger took place.
“We wanted to position ourselves to compete with big agencies,” Tubertini said. “The insurance agency business is much like other distribution systems in that we want to have power to operate efficiently with volume.”
Now he feels the SouthGroup is in a position to do that with locations spread out from Southaven in the northern part of the state to Hattiesburg and Laurel in the Pine Belt. It represents 50 insurance companies and can pick and choose as necessary to fit customers’ needs. Tubertini says the agency has to stay in touch with its mission and objectives every day.
“Our mission statement is to build customer confidence, personal relationships and partnerships in an environment of integrity, teamwork and stability. That is our ultimate goal,” he said. “We are an advocate for our customers. Their needs are always first and our relationship with them is primary, but we also must build trusting relationships and partnerships with reputable insurance companies that we represent and work with on a daily basis.”
With a plan of continuing to grow conservatively, he says the SouthGroup will probably expand with more locations and is looking at some options now. “We’re excited about our future,” he said. “We know our employees and our communities are our lifeblood. Enhancing quality of life in our communities is also extremely important and our people typically take an active role in community affairs.”
Active in the Independent Insurance Agents of Mississippi, Tubertini sees independents as a vital part of the insurance industry. “I see the future as very bright for independent agencies,” he said. “Technology allows us to offer choices to our customers in a more efficient manner. The biggest change in the industry has been brought about by larger agencies. Not all that has been driven by the banks. Some has evolved through mergers and acquisitions.”
His personal goal is to use the gifts God has given him to the best of his ability. “My family comes first in my life and being a good husband, father and grandfather is paramount,” he said. “My primary goal in business is to be a good leader for SouthGroup. Leading an organization of leaders is always a challenge, and that’s what we have in SouthGroup. I hope I fit the definition of a servant-leader.”
Tubertini and his wife, Kathy, are the parents of three grown children and five grandchildren (whom they just took to the beach). He also relaxes with his family on their boat at the Barnett Reservoir and with duck hunting, tennis, scuba diving and flying his own airplane. He is an instrument rated multi-engine pilot.
“I’m a people person and enjoy being around people a lot, but I get up at 5:30 to have quiet time to read,” he said. “I alternate what I read between fiction and nonfiction. I just finished reading a business-type book, ‘The World is Flat.’”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.