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SouthGroup builds on legacy as state's largest private insurance agency

The folks at SouthGroup Insurance Services are fond of a saying that sums up the company’s complex beginnings.

“We like to say we’re an 11-year-old company with a 115-year history,” said Ronnie Tubertini, president and CEO.

Tubertini was one of the founders of SouthGroup, which was formed Jan. 1, 2002, when 12 “successful, old and respected agencies” from across Mississippi merged.

Tubertini recalled that the headline of a story in a national trade publication likened the multi-agency merger to herding cats.

The company leaders faced the challenge of melding all those agencies and their individual cultures into one new culture.

southgroup_logo_webTubertini said a Supreme Court ruling that allowed bank holding companies to get into the insurance and stock brokerage businesses prompted the idea of a large merger. Insurance agency executives felt the new rules would have a significant impact on the marketplace and he said, “That started us on the path to a merger.”

Starting in the summer of 2000, officials from two or three agencies spent about 18 months meeting and designing the new agency. Others followed.

“We felt that we should do something as local agents to put ourselves in a position to be as competitive as the larger agencies being formed by banks or acquired by brokers,” Tubertini said. “We had a duty to our customers to be able to provide the same or better services and the same or better pricing than our customers would be able to get from larger agencies that were forming.”

The agencies that merged into SouthGroup range in age from 50 years old to several that are more than 100 years old.

“So where we had the traditional local insurance agency flavor we were able to add strength of size and resources and that’s what we have been adding all along,” he said. The newest agency joined SouthGroup on Jan. 1.

Today, Tubertini said, SouthGroup is the largest privately owned agency in Mississippi with about 165 employees in 22 locations from the Coast to Southaven. The company writes more than $100 million a year in premiums. A 10-member board of directors gives oversight to its operations.

“It’s what we wanted to do and hope that we’ve done: be able to blend that local hometown service with the resources of a large insurance agency.”

SouthGroup’s product line includes homeowners, auto and commercial insurance, financial planning and life insurance, workers compensation, group and employee sponsored health care plans.

Tubertini said in the decade-plus since SouthGroup was formed, the industry has undergone more changes. “We don’t just sell insurance policies like we did,” he said. “Today an agency like ours is involved with risk management in helping our clients identify the risks they’re exposed to and evaluating those risks and providing solutions for those risks.”

SouthGroup is open to more expansion, Tubertini said, but any potential partner has to be compatible with the company’s core values and they way it operates.

“While we are not actively pursuing any acquisitions today, we are always interested in a potential acquisition that will fit our philosophy,” he said.

Tubertini said SouthGroup has passed on some merger offers. “We have had numerous opportunities that we have had to decline in Mississippi and some surrounding states because we just didn’t feel it was a cultural fit,” he said. “The values of integrity and excellence are just part of our being today. Sometimes it is hard to find businesses that are going to fit that same mold.”

Still, Tubertini said, SouthGroup continues to evolve.

“When I started in the business in 1974, it was much simpler. I called it the ‘easy era.’ We sold insurance policies to fill the needs of people that needed them and they were fairly simple. There wasn’t nearly as many types of policies or contracts as there are today.

“So it has continues to evolve and we have with it,” he said.

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