Steve Fallon (BBA '80) began his career in insurance 29 years ago, when, as a newly minted Terry grad, he headed to New York to work for an insurance carrier. In 1986, he began a 20-year stint with Atlanta-based Hamilton Dorsey Alston, where he was in charge of employee benefits. About 14 years into his tenure, the agency's principals decided to sell the firm to Wachovia, a bank that, back then, was growing and still financially healthy. Selling to the bank was not an exit strategy for the principals who stayed on, as did Fallon — for a few years, at least.
"I eventually left Wachovia because I felt the deal had soured over time," says Fallon, who had a distinguished career at Hamilton Dorsey Alston. As senior vice president and employee benefits leader for Georgia, he led the firm's effort to design a full-service employee benefits department. He ended up building the largest and most successful employee benefits practice in the entire organization.
"The insurance brokerage and consulting business is much more of an entrepreneurial business than banking," says Fallon, "and they gradually squelched my entrepreneurial spirit, with so many do's and don'ts that the culture was ruined. I was disheartened and discouraged about where the organization was going, and I felt it was time to leave."
Two years ago, Fallon did something he had thought about for years — he launched his own independent insurance agency. He is now president of the Fallon Benefits Group, an Atlanta startup that focuses on his specialty: employee benefits. And his new firm has been so successful in such a short period of time that Benefits Selling magazine recently honored him as one of their five "Broker of the Year" finalists.
When Fallon's customers learned that he was leaving Wachovia to start his own business, many of them made the decision to follow him.
"It made launching the agency a lot easier," says Fallon. "I knew there would be a ramp-up period for a time and that I wouldn't make a profit the first year. But having loyal clients stepping out with me, including some large public companies, was a relief."
Fallon wasn't alone in striking out on his own. According to findings in a recent biennial Agency Universe study, the number of smaller agencies increased from 12 percent to 17 percent between 2006 and 2008 with independent agencies now numbering 37,500 in the U.S.
"The Fallon Benefits Group has enjoyed dramatic growth during our first two years," says Fallon. "We have built a high performance culture with lots of entrepreneurial spirit . . . that's our competitive advantage. Our business is problem-solving and relationship-building. The biggest challenge I faced in launching my own company was dealing with a contract dispute with my former employer. In the end, I prevailed — and I learned a lot in the process."
Fallon says his days as a risk management and insurance major at Terry prepared him well for the challenges of his 29-year career — and like a lot of RMI majors, his favorite professor was the late E. J. Leverett.
"It has been refreshing and rewarding to get out from under the red tape of a large corporation," says Fallon, whose firm is located in Buckhead. "We enjoy making all of our decisions here locally and being able to adapt to market conditions to serve the unique needs of each client. Of course, our new-found freedom includes a higher level of awareness of every kind of market risk since I have lots of people depending on me!"
A similar story appeared in the February 2009 edition of Independent Agent, which granted reprint rights.