Randy Talbot had put so much into Safeco Life that he wasn’t
about to let its 1,200 employees fall prey to an outside company.
Talbot had been president at the Talbot Financial Agency
when, in 1998, he was asked to head up Safeco Life. While at Talbot, he served
as a broker of Safeco Life products and was an adviser to the then-CEO of
Safeco. Knowing the company so well, Talbot guided Safeco Life to new heights.
Although the deflated economy took its toll on Safeco as a whole, its
subsidiary, Safeco Life, continued to make money. But the new executive team
decided to focus on the property and casualty businesses, and put Safeco Life
up for sale in 2003. Potential buyers began eyeing Safeco Life, ready to strip
it for parts. Unwilling to give in, Talbot mounted a campaign to save Safeco
Life. Thing was, he had just 45 days to do it.
After an initial struggle, Talbot found a small group of
investors, including Berkshire Hathaway, to provide the needed funds to
purchase Safeco Life. On Aug. 4, 2004, the company became independent, was
renamed Symetra Financial and moved to Bellevue.
As Symetra’s president and CEO, Talbot, who left Symetra in
June, worked to simplify the firm’s offerings and the language of the insurance
it provided. He sought an initial public offering in 2007 but a nasty economic
climate put the kibosh on that. Still a believer in fighting for a good cause,
Talbot sought an IPO again and, on Jan. 21 of this year, succeeded, raising
$282 million. As he rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange,
Talbot witnessed Symetra’s IPO become the second largest in the U.S. so far in
CEO, co-founder, Gravity Payments (Seattle)
Dan Price felt the little guys were getting ripped off and
wanted to do something about it. Price, CEO and co-founder of Gravity Payments,
noticed how credit card processors took advantage of smaller companies with hidden
fees and substandard service.
From this market, Price was able to build a strong customer
base, offering small-business owners credit card processing services at about
half the cost of competitors, ending hidden fees and maintaining total
transparency in pricing and business practices. That policy, an approach he
refused to alter when advised to do so by industry experts and financial
analysts, has served him well even during economic uncertainty. Gravity
Payments was hit hard by the recession, but instead of laying off staff, Price
took a pay cut, lived off his savings and started cold-calling restaurants and
other businesses open between 6 and 10 p.m. The honest work has kept an honest
company in business today.
President, CEO, Physicians Insurance: A Mutual Company
Washington state’s insurance commissioner, Mike Kreidler,
was about to pull the plug on Physicians Insurance after he discovered that the
company’s filings that year were unacceptable. The fines would be huge and
Enter Mary-Lou Misrahy, who joined the company the following
year. She hired new executives to manage a turnaround plan and created a
compliance team for oversight. She mobilized staff to bring the firm into
accord with state guidelines and built a new trusting and open relationship
Since then, the firm has generated an underwriting profit
annually while premiums for most doctors have decreased by 24 percent.
Misrahy also installed an incentive pay program to inspire
staff to take ownership of their work. And she increased the marketability of
Physicians Insurance by putting more specific and convenient information on the