Platt Insurance Agency Grows with Acquisitions

HOWLAND, Ohio – Ellie Platt had no intention of leaving the nonprofit world when a Nationwide Insurance representative approached her about joining the company. But today she is president and principal agent of Platt Insurance & Financial, which she started in 2011 with the acquisition of two Trumbull County agencies. She has since absorbed other agencies, a process continuing this spring.

“The insurance industry is rapidly changing,” Platt said during an interview at the recently acquired Howland office. “To survive, we need to continue to grow. And it’s very difficult to grow one policy at a time.”

Platt holds a degree in organizational communications and an MBA. She began her career at Meridian HealthCare in Youngstown where she was responsible for grant writing and fund development. “I loved the job, loved the organization, never thought I would leave it,” she recalls.

After 10 years at Meridian, where she was vice president of development, Nationwide approached Platt based on a recommendation. Several company agents were retiring, and the company was looking for individuals involved in their communities to take over the agencies.

“Nationwide looks to partner with agents who share our core values and our focus on our members. This shows up in a number of ways, including community involvement,” explains David Gilligan, Nationwide communications consultant.

Platt met with a Nationwide representative, and after 30 minutes “caught that own-your-own-business bug,” she says.

“I always worked hard and I had this vision, ‘Wow, I could do this for myself,’ ” she says.

She earned her insurance license, left Meridian and took over two agencies in Kinsman and Cortland in 2011.

When Platt took over the agencies, she had one employee, associate agent Kate Guesman, who intended to leave the agency with the retirement of the agent she had worked with 15 years. Platt convinced her to give her a month to see if they got along and if she agreed with her vision for the agency.

“She’s still with me,” she reports.

Guesman says she liked how Platt interacted with clients. She describes her employer as both likable and knowledgeable. “She didn’t have an insurance background initially but she was willing to learn, and it impressed me,” she says.

Guesman is “invaluable,” Platt says. “I learned so much from her. I really couldn’t have done it without her these last seven years.”

The agency offers policies for home, auto and life, businesses and farms, and provides financial advice and investment services, Platt says. Initially, it offered health insurance and Medicare products but no longer does because of changes related to the Affordable Care Act. Instead refers that business to agencies that specialize in those areas.

Platt Insurance handles about 5,000 policies, about 80% of which are auto, home and life, she reports. That represents a shift from when Platt started, when 95% of the business was personal lines and the remaining 5% commercial.

“The shift to commercial was intentional,” she says. Her focus has been on clients she sees as a “natural market” for her – nonprofits, churches and other small-business owners.

Working in insurance, she says, is similar to her work in the nonprofit world. Meeting and getting to know clients, being able to help them protect their families, is “really fulfilling,” she says. Also, people often forget what they’re paying for when they don’t need to use it.

Since starting her agency, Platt took over three more firms in Mahoning County, whose clients she serves from the downtown Youngstown office she opened a few years ago. She recently purchased the Howland agency owned by Nick DeJacimo and has additional acquisitions lined up that she says will close this spring.

The insurance field is competitive – there are more television ads for insurance than for beer on pro football games, according to DeJacimo – but he is confident Platt will care about his clients as much as he did. “I know that she’ll have the same rapport with her clients as I did. That was one of the major things that was a great fit,” he says.

“You could see that it’s not just about making sales. You can see that she absolutely cares about her clients,” DeJacimo says.

Once the acquisitions are complete and the offices consolidated, Platt Insurance will operate offices in Youngstown, Howland and Poland.

The agency’s growth comes when Nationwide is shifting to an independent model, which allows its agents to sell products other than those offered by Nationwide. The change started about two years ago and Platt Insurance already is working with other carriers, Platt reports.

“We’re in the process of identifying natural markets for our team, such as nonprofits, food service and manufacturing, and are open to partnering with carriers that offer superior coverage for these types of risks,” she says.

The acquisitions will position the agency to partner with additional carriers, she says.

“We believe in Nationwide as a company and they will remain a key partner for us. But this change gives our agency the flexibility to pursue new markets that we may not have had access to before, specifically as it pertains to business insurance,” she says. “It will also allow us to offer our clients more choices based on their individual needs.”

Community involvement remains a passion that Platt says took hold at an early age. Her father, who at one point owned a cleaning company, became a minister for a church in Boardman. That led to the family spending much time volunteering in inner-city Youngstown, she recalls.

Platt is involved with several community organizations, including the Downtown Youngstown Partnership, a division of Youngstown CityScape she co-founded. She also serves on the board of directors for Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology and the Rotary Club of Youngstown, whose membership committee she chairs.

Platt co-founded the Downtown Youngstown Partnership with Sarra Mohn, president of Jet Creative in Boardman, and Phil Kidd from CityScape. She had established an office in downtown Youngstown and wanted to connect with other business owners, but also felt there wasn’t a voice for the downtown business community, she says.

“We’re natural connectors. We want to connect people,” Platt says. “That’s exciting for me.”

Platt and Mohn, introduced in 2014 by a mutual friend, have an easy rapport, so much that the two women are often mistaken for sisters.

“We get that a lot,” Mohn says.

Where Mohn sees her strengths as establishing the structure of something new and setting guidelines for implementation, Platt’s value is the ability to get the work done and bring the right person to the table to accomplish goals. “It sounds simple, but it’s something many people don’t have the skill set to do as well as her,” Mohn says.

As she established herself in business, Platt recalls, one of the organizations she wanted to get involved with was Oh Wow, which “has done so many wonderful things for downtown Youngstown by bringing families there,” she says. She admired the president and executive director of the center, Suzanne Barbati, who she met while working for Meridian.

“I viewed her as a mentor,” Platt says.

Barbati says she was “thrilled” to learn that Platt was interested in getting involved with Oh Wow. As a member of the museum board, Platt chairs the annual Science of Brewing fundraiser.

The event brings people who might not otherwise come to Oh Wow there to learn “what a resource it is in the community,” Platt says.

“She has more energy than anybody I’ve ever met,” Barbati says. She brings that energy wherever she goes, she says, and “makes people want to be with her and around her and work with her.”

Barbati praises Platt for her efforts to be a good mentor to young people.

“She is a force to be reckoned with,” she says.

Pictured: Ellie Platt recently purchased the Howland agency owned by Nick DeJacimo and has additional acquisitions lined up.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.