Lifestyle Personal Lines the December 2020 issue

Bruce Denson Jr., President, Cobbs Allen

When I started, my goal was to do it for five years and then do something else.
By Chris Hann Posted on November 30, 2020
How are you faring with COVID-19?
We’re hanging in there. Business has been unexpectedly good. We’ve very blessed. The family’s good. School is really hard. We have four kids—14, 11, 9 and 3. The oldest one is online; she goes to campus two days a week. The middle two go to school and wear masks all day. The little one goes from nine to one Tuesdays and Fridays. That’s been great. I really feel bad for families with three kids under five.

Favorite quarantine meal: The Emmy Burger (“The main reason I gained a tremendous amount of weight the first part of quarantine.”)

Favorite place to travel on vacation: “Any place with friends, all the better if it’s wine country.”

Favorite place to travel for work: New York

Favorite movie: The Royal Tenenbaums

Favorite books: Lord of the Rings and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Favorite album: Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division

Favorite actor: Daniel Day-Lewis

Favorite director: Terence Malick

Favorite writer: Cormac McCarthy

Favorite musician: Miles Davis

Favorite Birmingham restaurant: Hot and Hot Fish Club

Favorite dish at Hot and Hot Fish Club: Tomato Salad

You told me your favorite historical character is John Adams. Why?
His story, his letters, and his writings all resonate with me. He was a big-picture thinker who loved books. He was very engaging. He had lots of personal friends throughout his whole life. He was an avid diarist and letter writer. He wrote so much that he was somebody you could get to know in history. I read the biography that David McCullough wrote probably once a year.
I’m sure you’re the first insurance executive I’ve interviewed who earned a master’s degree in theological studies. Did you consider becoming a pastor?
That’s originally why I went. I went through two years of seminary and came home one day and told my wife—after a lot of thought, obviously—I’m not cut out for this. She said, “I don’t think so, either. I was hoping you’d figure it out before I’d have to tell you.”
And then what?
My dad [former Cobbs Allen CEO Bruce Denson Sr., who is retiring as chairman on Jan. 1] was trying to get me to work for him since I was in high school. I called him and said, “Hey, I’m leaving the seminary.” He said, “Oh, (expletive), did you (expletive) up?” I said, “No, everything’s fine.” I started the first week in January 2005 as an entry-level producer. I was the lowest-paid producer in the building at the time.
Did you have a long-term plan for your insurance career?
When I started, my goal was to do it for five years and then do something else. Initially, I wasn’t very good at it, but I got better at it and I really enjoyed the work.
What three words best describe your father’s tenure at Cobbs Allen?
Competitive. My dad really pushes everybody around him to do well and to win for our clients. The second thing I’d say is innovative. Dad was pretty early in spotting trends in our space. And I’d say supportive. Dad’s always been encouraging people to think big, to take big risks, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. He’s still going to be supportive.
If you could change one thing about the insurance industry, what would it be?
The diversity of leadership. About 40% of our executive team at CAC is female. It has been an unbelievable advantage in our business, especially when it comes to decision making. Look around our industry—it’s predominantly older white males. More diversity would make our industry and company more competitive with the talent in other industries.
Last question: What gives you your leader’s edge?
Seeing large things largely, which happens to be one of my favorite lines about John Adams—hilariously, with the add-on: “not necessarily correctly.” I think my edge individually is just taking a step back, seeing the broadest perspective I can, and see how I can respond to that. It’s incredibly useful as we try to grow and evolve in a rapidly changing market in the past five years. With that kind of take-a-step-back perspective, we founded CAC.
Chris Hann Associate Editor Read More

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