Workers' Compensation Producer Spotlight: Craig Penrose 


The insurance business is a team sport. And no one knows that better than Craig Penrose, former quarterback for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets. This month our Producer Spotlight is focused on Craig Penrose and his workers’ compensation producer successes. Penrose is an Arrowhead Workers' Compensation producer and licensed Property & Casualty/Life & Health insurance agent with Armstrong & Associates in Woodland, CA.

"This business is absolutely a team sport," Penrose explained. "We're not in an individual sport like golfing, downhill skiing or championship high diving, where you're your own star. The world of football was good preparation for this, because I'd led teams for years. 

"Here, like in football, you have to know how to work efficiently with others and help everyone perform at their best ability and top speed. It’s about the CSR, the claims person and other team members. I sit down with my CSR for a minimum of an hour a day to make sure everyone is taken care of," he added.

Craig’s many athletic accomplishments began in college when he was named First Team All-American, MVP of the Senior Bowl, Blue-Gray Game and East-West Shrine Game, and 1976 NCAA Passing Leader. He was inducted into the Woodland Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and is also in San Diego’s Hall of Champions in Balboa Park. 


What’s been key to your workers’ compensation producer successes?

"Quarterbacks are a unique breed," Penrose noted. "Because we're on the front lines, we're either the hero or the villain. You learn early on how to deal with success - and you learn how to deal with tough, stressful events." Working in insurance has dealt him plenty of both, he says.


How did your career path go from football to insurance?

After eight years in pro football, Penrose spent 12 years at FedEx, and then "wandered into insurance." Friends who were insurance brokers told him they thought his personality and background would be a good fit for the industry. "They told me: You'll spend the first 10 years learning the industry and working hard, paying your dues. Then in the next 10 years, you'll reap the benefits, creating a residual income that will last you for the rest of your life."

One mentor - "a brash New York guy" - told him that the key to success is to find the people who can help you make money, and then take care of them. "I've followed his advice over the years," he said, which also played a key part in his workers’ compensation producer successes.

Another thing he learned early was to hand-pick his clients. "I don't work with transient clients who go from agent-to-agent. You're simply inheriting someone else's headache." Instead, some of his clients have been with him for 15 years, and they're not claims-heavy. He checks in with them regularly, seeing as many as six in one day. "I don't sit in my office with a pile of work I can't get to. I choose the right clients, and then treat them right, day in and day out."


What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?

Penrose thought of three scenarios: 

  1. After a nice stretch of time where you go claims-free, then all of the sudden three or four hit at once. Now you have a client that’s under duress who needs a check and resolution quickly. 
  2. Or you get beat out by a carrier you already have. 
  3. Or you get that phone call where your client says, Hey it’s been great, but I'm leaving you for a lower price. "Funny thing is, no one cares how much their insurance costs when they have a claim. They ask – is this covered?" he said.


What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?

The renewal process, Penrose said. "You present your proposal, cover all the bases, answer all the questions honestly, create a longer-term forecast/plan, and then there’s the handshake and you begin the process to roll it over for another year. It's a small sense of accomplishment. 


What made you decide to choose Arrowhead and its Work Comp program?

"I've worked with Arrowhead for 15 years. Most of my accounts that I make money on, I have with Arrowhead. I love talking with my underwriter and saying, hey, can we do this or that, and we figure out a way to make it work."

One of Arrowhead’s strengths has always been building relationships - the ability to communicate with Michele Mayer, my marketing rep or Bill Sale, my underwriter. It's a trust factor. They know the business. I can ask questions and then we can move forward. If they said it can bind, it does. If they say it won't work, then I know they've tried their darndest.  Being able to talk person-to-person and arrive at a resolution is hugely important to me. 

"I don’t work with dozens of carriers – I stick with the few where our relationships really work. Nowadays, carriers are pushing online use – hit a button and do a few clicks and searches. That can be good, but I like an environment where we can still talk. And some carriers give you a young newbie as your rep, who says yes, we can write all this, but then their underwriter says no. Arrowhead's reps are knowledgeable. They know their stuff.

"Arrowhead is one of strongest carriers for construction. And that’s my forte. Clients like to see us as part of THEIR team, not just someone who shows up with a policy. I’ve stopped working with those carriers who write this year but disappear from a market next year. It’s more important to keep continuity than get a small price discount. Clients say, Take care of me. They want stability. They want to be left alone to do their work and make their profit.  They don’t want to be managed a whole lot.


What advice would you give to newbies in the field?

Find a mentor through your carrier. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t have learned this industry via policy manuals, books, etc. You also can’t depend on a mentor within a brokerage. They're busy with their clients; they just don't have the time. In order to start building workers’ compensation producer successes, that young broker needs someone on the carrier side to help them: What’s a blanket waiver of subrogation? Can you give me an example so I can understand? What are nuances of writing an electrical contractor? And so on.

Find more clients like the ones you have.  Build on your successes. If you have one successful account, then go find more and more of them. Now you understand their special needs. Their nuances. So if you have a successful plumbing company account, go after more plumbers. 

Never stop learning. I didn't believe it initially, either, but you've got to keep acquiring knowledge. Remember: things are always changing, so stay on top of updates and how they pertain to you and clients.