Ross Henry, of Henry Insurance Service, Inc. on Brookline Avenue in Baton Rouge, immediately gives off the impression of a man dedicated to his craft, however, he carries the look and confidence of not just a salesman, but a fiercely independent mind. Such minds often recall their early days in the industry with clarity rather than estrangement, and Henry is no exception. He offers a distinct suggestion for young agents, explaining: “We’re all in business to make a profit, and if you look at any industry, specialists tend to make a better profit. In insurance, specialization really gives you the platform to showcase your talents. However, in a small agency environment, really any non-national broker, you kind of have to be a generalist – but you can always be a generalist with some specialties. That’s how you find a niche.”
Henry’s tendency towards mental clarity in his communication becomes even more apparent as he explains his background, born and raised in Baton Rouge. As Henry explains it: “the family business [Henry Insurance Service, Inc.] was not my first career choice. After a few rebellious years I found a new energy for completing high school on a strong note and moving forward with college.”
Henry attended LSU and had harbored Wall Street ambitions during his transition from high school, imagining that he might make it to the much-glamorized financier’s life “not right away, but maybe eventually.” Early on at LSU though, Henry encountered an organization called Campus Crusade for Christ and its members became some of the closest, most influential friends of his life, then and now. With assistance from this new group of friends, Henry began to look anew at the family business. “I had pondered how to get to Wall Street as an investment banker,” Henry says, “but I began to realize that chasing wealth would always be an empty, losing proposition. The family business gave me a real chance to re-connect with my Dad. The idea of working together was very appealing,” he says.
By 1996, all the pieces of the puzzle were in place. Henry recalls, “My Dad came to me and said, ‘you always have a chance to come into business with me.’” Henry remembers the offer as a turning point for his relationship with his father, as well as a moment that helped him resolve his own internal difficulties in choosing a vocation. Henry insists that there was “no pressure” and instead his father “graciously extended the opportunity.”
Henry Insurance Service was much smaller then, and Ross Henry’s father was quietly phasing himself out of his leadership role in the organization after a car crash several years before. Of those early days after joining his father, Ross Henry freely admits, “I didn’t know what I was getting into…when I started in the insurance agency business, I did it essentially to be with my Dad. When I got there, having no training, I found out that he didn’t plan on being there much longer.”
The fact of his father’s impending retirement and the looming pressures of leadership made the stakes higher and brought a new set of peculiar challenges – Henry compares the experience to throwing someone off of a pier to teach them to swim, noting: “It probably took me a lot longer to learn some things than other people with training, but I learned it and I never regretted it once. This is an industry where I have really been allowed to serve people.”
Fast forward to today, and Ross Henry is sole owner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the agency that bears his family name. Never one to sit by and delegate, Henry emphasizes the expertise of his team of agents and producers within their respective niches, and explains that his job demands a multivalent skill set. “Owning an agency requires me to know about everything. Not just agency management, but human resources, property and casualty insurance, life and health insurance, the regulatory environment, financial management – everything.” Laughingly, he agrees that he is a “jack of all trades and a master of none” in insurance, and offers the disclaimer that such a state can mean “sometimes swimming upstream, especially because my inherent nature really makes me want to be a master of something.”
On the other side of the insurance equation, Henry also has his suggestions for what a client should look for in their agent. And much like Henry’s favorite cigar producer, Ashton, a robust character is important. “I think people want what independent agents have to offer,” he said. His top three factors: “local, relationship and professionalism.” Regarding the relationship between clients and agents, Henry has the most to say. He explains, “I always think about what I want from my interactions with a business [as a model for my own.] At the bank for example, if I can call and speak to the same person every time then I can create a relationship. This builds confidence that I will be understood and valued as a client and a person. That’s what I want. I don’t want a toll-free number. I don’t want to talk to a different person every time.”
Ultimately, Ross Henry is interested in ensuring that Henry Insurance Service is meeting his own standards as well as the client’s needs and expectations. “The answer everybody gives to explain how they’re different is to say: ‘we give good service.’ Well, we do that, but we also know that good service is about good relationships.” In fact, it seems that Henry’s ties to his work, his clients and his employees extends noticeably to his home state as well. “Louisiana is such an incredibly diverse place. It’s a cultural ecosystem with striations of people just built into the geography.” In terms of Baton Rouge’s piece of that ecosystem, Henry Insurance Service hopes to make sure it is around forever – with the proper coverage.
About Ross Henry:
Ross Henry is the owner, President and CEO of Henry Insurance Service Inc. located at 9624 Brookline Ave. in Baton Rouge, LA. Henry Insurance Service was founded by Melvin Henry over thirty years ago with the goal being “more than just an insurance provider.” Ross Henry is also a member of the 2014-15 Board of Directors for the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Louisiana (IIABL).