Insurance company chief thrives on building relationships

04.16.17

Every time Thrive hires a new employee, Taylor Richardson, chief executive of the residential and commercial independent insurance agency, takes his entire team to happy hour the following Friday.

These days, that's an easy thing for Richardson to make happen, as his company, the beginning of the year, moved into Chisholm Creek's Tract 30 development south of the Kilpatrick Turnpike off Western Avenue. Thrive — which Richardson recently re-branded with a new name and logo — leases 6,300 square feet of sunlit third-floor space, just above Fuzzy's Taco Shop.

“I consider my team my No. 1 client,” Richardson said. “It‘s hard to have happy clients if you don‘t have happy employees.”

Likewise, relationship-building comes first with Thrive's clients and referring real estate and financial professionals, Richardson said.

“With insurance, budget is always part of the conversation, but ours is more relationship-focused than traditional agencies,” he said. “At the end of the day, people want relationships; somebody they can trust.”

Among the amenities for Thrive's 17-member staff and visitors are complimentary beverages, including an espresso machine, assorted single-cup coffees, hot chocolate, bottled green tea and sparkling water.

Richardson, 34, sat down on Monday to talk with The Oklahoman about his life and career including the challenges of starting his company five years ago. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Tell us about your roots.

A: My parents — who both have their MBAs — worked more than 30 years in the insurance business. They had an agency with Farmers. Through my elementary school years, we lived in southwest Oklahoma City but moved to Tulsa when my dad took a district manager's position. Later, he went back to working as an agent, mostly for Allstate. My parents now are retired and still live in Tulsa, where my dad — who cooked most of the meals when I was growing up — owns and operates a food truck: “Eat Mike's BBQ.” I have three sisters, one older and two younger, who live in Mustang; Manhattan, Kan.; and Tulsa.

Q: What were the highlights of your school years?

A: I attended junior high and high school in Jenks, where I was a band nerd. I played on the drum line there and also at OU. I started at OU in 2000, which was a great time to be a member of The Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band. We practiced every weekday afternoon, every Saturday and had to show up several hours early on game days. But I got to go on a lot of cool trips. The best was the 2001 Orange Bowl in Miami, when OU won the national championship. It was a 10-day trip, and the drum line had its own bus.

Q: What prompted you to go into the insurance industry?

A: My parents' longtime service in the industry — as well as by accident. Though my sisters had worked at my parents' agency growing up, I never had. Versus earn $5 or $6 an hour working in an office like many of my friends, I opted to mow lawns for $20 or $30 an hour. The only time in my life that I've worked for someone else was at age 16, when I worked as a lifeguard at a neighborhood pool in south Tulsa. That was an issue when I graduated from OU in December 2004. I quickly learned people are reluctant to hire you with no experience working for others. That's when I opened an Allstate agency with only one other employee.

Q: You opened your own independent insurance company, Elite Insurance Associates, in January 2012. How tough was that business to launch?

A: Tough. Carriers had just lost their tails in recent hailstorms and didn't want to write more business. At that time, Hartford Insurance had a call center on Northwest Expressway, and I just showed up there. They wouldn't let me into the building. But a rep finally agreed to meet me at a nearby Panera Bread, and Hartford became my first contract. That following October, my daughter Rachel was born 86 days early and spent 60 days in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit. Thankfully, my in-laws live in Tuttle, so they were a huge help in caring for our son, who was then a toddler.

Q: You chose the new name of your re-branded company. Why did you pick Thrive?

A: Based on an employee audit, the company name fit our integrated work-life culture, both internally and externally. We h