Setting the right tone - Holmes Murphy 2022 - Magazine | Monocle

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Dan Keough, chairman and CEO
A succession of forward-looking leaders have guided Holmes Murphy through the last century. The latest is Dan Keough, who built several offshoot businesses within the company before taking the reins in 2012. “I have a simple model for our company culture: love what you do and who you do it with.”


Dan Keough, Holmes Murphy chairman and CEO

Holmes Murphy was founded in 1932. What are the ingredients of its success?
We have always had tremendous leaders who really cared and, from the start, Holmes Murphy agreed never to bring family members into the business. As a result, the company always has to attract the brightest people to work here.

Every generation of leaders has to create opportunities for the next. That is never without risk or responsibility but we have tripled the business in the past 10 years.

You have also remained employee-owned throughout.
Yes, we have got more than 200 owners working in the company today, about 20 per cent are shareholders, and Holmes Murphy has close to $275m (€282m) in revenues. Being employee-owned gives us the freedom to serve our clients’ best interests and not have to report to somebody else. 

How do you build a company that clients trust?
It’s about listening to what’s important to the client – their culture, beliefs and experiences, which all drive their decisions about risk management and tell us as brokers how we can best advise on what they need. That’s true for any business selling a product or a service: having a depth of understanding is the best way to influence how a client ultimately thinks.

You’ve started businesses within Holmes Murphy that have grown and, in some cases, been sold on. How do you spot opportunities such as these?
I would say it’s firstly about seeing opportunity in people. I was blessed with good mentors who invested in me and I look for the same potential in others. 

Secondly, we have an entrepreneurial bent. Listening to our clients creates opportunities and innovations all the time. We’ve seen that in the clinical space and healthcare, for instance, and in how we’ve helped clients to better connect with technology. We have people who want to accomplish great things.

How do you build a strong company culture?
I have a simple model: love what you do and who you do it with. As a leader, you have to inspire those around you to be their best at what they do and you have to connect with your team.

What role does technology play in the future? Can you foresee the industry becoming ever more automated?

Technology can enable brokers to better serve their clients, who simply want to pay less on their premiums and be safer. But you will always need people on the ground to explain to a client what an algorithm means, and why it matters to their business. 

I see the direction in which financial services are going – there are those who want it all to go totally robotic – but our clients have complex risks that require multi-dimensional thinking. You need great brokers to do that.

Holmes Murphy has offices across the US. Is the plan to go global?

Right now, we are open-minded to anybody around the world who has a great idea for reaching a US-based market and entering the insurance value chain. An example of one solution we uncovered through our work in BrokerTech Ventures is a firm based in Estonia that studies the movements of bridges and commercial infrastructure through satellite imagery, cataloguing the effects of stress. That has opened up an opportunity of coverage for municipalities and contractors, and advanced the industry’s insights on risk. Small differences over time create big changes.


John Hurley, president, brokerage services.


Meetings in the HQ.


Jay Reavis, senior VP and MD, brokerage services. 

“Safeguarding our culture takes effort”

Holmes Murphy’s executive committee reveals how it has maintained a strong company culture.

Tom Stewart, president, PLUS
“Safeguarding culture is easier when things are static but in a growing organisation it takes energy, effort and passion.”

Charisse Vaughn, senior VP, employee benefits
“It comes down to us as leaders to create opportunities for the next generation. That dynamic, I think, really carries forward our culture.”

John Hurley II, president, brokerage services 
“Our company believes in top performers, and, as you prove yourself, it opens other opportunities for you to grow.”

Jay Reavis, senior VP and MD, brokerage services
“The opportunity to own a stake in the business means we control our destiny.”


 The company’s HQ in Waukee, Iowa.

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