Our Journey to Success.
In 1929, Albert E. Haas (Al) graduated from the University of Kansas and opened a general insurance agency in Kansas City, Missouri.
One of Al’s best clients was Baker Lockwood Canvas, a large tent and canvas manufacturer. In 1938, they alerted Al to a carnival operator who was having insurance problems and needed assistance before moving to its next location. Al boarded a train and rode all night to Streator, Illinois, to call on his first carnival account. He wrote a “public liability insurance policy” on the grounds and trucks for Sam Solomon of Sol’s Liberty Shows. Sol’s, based in Caruthersville, Missouri, was pleased with the service and coverage, and recommended Al to others in the carnival sector.
While Al was just beginning to realize the need and potential for specialized insurance services for the carnival industry, William Ralph Wilkerson Jr. (Ralph) was attending the University of Missouri. Shortly before the start of World War II and fresh out of college, Ralph affiliated with Al on a trial basis to learn the insurance business and ascertain whether he would be interested in making it a lifetime career. Their partnership was christened, and Haas & Wilkerson Insurance was born in 1939.
Subsequently, Ralph entered military service and was discharged at the end of World War II. In 1946, shortly after Ralph’s return from the war, Al had $27K in Outdoor Showmen’s insurance premiums on the books—20 carnival accounts and a staff of two. The two owners recognized that a concentrated effort on this particular class of business could yield a good future. So, they focused on the development of the carnival insurance business and, by 1952, they had developed a gross premium volume of $243K. Some of the early clients were Sol’s Liberty Shows, Jack Ruback, Reynolds and Wells, L.J. Heth Shows, O.C. Buck Shows, and Art B. Thomas. In 1954, Haas & Wilkerson, Inc., was organized as a legal corporation.
Growth and Expansion
During the early ‘50s, Haas & Wilkerson Insurance frequently competed for business against Rogers Wohlberg, who was very active and well respected in the carnival business. In 1955, the two came together and consolidated their respective activities of writing insurance in the carnival field under the name of Haas Wilkerson Wohlberg.
As time passed, their volume of specialty insurance sold to the carnival industry increased dramatically, as did their reputation for integrity and customer service. Leadership in the agency changed along the way with Paul Fowler, Mike Mowrey, and Dan Allen leading the way. The agency purchased the Schmitz Day and Albert Lenz accounts in the early ‘70s and opened an office in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Second Generation of Leadership
William Ralph Wilkerson III (Bill), the son of Ralph, joined the agency in 1969 upon completion of college at the University of Kansas and fulfilling his military duty. Philip Coulson (Phil), Ralph’s son-in-law, joined in 1971. They learned the business quickly and soon rose to the top of the organization. Bill was elected CEO in 1986, and Philip became president and oversaw the amusements division.
In 1975, Bill obtained the endorsement of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) to develop a fair program. The first general liability policy was written July 1, 1976, for the Dubuque County Fair and, as a result, fairs began to approach Haas & Wilkerson Insurance about their risk management needs. In addition to a thriving local practice, business volume increased dramatically in the amusement parks sector in the ‘80s. The agency continued to expand with the acquisition of the Meyers Agency and the joining of David and Sarie Garrett.
In 1983, a new specialty insurance focus was initiated when Specialty Program Insurors (SPI) began serving the equine (horse) industry by insuring rodeos with an accident and health policy. The agency now services a multitude of rodeo and horsemen clients.
A Third Generation
In 1999, William Ralph Wilkerson IV (Ryan), son of Bill, began his full-time career serving local commercial insurance accounts and learning about the specialty industries the agency serviced. In 2001, Phil and his wife, Jan (Wilkerson) Coulson, decided to take early retirement with Jan selling her interest to her brother, Bill, who became the sole owner of the agency.
In February 2004, Bill passed away unexpectedly after returning home from a convention in Gibsonton, Florida. Ryan ascended to his father’s role of president and CEO and is currently leading the family-owned organization into the next generation.
Underneath Ryan’s tenure are new insurance programs for waterparks and indoor trampoline parks, and investing in people and technology in a way that the agency has not experienced in the past. Ryan has actively developed and grown the local commercial practice alongside Kimberly Wilkerson, Ryan’s sister and business partner, who joined the agency in 2008.
As a private family business, Haas & Wilkerson Insurance is insulated from the need to respond to the short-term demands of investors. It has the knowledge, experience and entrepreneurial spirit of the original founders that has been passed on to the current leaders. Those leaders’ shared identities provide a connectedness to time-tested core values and standards of behavior that have delivered bottom-line success. The agency has a steady leadership and strong identity and vision shared by both employees and clients.
Want to know more about our family business’ legacy? Contact us today.