A Successful Journey
Our story begins with Albert E. Haas and the year 1929 when Al graduated from the University of Kansas and opened a general insurance agency in Kansas City, Missouri.
One of Al’s best customers was Baker Lockwood Canvas, a large tent and canvas manufacturer located in Kansas City. In 1938, the people at Baker Lockwood Canvas alerted Al to a carnival operator that was having insurance problems and needed assistance before moving to its next location. Al boarded a train at Kansas City’s Union Station depot and rode all night, arriving in Streator, Illinois, at 6 in the morning to call on his first carnival account. Al 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 Haas to others in the carnival sector.
While Al Haas was just realizing the need and potential for specialized insurance services for the carnival industry, William Ralph Wilkerson Jr. was attending the University of Missouri. Shortly before the start of World War II and fresh out of college, Ralph affiliated with Al Haas on a trial basis to learn the insurance business and ascertain in his own mind whether he would be interested in making it a life’s career. Their partnership was christened Haas & Wilkerson in 1939, and Ralph’s starting salary was $15 a day.
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 Haas had $27,000 in Outdoor Showmen’s insurance premiums on the books — 20 carnival accounts and a staff of two. Haas and Wilkerson recognized that a concentrated effort on this particular class of business could yield a good future. To that end, they focused on the development of the carnival insurance business. By 1952 they had developed a gross premium volume of $243,000. Some of the early customers were Sol’s Liberty Shows, Jack Ruback, Reynolds and Wells, L.J. Heth Shows, O.C. Buck Shows, and Art B. Thomas.
On April 26, 1954, Haas & Wilkerson Inc. was organized as a legal corporation. The original directors were Albert E. Haas, W. Ralph Wilkerson Jr., Neil Pouppirt and Paul Adams.
Growth and Expansion
During the early 1950s, the company frequently competed for business against Rogers Wohlberg. Wohlberg was extremely active and well respected in the carnival business. His volume of business was equal in size to the combined “carnival” business of Haas & Wilkerson Insurance.
On November 30, 1955, Wohlberg and Haas & Wilkerson Insurance consolidated their respective activities in writing insurance in the carnival field. Rogers Wohlberg focused on carnival accounts in the St. Louis area. Business was conducted 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 company changed along the way with Paul Fowler joining in 1956, Mike Mowrey in the 1960s and Dan Allen in the 1970s. The company purchased the Schmitz Day and Albert Lenz accounts in the early 1970s and opened an office in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Second Generation of Leadership
William Ralph Wilkerson III, son of Ralph, joined the company in 1969 upon completion of college at the University of Kansas and fulfilling his military duty. Philip Coulson, 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, while Philip became president and oversaw the amusements division. Together they led the company through a tumultuous period of time in our country and the specialty insurance sector. Haas & Wilkerson Insurance successfully weathered the times and experienced tremendous growth, particularly in the insuring of amusements, fairs and festivals.
In 1975 Bill Wilkerson 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. As a result, fairs began to approach Haas & Wilkerson Insurance about their risk management needs. Business volume increased dramatically in the amusement parks sector in the 1980s and the company continued to expand with the acquisition of the Meyers Agency in 1985. At this time, David and Sarie Garrett joined the agency and brought with them a vast knowledge of the amusement industry.
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 company now services a multitude of rodeo and horsemen clients.
A Third Generation
In 1999 William Ralph Wilkerson IV, son of Bill, began his full-time career servicing commercial insurance accounts and learning about the specialty industries served by Haas & Wilkerson Insurance. In 2001 Philip Coulson and his wife, Jan (Wilkerson) Coulson, decided to take early retirement with Jan selling her interest in Haas & Wilkerson Insurance to her brother Bill, who became the sole owner of the company. Bill encouraged Ryan to become more heavily involved in the amusement and fair industries.
In February 2004 Bill Wilkerson passed away unexpectedly after returning home from a convention in Gibsonton, Florida. Ryan Wilkerson ascended to his father’s role of president and CEO and is currently leading the family-owned organization into the next generation by starting new insurance programs for waterparks and indoor trampoline parks and investing in people and technology in a way that Haas & Wilkerson Insurance has not experienced in the past. Kimberly Wilkerson, Ryan’s sister and business partner, joined the company 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 company has a steady leadership and a strong identity and vision shared by employees and customers.