On December 1, 1972, Henry H. Lowndes, Jr. joined C.T. Lowndes and Company. Today, Henry celebrates 45 years with the agency! I sat down with him earlier this week for a conversation about his long-time career in insurance with C.T. Lowndes…
Sarah Lowndes: First, congrats on 45 years at C.T. Lowndes! That’s quite an achievement!
Henry Lowndes: Thank you!
Sarah: I know some of this story, but talk me through the circumstances surrounding your decision to join the agency/family business?
Henry: Well, after college I went to Naval Officer Candidate School and ultimately spent three years on active duty with the Navy. It came a point where I had to make a decision of making a career out of the Navy or doing something else. I realized that my favorite part of being in the Navy was being at sea. But my job in the Navy wasn’t going to allow for being out at sea very often, so I decided it was time to do something else and I joined the family agency. My father always hoped I would join the business – he didn’t pressure me – he had just always hoped I would join it.
Sarah: Did you consider any other careers aside from the Navy or insurance?
Henry: I had often thought that I would enjoy teaching, but I never pursued it.
Sarah: Do you remember your first day at the Agency?
Henry (laughing): No!
Sarah: What about your first week, month, you know…the early years?
Henry: Well, the agency was located at 12 ½ Exchange Street. And I can tell you who worked for the agency at the time. It was my father [Henry Lowndes, Sr.], Edward [Lowndes], Harrington Bissell who was a partner with my father, Sarah Young, and Vivian Browning. I actually recently spoke with Vivian on her 92nd birthday. I should call her and ask if she remembers my first day!
It was a very small agency; the premium volume was around half a million. I remember typing, on a typewriter, out policies – some were issued for five years – and just learning how to deal with customers. My desk was in Daddy’s office, so I learned by observing him when he was working with his customers.
Sarah: What was your first job with the agency?
Henry: Trying to learn the business. I really didn’t know much about insurance, so I spent much of my time sitting in the office learning from my father and the two ladies in the office. I can remember, maybe around ’74, that we decided to “automate” and I was put in charge of automation of the bookkeeping and billing.
Sarah: What was the first “thing” you learned about insurance?
Henry: Oh boy! Probably how to type up a policy and how to fill out an application!
Sarah: What significant change or milestones are you most proud of being part of or witnessing at the agency?
Henry: A few things come to mind.
We were able to grow from a $500,000 agency to a $60 million agency in terms of premium volume.
I feel that C.T. Lowndes was often a leader in the industry. We weren’t the first agency to have a computer system, we were the second. But we were the first to open “branch offices” with the first branch being Summerville, and Mount Pleasant being the second. Other agencies do that now, so I have to think there is something to that.
We’ve grown from 5 people to roughly 100 people working for the agency.
One the things I am most proud of though, is maintaining and enhancing the reputation that my father established at the agency. My father had the highest level of integrity you could have and he brought that integrity to the agency. It’s something that many of the insurance companies that we work with recognize and it’s a reason they choose to do business with us. Integrity is so important; that’s why it is part of our vision statement today.
Sarah: The insurance industry is continuously changing – how have you managed through the changes over the past 45 years? Are there any significant industry changes that stick out to you?
Henry: Change is always a little bit difficult, but you have to change with the times. You don’t have any other choice. There was a time when everything was agency billed, but at one point the insurance companies came up with the direct bill “scheme.” I remember Daddy fussing about the new scheme in the office! It was a difficult thing, to make that transition. But we realized it was the right way to go; it took us out of the collections business. That was a huge change.
The principles of insurance have changed very little, but technology has dramatically changed the industry. 45 years ago everyone had a typewriter and you don’t see them anywhere now! When I first started in the business, every transaction was done by hand in books. Now we can punch a few buttons and you can get to everything in seconds. I also don’t get to use my slide-rule anymore!
Sarah: 45 years is a long time to work at the same company – what keeps you coming back to the office every day?
Henry: In the simplest terms possible, because every day is something different. You just never know what’s going to happen.
Sarah: You recently stepped down as CEO to make way for the next generation to lead the business. Since you have a different or new perspective of the business, what are you looking forward to seeing from the next generation?
Henry: We have a family business that’s now being run by the 6th generation of family and my hope is that they do such a good job that we’ll see the 7th, 8th, and 9th generations come on board. The younger generation will appreciate what they have. Not many people get to say they work for a business that’s been in operation for 176 years.
Sarah: Looking back, do you have any favorite moments or candid stories about working at the agency?
Henry (laughing): I will have to think about that one!
I do recall meeting with an insured to write his vehicles. We met and I took all of his information and issued the policy. The insured later asked why he didn’t see his truck listed on the policy. I said, “Sir, when we met I asked you if you had any other cars that needed to be included on the policy, and you said no.” The insured then said, “Yes, you asked if I had any other cars. This is a truck!”
It’s a funny story that always reminds me that you have to be awful careful of how and what you ask for in order to get the information you need!
Sarah: What is the best advice you have received during the last 45 years that you would pass on to others at the agency or others in business?
Henry: Honesty and integrity are so important. Follow the rules and don’t cut corners with the insurance companies. Be honest, be upfront, work with integrity, and the rewards will come later. Yes, you will lose business – and we have – because you refuse to bend the rules, but the rewards will come later.
Sarah: Anything else you would like to share?
Henry: Yes! It’s been a great run and I have no regrets. We have great people working for the agency and the agency has a great future. And also…I hope to be around for a few more years!