Like Father... Like Son

When James Purcell purchased a funeral home in 1967 the last thing he expected was to trigger a career as an insurance broker that would span into the next generation of his family.  “I got my funeral director’s license in 1964 and bought the funeral home three years later. The man I bought it from also had a small insurance brokerage and it was a verbal agreement that when he wanted to give that up, I would take over that as well. So, I took over the brokerage in January 1973,” James says. And with that handshake, James Purcell Insurance Broker Ltd. was formed.

James’ businesses are in the heart of Spencerville, a tiny town roughly 80 kilometres south west of Ottawa. While running the local funeral home and brokerage kept him busy, he still found time to serve with the local fire department.  One year after he purchased the funeral home, James joined the department, and between 1987 and 2008 served as its fire chief. His commitment was so much appreciated, that when he retired as fire chief in 2008, the township named him fire chief emeritus. He’s still active in the department to this day. 

It would seem the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Brian Purcell shares his father’s entrepreneurial and community focused spirit. Brian admits he had an affinity for numbers and a career in business piqued his interest since he was a youngster. When he graduated from university in 1991, he took a job with London Life. Five years later he obtained his broker license and started working alongside James in the family business.

“We do it to help the community. Every community needs volunteers.”

“We do it to help the community. Every community needs volunteers.”

Brian helps out with the funeral home and is also serving with the fire department, currently as a captain.  

But it doesn’t stop there. Both Brian and James are active volunteers in the community too. In 1991 James launched the Spencerville chapter of the Optimist Club, an international organization focused on helping and supporting youth.  Both James and Brian are past presidents of the chapter, and Brian remains as a charter member. Both men help out at St. Andrew’s Knox Presbyterian Church, and Brian coaches hockey in the winter.  

Community involvement definitely helps to boost the profile of the brokerage, Brian says, but simply joining organizations is not enough. “You get some people that join clubs just to say that they’re in the club. But that’s not enough,” Brian says.  “You can’t just be a name on a roster. You actually have to be involved and work at the projects that the clubs have on the go.”

It’s a win-win situation, James adds.  “We do it to help the community. Every community needs volunteers.”  

But, both admit, juggling community involvement and running a family-owned business carries its challenges too.  

“We work a lot of long hours and we work a lot of nights,” chuckles James.

Brokerage principals need to encourage staff to be involved, and accept that sometimes that involvement will bleed into the nine-to-five hours, adds Brian.  Working in a  smaller, rural centre and allowing staff to be active members of the community will also create an advantage when it comes to communicating with the firm’s clientele.

“We know a lot of our clients personally,” Brian says. “I know the majority of brokers just mail out the renewals with no contact, but we have a lot of personal contact. Sometimes we actually hand deliver the policy. By actually seeing the client, it’s easier to have the conversation with them about how things like the auto reform will affect them.”

Brian also stresses the importance of being active in the broker community. A past-chair of the Young Broker Council committee, past IBAO board member, he is currently  serving his third year as local Affiliate President, as a member of IBAO ’s Political Action committee and a term as chair of the Registered Insurance Brokers of Ontario’s Certifications and Qualifications committee.

“The biggest gain from my involvement has been a much deeper knowledge of the industry,” he says.  James adds that industry education has always been a focus of the brokerage for all staff members in order to “keep on top of things,” regardless of association involvement.

“A lot of people will get their eight hours [of education] and be satisfied the rest of the time they’re in the office. At our office, we have way more hours than is required, that’s how we stay on top of things. You don’t quit. You get your required hours and you keep on going,” James says.

“You can always learn something.”

Article By:  Vanessa Mariga, The Ontario Broker, June 2010