SA Based, Global Reach:
In 1975, in a spare room of his home, John George founded an insurance broking business, having decided to leave the direct general insurance industry behind.
“Brokers were becoming the flavour of the month, so I decided to start a business, initially called JR George Insurance Services,” John said.
As the client base grew, so did the team. Insurance specialist Brian McInerney joined John in 1979 and the following year, they were joined by Allan Amber. In 1982, a partnership between the trio was formed and MGA Insurance Brokers was born.
The business grew steadily, first within South Australia, then nationally. MGA now has 40 branches across Australia, and is among the top three privately controlled insurance brokerages in Australia. Recently, an MGA Insurance branch in Phnom Penh, Cambodia was opened. The local MGI member in Cambodia acts as auditors for this branch.
“We have more than 67,000 clients with an annual gross written premium of around $300 million,” John said.
While the George, McInerney and Amber families continue to own 51% of the business, 49% is now owned by AUB Group Limited, a publicly listed company with more than $3 billion in premiums generated by its members and subsidiaries.
As MGA was spreading its insurance wings, the group purchased J S Whittle and Co, a strata management business in 1985. MGI Adelaide also provides financial management services to this section of the MGA Whittles group.
Whittles Body Corporate Management, as it’s now known, has grown to be number three in the profession in Australia with 85,000 units under management.
This year the MGA Whittles group was ranked number 25 in the Top 100 SA Companies list published by InDaily, with impressive annual revenue of $106 million. “We have averaged 10% year on year growth for several years,” John said.
The MGA and Whittles Group is managed by central group services in Adelaide. The businesses share computer resources, including a state-of-the-art network operations centre, as well as back office resources. “The two businesses complement each other extremely well,” John said.
Des Caulfield and the team at MGI Adelaide have assisted John with all business transitions and acquisitions. “We’ve had some significant restructures over the years and MGI have advised and assisted us in implementing the changes, for the better of the company,” John said.
“I believe MGI are major contributors to the success of the business. Des has grown with the company over the years – he knows every corner of the business.”
A past challenge for MGA Insurance was an attempted takeover by a corporate partner in the late 1980s. “In time, we dismissed that takeover attempt, and the three South Australian shareholders – Brian McInerney, Allan Amber and myself – took control again,” John said.
“It was a big learning curve for me. I’d probably become a bit arrogant, and I was far too trusting. It was a wakeup call. Again, we were ably assisted by Des in the strategies we needed to employ to get that result. We’ve always had an open and honest relationship with Des and his team at MGI.”
For Des, working with John and his entrepreneurial team is a career highlight. “John’s not someone to let the grass grow under his feet. He always has ideas on ways to grow the business,” Des said. “We assist with how to go about an acquisition, or set up a better tax structure, or the best approach for a restructure – it’s such a large group, there is always something happening. It challenges us, and keeps us on our toes.”
While John, Brian and Allan continued to be involved with the MGA and Whittles Group to varying degrees, the next generation has moved into management roles, including John’s son Paul who is Managing Director of MGA Insurance and Allan’s sons, Matthew, who is Managing Director of Whittles and Heath, who is Managing Director of the Millennium Underwriting branch of MGA. And Brian’s son is the group’s marketing director. “That means we’re also focusing on succession planning for the group, which is a constant in a family business,” Des said.