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Honoring a True Industry Pioneer

Herbert W. Kaufman (1925 – 2001)

Friend, father, grandfather, husband, industry innovator, mentor, active in his community…Herbert W. Kaufman was all these things and more. Today, he serves as the inspiration for all Burns & Wilcox employees to continue the legacy he so graciously left behind.
The Lasting Legacy of Founder Herbert W. Kaufman

Building North America’s largest private specialty insurance firm was no small feat. The empire that is now H.W. Kaufman Group started with the vision of one man—Founder, Herbert W. Kaufman. Through his leadership, Herb was able to grow the company from virtually nothing to the multi-billion dollar organization that it is now, with over 60 offices around the globe and more than 2,000 employees – while sticking to his core values. Now, his son Alan Jay Kaufman stands at the helm of the organization, and while Herb is no longer with us, his vision and dream live on within the legacy he built.

A pioneer in wholesale insurance

Blazing a trail in specialty insurance took determination, foresight, and years of hard work. Herb began his career working at his father’s plumbing and real estate development businesses, handling all financial aspects. This early role included maintaining insurance, and it was this aspect of the family business that spurred his imagination. Soon, Herb was looking for an opportunity in the industry.

In the 1960s. Herb first focused on retail insurance, but he quickly saw the potential of wholesale. After success in both areas, he recognized that the retail and wholesale businesses were competing against each other. “Although retail was more profitable in the short term, my father had a long-term vision to grow wholesale and devoted 100 percent of the company to that direction,” said Alan Jay Kaufman, Chairman, President, and CEO, H.W. Kaufman Group and Burns & Wilcox. “While this was not popular or familiar at the time, he made a bold prediction that paid off. He was truly ahead of his time.”

In 1969, innovative thinking led Herb to establish Burns & Wilcox. His vision for the new company was to build a better wholesale platform that would partner with insurance entities to provide unrivaled offerings to brokers and agents. He had an ambition that reached far beyond his Michigan roots, recognizing the national and international opportunities that the wholesale world possessed.

Building a culture of continual growth

Herb’s entrepreneurial spirit and love for the business gave him a drive that was unmatched by his competitors. Seeing a clear path ahead, he left no stone unturned, making sure that Burns & Wilcox was represented at every industry event. Herb understood better than anyone that this was a business built on relationships. He was constantly on his phone, building relationships and offering help to standard carriers. Herb even maintained friendships with his competitors.

“When I met him, we were competitors and sat on an advisory board together. When my partner wanted to sell the business, I approached Herb after an event,” said Gary Batten, Principal Advisor, Burns & Wilcox. “The same night I first approached him on buying the business, we shook hands and the business became his.”

Herb found a way to market the company from every angle, and saw opportunity in areas that many businesses simply wrote off, such as working with every size of business – no matter if they employed one person or 1,000. Herb’s savvy business mentality, charisma, and drive allowed him to establish long-lasting wholesale relationships, the ground floor for his success, and a foundational element of the organization’s livelihood.

Focused on sustaining consistent double-digit growth, Herb completed many strategic acquisitions, most notably R.B. Jones, Royal Premium, and Minuteman Adjusters. In 1990, he took the company public on the American Stock Exchange, continuing the positive trajectory.

Following in his father’s footsteps, second-generation leader, Alan Jay Kaufman, acquired the company and took it private in 1996. Herb was thrilled that his legacy would be maintained through his son’s strategic leadership. At the same time, he began weaving a path for the third generation to turn into forthcoming leaders at Burns & Wilcox. Now, his grandson, Daniel J. Kaufman, is a Senior Vice President and Managing Director with Burns & Wilcox in Chicago, and his granddaughter, Jodie Kaufman Davis, is a Corporate Vice President and Managing Director with Burns & Wilcox Canada in Toronto.

“Often, when I introduce myself to people that I have never met before – from London to California – they tell me of fond memories with him,” said Jodie Kaufman Davis. “My grandfather made a lasting impression on every person he met.”

The man behind the mogul

As a businessman, Herb was a visionary leader with a sense of loyalty that is hard to find today. He built the company on the strength of relationships that continued to deepen over time. Deals that were struck over a handshake have resulted in long-term and mutually profitable partnerships that are still in place to this day. He was a man of his word, and that was never forgotten among friends, colleagues, and clients.

Relationships, philanthropy, and tradition are key tenets of Burns & Wilcox that will remain forever unchanged. Herb believed in sharing his success and was heavily involved in the community, focusing much of his time on education, local charitable initiatives, and serving as the Honorary Consul General of Panama.

“Mr. K” or “Herb” as his friends called him – was a strong judge of character, and that allowed him to hire the right people expeditiously. Inside the organization, employees felt valued and taken care of. Every employee could expect a call from Mr. K on their birthday, he considered this among his most important daily tasks, according to his executive assistant Marilyn Heckel. It was just part of his infectious personality that made everyone want to work with him.

“Herb made you feel like the most important person in the room,” said Alan Barry, Board Member, H.W. Kaufman Group, and former President and COO, Masco Corporation. “As soon as you said ‘Hello’ to Herb you were his friend.” Relationships were meaningful to him, and it was unmistakable.

A legacy of excellence

On August 13, 2001, Herb passed away – working until his final days. Since then, the prestigious H.W. Kaufman Memorial Award – the highest award given internally – is presented at the annual Kaufman Leadership Meeting to one person who made the greatest impact on the company and the insurance industry.

In addition, the pin ceremony he created honors those who serve the company, and is a point of pride for employees to wear on their lapels, according to Steven Kaufman, son of Herb and Director of Marketing for H.W. Kaufman Group.

H.W. Kaufman Group has grown steadily for nearly 50 years to more than $2 billion in annual revenue through Herb’s direction and Alan’s vision. “If you don’t take risks, you won’t get rewards,” Herb often said. This growth is the embodiment of his words, and was possible because of truly innovative thinking for an industry based on calculating risk.

“My grandfather was a visionary, a friend, and a leader,” said Daniel J. Kaufman. “He pioneered our future, and we are proud to continue our work honoring his legacy.”