When Kurt Watson was approached about joining IMA in 1996, he was wrapping up a 22-year career as a senior executive at the former Bank IV.
“The founders of IMA came to me and said, ‘What do you know about the insurance business?’ ” to which Watson said he replied, “Well, I’ve got some.”
“The good news is I wasn’t hired for my insurance acumen.”
What Watson was hired for was to help the commercial insurance and employee benefits broker grow — and grow it did, from $25 million in annual revenue when he started to $150 million in revenue today.
Watson, IMA Financial’s president and chief operating officer, announced Friday he will retire on June 1.
Watson, 64, said he was tapped for the IMA job from his experience at Bank IV and its holding company, Fourth Financial Corp., where he was executive vice president.
Bank IV was the largest bank in the state at that time, with more than $8 billion in assets.
“To their credit they kind of realized to grow the company they would have to have a different structure and resources,” he said. “So (IMA chairman and CEO) Rob Cohen and I struck out in 1996 to create something special.
“IMA is not done yet, and I guess that’s the thing I most proud of. This company is bigger than any one person and we’ve got phenomenal people that are going to take this to even greater heights.”
Watson said IMA is one of the 10 largest privately held insurance brokerages in the U.S. It has 700 employees across six offices in Austin, Dallas, Denver, Overland Park, Topeka and Wichita. In Wichita, it employs 200 people.
“Kurt helped propel IMA from a three-location office (Denver, Topeka and Wichita) into one of the largest companies of its kind,” Cohen said in a news release. “All of us at IMA owe an immense amount of gratitude for Kurt’s contributions.”
Following Watson’s retirement, his duties and responsibilities will be spread across IMA’s management team, including chief administrative officer SueAnn Schultz and chief financial officer Luke Proctor.
“They’re representative of the kind of talent we’ve been able to attract to the company,” Watson said.
Watson said in retirement he will continue to be active at his alma mater, the University of Kansas, where as chairman emeritus and trustee of the Kansas University Endowment Association he recently led a $1.7 billion capital campaign for the school.
“That’s been a highlight of my career,” Watson said of involvement with KU.
As for the the rest of his retirement, “There are maybe other ways I can help people,” he said.
He admits it will be an adjustment not getting up early every day and putting on a suit to go to work, but “I’m a peace with that. And I’m really excited about it.”