Business Q & A

A conversation with Jimmy Newhouse

Soon Jimmy Newhouse will be looking for more balance in his duties at M&M Insurance Associates, an independent insurance agency.

That's because his father and founder of the 44-year-old agency, Jim Newhouse, has told him he plans to retire soon.

Finding the balance will become more crucial because besides helping run the company as president, the younger Newhouse said he is also the largest producer — or salesman — in the 35-employee agency.

And he's the father of three girls, a 21-year-old Wichita State senior and twin 14-year-olds.

"I worry more about what in life I'm missing with them while I'm trying to run this corporation with 35 employees who depend on me for a paycheck," said Newhouse, 54.

The self-professed "worrywart" is also at a place in his life that more than two decades ago he didn't expect to be.

Newhouse was expecting to make a career in the aviation industry.

But the counsel of an influential family member proved to be the impetus for drawing him to the family business, and to a line of work for which he said he has developed a strong passion.

Was it a given that you'd follow in the family business?

"No. I loved aviation. I went to Wichita State and met a manager at Cessna. He talked me into coming to the plant, and I was there as an expediter. I got to deliver to the whole Pawnee operation. I chased parts through the whole process... and got to fly. It was a passion."

So what convinced you to join your father's company?

" (My father) lured me with my grandfather's help. He (Newhouse's grandfather) was our bookkeeper. And he said, 'You will be well served to go into your father's business.' My grandfather helped raise me because I lost my mother when I was 8. I listened to him and came in."

But you said it wasn't easy, right?

"My father said, 'I'm not going to give you a way to make a living. You're going do it on your own. You will not be handed anything. If you can't do it you better go to Boeing.' So I worked hard and developed my own style and then I saw the future of commercial insurance. What I really wanted to do was deal with business owners. So I developed a commercial department and started making sales and adding staff and now our agency is 65 percent commercial."

What convinced you that you had made the right career decision?

"Helping people. I'm a people person, and I found that through personal lines, through writing cars and homes that I was protecting people's property, their assets, their way of life. I was covering them for the catastrophe that was bound to come."

What are the challenges of running an independent insurance agency?

"Like a lot of other companies, we're challenged by the economy and being able to try and make a profit. Wichita is an aviation-driven town. I insure a lot of machine shops and lots of aircraft-related businesses that have really suffered."

How are insurance rates right now, both for businesses and individuals?

"Right now, for most classes of business insurance rates are remaining flat. For auto and home insurance we've seen some premium increases, but not across the board."

What does the M&M stand for?

"Money management. When we started out in 1966, insurance companies did not have pay plans. You had to pay your car insurance and home owners insurance annually. So we started a finance company because we dealt with McConnell Air Force Base and those airmen and everybody employed there needed a payment plan, monthly. So we financed their insurance premiums and made a deal with Bank IV at the time and got a low interest rate, and they were able to make payments instead of paying in full."

How did M&M become an insurance agency?

"An agent that had an office close to Boeing and McConnell decided to get out of the business and sell and offered my father the opportunity to buy it. So we bought it. We have probably acquired 18 agencies over our 44 years in business."