Looking back at four decades of experience in Michigan’s insurance industry, Patty Zaskowski discusses the past 11+ years with special enthusiasm.
With good reason.
Zaskowski, director of underwriting for Retailers Insurance Company, was there at the beginning, going to work for Michigan Retailers Association in September 2005 to help the organization convert its more than 20-year-old workers’ compensation fund into an insurance company.
“I was excited,” she recalls of MRA’s bold move to create a new Michigan insurer.
“It was a fantastic opportunity and a chance to grow something from the ground up.”
Grow, it did. When Zaskowski retired at the end of last month, following another solid year for the company that specializes in workers’ compensation insurance and small-group dental insurance, the amount of annual written premium had grown to $8.5 million.
Growing up in East Grand Rapids and working part-time in her family’s local pharmacies, Zaskowski never considered a career in insurance.
Nor did she as a student at Michigan State University, where she studied political science and planned to go east for law school after graduation.
But fate intervened, and she married and remained in the East Lansing area. She was an associate in the children’s section at Jacobson’s department store and managing an apartment building with her husband, Ron Zaskowski, when a tenant told her about an opening at an insurance agency and asked if she wanted to apply.
That was in 1973, and for the next 32 years she rose in the industry, moving from agencies to the staff of the Professional Insurance Agents Association to insurance companies.
She first became an underwriter at the former Michigan Physicians Mutual Liability Company in East Lansing. It underwent several organizational changes, including transformation into a public company as AP Capital, Inc.
Fate intervened again. AP Capital shed its work comp business in 2005, around the time MRA was looking for underwriting expertise to help create and build Retailers Insurance Company. She was hired quickly.
At a retirement luncheon MRA held in her honor, Zaskowski received many gifts, well wishes and a legislative tribute signed by Governor Rick Snyder and her local state lawmakers, Rep. Tom Cochran (D-Mason) and Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing).
The tribute commends her for “exceptional commitment to [MRA’s] members, its board of directors, policyholders, network of independent insurance agents and the retail and insurance industries….
“Ms. Zaskowski’s industry knowledge of insurance and workers’ compensation trends and changes collected over her celebrated career made her a strong asset for Michigan Retailers Association and Retailers Insurance Company.”
Not surprisingly, she’s quick to mention the importance of underwriting.
“It’s important because you have to look carefully at every request and determine the risk involved to see if it’s a policy the company is willing to write – and at what price,” she said. “Professional underwriting builds the solid foundation that a company needs in order to prosper and grow.”
“It’s challenging,” she adds. “It’s never boring, because there are so many things you must do and there’s so much information you must gather in order to be able to underwrite properly.
“You also have to develop strong relationships with the insurance agencies, because it’s really a partnership between the company and the independent agents.”
Proud of Growth
Reflecting on her service at RIC, Zaskowski said: “I’m most proud of the fact we’re profitable and growing. Our agency network is growing and our book of business is growing.
“I wish great things for this place. I see Retailers Insurance expanding into other areas. There are so many possibilities and places in the industry to take this company.
“It won’t necessarily be overnight, because good things take time and everything has to be done right, but the company will continue to grow.”
She added, “I’m also comfortable leaving at this point because of where the company is and because Laura [Schilling, her successor], is very talented and will do a great job.”
Her immediate future will be filled with travel and winter skiing with her husband, she said. They also plan to remodel part of their Okemos home.
“In retirement, every day is Saturday, so we get to figure out each day what we want to do.”
She also plans to do volunteer work.
“I’ve done volunteer work before in hospitals and Habitat for Humanity, so I might get back to that. First, I’ve got to see what’s out there. I want it to be fun and not a chore.”
Zaskowski’s comments also focus on the people she has worked with at MRA.
“I have great memories from working here the past 11 years,” she said. “In addition to the exciting and challenging work, it has been a fun place to work because of the people here.
“I know we all use the term ‘family’ when we talk about Michigan Retailers, but it is a very supportive environment here. I’ll miss that part of the job the most.”