Insurance is a support system that goes back to 4000-3000 BCE. Although Grant Sheppard’s family hasn’t been around quite that long, the Sheppards have been a prominent family in Edmonton for many years. In fact, the family history stretches back to the 1800s and incudes members that were instrumental in building and running the Strathcona Hotel, the incline railway, and the first local brewery. What you may know the Sheppard name for, however, is their longstanding position as insurance providers in the city.
Both Anthony (Tony) and Emily Sheppard were insurance professionals. They opened Sheppard Insurance in 1979 after Tony realized how much more effective he could be under his own banner instead of as an employee of the Chicago-headquartered company he was working for.
His work ethic was so well known that, when he thought about starting his own business, several loyal long-term clients fronted the start up costs. A non-competition clause meant that Tony couldn’t start his own branch – but that was no problem. Emily opened the business in her name and took her husband Tony on as an employee, and the Sheppard Insurance family business was born.
“They fought above their weight class. As a small brokerage they had the technical expertise to handle large commercial risks,” says Tony and Emily’s son, Grant. “During the first 20 years, they didn’t even advertise. All the work came from referrals and through word-of-mouth from happy clients.”
Grant grew up seeing his parents help individuals, families, and businesses understand the value of insurance, and he was happy to follow in their footsteps. When it came time for him to helm the company on his own, he showed the same ambition, drive, charisma, and adventuring spirit for which his parents were known.
Sheppard Insurance grew from the start, necessitating four moves over the four decades they have been in business. Under Grant’s leadership, Sheppard continued to expand.
He explains, “In 2009, we did our first major acquisition by buying Way Insurance. Then, in 2018, we bought Alberta First Insurance, which gave us a much larger presence in professional liability for the pharmacy sector. This is when we began specializing in allied medical products.”
It’s not their only speciality. In addition to the traditional lines of personal and life insurance, Sheppard has provided aviation insurance for 25 years; and, under the commercial banner, has products for long haul truckers, bonding, mariners, pollution liability, special events (like festivals), small businesses, non-profits, and more.
Recently, Sheppard Insurance had an incredible opportunity to align with a brand whose vision and mission were an ideal match with the family business.
“Under the vision of Doug Morrow, four local brokers and I created the Excel Insurance Group,” says Grant. It was our effort to make the independent brokerage channel more sustainable. Excel provides the back-end administration and has services to support independent brokers. This model also gave us access to the Assurex Global network for international contracts.”
The Excel Group started with five offices and quickly grew to 15 – and the growth continues.
“This year, we also went through a sale and merger with Storm Insurance while staying within the Excel Group. Now we have a local, national, and international presence. If we can’t place your business, nobody can!”
While Grant is pleased to see the firm work with clients on an international basis, there is one thing he will never change; it’s the core reason his parents started Sheppard Insurance and why the brand has been so incredibly successful: customer care.
“Our clients are second to none,” Grant says firmly. “It’s because of our clients that I enjoy the business. I feel like my role is to be an intermediary between a client and an insurer, and to ensure the underwriters do the right thing, even when it’s difficult. This is why we have very long-term, loyal clients. We have clients that go back to my dad’s career before he even started the company. That is the secret to our success – great clients that are loyal, appreciate our services, and realize we bring value to the process.”
With the recent mergers and sales, Grant’s role went from ownership to executive, but he doesn’t mind.
“We still have that family flavour, but with the ability and technology to compete at a much higher level,” he smiles. “Now our firm is international with low risk to the head office.”
Creative is not a word normally said alongside “insurance company,” but Sheppard Insurance can proudly claim the title as one of the most creative firms in Edmonton.
Do you remember the shocking ad campaign in 1997 where a well-known jewelry store would refund purchase prices if it snowed 7.5 inches on January 1st? Sheppard Insurance was the firm backing the process – and they paid out when 7.5 inches of snow inexplicably fell, right on time.
“That gave us worldwide press and created a new line of business!” laughs Grant. “The snowfall newspaper ad had a hidden message that could only be read under black light – people had to go into the store to decipher it. Because of that, one man won twice! He got his money back and won the prize from the flyer. He got $10,000.”
Grant smiles at the memory. “The jewellery store owner was looking to make a big splash, and we like to do things in a unique way. We like to be problem solvers.”
While he admits that Sheppard is “all over the map” in terms of product lines (do you know any other brokerage that specialized in farm and equestrian insurance while operating downtown? Tony got into that because he loved horses), Grant also places a high value on consistency, especially when it comes to the team. He makes a point to acknowledge every employee, every morning. That’s seven more “good mornings” and seven more office pop-ins for him since the sale and merger brought the staff up from 20 to 27 in the head office.
He can’t say enough good things about each staff member, and he’s proud to have such a wonderful team, even if growing that team is proving to be a challenge.
“Attracting and keeping good, talented employees is problematic at the moment because the general insurance licensing exam has changed and is now extremely hard to pass.” However, that signature optimism and problem solving is always at the forefront. “We are going to hire and train people internally; create our own training program,” he informs.
In addition to a well-rounded team, a clear mission, and unshakeable values, Grant also cites the local community as a reason for Sheppard’s success. The firm fully embraces opportunities to give back and supports the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation; Kids with Cancer Society; Make-A-Wish® Foundation; Hope Mission; Valour Place and the McMan Youth, Family and Community Services Association, among other causes.
“Giving back is very important. It’s in our core. It’s part of who we are,” Grant says.
Sheppard Insurance is proud to be recognized as a top 10 broker by Insurance Business Canada. Grant is also pleased to display a humble certificate of appreciation from his son’s school. They made it for him when Sheppard Insurance supported their Leader In Me program.
The list of people Grant would like to thank for helping Sheppard Insurance become a success is long, and includes his parents for starting the company; the long-term, previous, and new employees; his former business partner Scott Zurfluh; and his right-hand support Laurie McDonald (who he refers to as supreme commander in acknowledgment of her ability to manage him and so many aspects of the business simultaneously).
“I am also very grateful for the insurance companies that have supported us through thick and thin; the community for its ongoing support and its opportunities to give back; and to our many past, present, and future clients.”
It’s been 40 years since Sheppard Insurance opened its doors, and Grant is proud to continue the tradition of service that the company provides.
“In my current role as vice president of Western Canada, I will look for further acquisitions for growth to expand our influence. The Excel Group will also continue to expand.” He concludes with a smile, “I like it when each day is full of little successes, whether it’s renewing or embarking on a piece of business or getting a client a better price – there are constantly little bits of success.”
Learn more about Sheppard Insurance and the Excel Group by visiting www.sheppardinsurance.com.