Philip Andolina, during a college scouting trip to Ohio with his dad, entered a restaurant for dinner and noticed someone nearby making a sales pitch, much like Michael Andolina, an insurance agency owner.
The son had not been much interested in joining the family business until that day.
"Actually, I wanted to be a veterinarian," Andolina says, "but I wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t think I could handle going to medical school, basically.
"My father and I started talking about what he does, and the beauty of it. I said, ‘All right, I’ll give it a shot.’"
Andolina, 56, began working for his dad in 1974, the same year he started college.
Some 39 years later, he serves as managing partner of Lawley Andolina Verdi LLC, an affiliate of Lawley Service Inc. in Buffalo. The Rochester office is on the second floor of the New York State United Teachers building on North Union Street.
"Once I started, I sort of liked it," Andolina says. "I liked working with the people. It was a fun time to begin. We were a small organization. There were probably six of us altogether. We mostly did personal auto and homeowners."
Now, says Andolina, "I do a lot of different things. I act as an accountant. I act as an attorney. I act as a psychologist. It all depends on what client I deal with. Every day is not the same."
Michael Andolina launched his insurance career in 1956 after working as a mail carrier.
"He started selling life insurance door to door," Andolina says. "He added car insurance and went from there."
Lawley Andolina’s premiums in 2012 surpassed $100 million for the first time in the company’s 56-year history. It ranks fourth on the Rochester Business Journal’s most recent list of commercial insurance firms with 53 employees.
"We’re the largest privately held insurance agency," Andolina says. "We play that up a little bit because we are family-owned. All the other people on the list are shareholder-owned.
"It makes a difference to be as big as we are but with a lot of different relationships. We don’t really have to answer to anybody."
Andolina Insurance Agency Inc. partnered with Lawley in June 1999.
"We like the Rochester community a lot," says Christopher Ross, co-managing partner for Lawley in Buffalo. "We’re happy to have him with the flag in the ground there."
Lawley-Andolina LLC added local firms Luellen Insurance in 2004, CRA Associates in 2005 and the Walter C. Taylor Agency in 2007, taking its present name after that. Another merger could occur next year, Andolina says.
"We protect assets," he says. "We protect people. When my kids were young and we’d go to their classes, they’d say, ‘What do you do for a living?’ Well, we protect things.
"When somebody takes something that you own, I replace it. If your house burns down, I help you get back in it."
For business clients, Lawley Andolina provides workers’ compensation and benefits packages, Andolina says, adding that "we’re getting involved now in more complex accounts."
For example, the firm has added captive insurance to its product portfolio. Captive insurance safeguards companies against risky ventures as well as risks from their clients.
"You actually are insuring yourself," Andolina says. "You’re putting skin in the game. It’s not for everybody, but it’s becoming a big thing. As the markets tend to harden, prices go up. People try to find these alternative ways to buy insurance."
The firm has come a long way since Andolina started there as a 19-year-old, working nearly full time while going to college.
"I was doing clerical stuff," he says. "I was typing policies, accepting payments and writing applications. At the time, you had to be 21 to be a broker, so I had to get an agent’s license with one of our carriers."
Andolina gained experience by leaning on his father and office manager Charles Lavilla.
"He was with my father forever," Andolina says of Lavilla. "He became another mentor. He taught me a lot about how to deal with people. It was the same thing with my father."
The agency’s first home was on Portland Avenue in northeast Rochester. It was relocated to Greece in 1983.
"That’s when we started seeing some growth," Andolina says. "We started bringing more people in. We started to work more lines. A lot of it is just building on relationships."
Andolina bought the business from his father while in Greece, and Michael Andolina retired in the late 1980s.
Andolina moved the firm back to the city, to its present location, in 1990. It continued to grow.
"We brought in some producers," he says. "That’s when we started getting a little more involved in larger commercial, larger businesses."
The partnership with Lawley-one of the 100 largest insurance brokers in the U.S.-came nine years after the return to the city.
"We’d still be plugging along, but we wouldn’t have the availability of the people we have here," Andolina says. "We wouldn’t have the availability of some of the carriers we represent. It would be different.
"I’d like to think I made the right decision, because I’m still happy. I still like coming to work. I like the people I work with. It’s fun."
Lawley had been looking for an entrance to the Rochester market for a long time, Ross says.
"I can’t even tell you how many times I drove back and forth on the Thruway in snowstorms," he says. "I met with so many agents and brokers. I think they used to invite me there just to spin my wheels."
Ross connected with Andolina through Andolina’s wife, Melinda, an insurance representative for the Chubb Corp. office in Rochester.
"Melinda used to call on us all the time," Ross says. "One day she invited me to play in the LPGA. Chubb was a major sponsor, and Phil was in my foursome. And we had a ball.
"We played golf and had a million laughs, and I walked away and got home that night and said, ‘This guy is right up our alley.’"
Andolina felt the same way.
"The next day, we met at the Marriott and had breakfast and talked about partnering," Ross says.
"It’s been a great relationship for us for 14 years. It couldn’t have been happier. When anybody talks to me about some success story, I talk about Rochester and how well we’ve done there. He’s not only a great guy to do business with, he’s become a great friend."
Rochester is one of nine Lawley locations, eight in New York and one in New Jersey. The Rochester office is the largest outside Buffalo.
"We had a lot of lines we weren’t able to provide coverages for," Andolina says. "Plus, we had services like loss control and risk management that we weren’t able to provide for."
Founded in 1945 by Raymond and Edna Lawley, the Buffalo company under third-generation ownership ranks 50th among the largest independent insurance firms in the country.
"One of the reasons was perpetuation on my part," Andolina said of his decision to join with Lawley. "At the time, we were dealing with some large, multinational accounts. My concern was, if something happens to me, who’s going to take over our accounts? That put the minds of those at some of our larger accounts at ease."
Each of the nine locations has a branch manager, including Andolina in Rochester. There are 21 branch partners throughout the organization, including benefits and property and casualty.
In addition to Andolina, the Rochester partners are James Verdi and Mark Verdi.
"We all answer to one another," Andolina says. "We have three family members that run the Lawley organization. Do we answer to them? Yeah, for lack of a better term. But we pretty much communicate together. We have people in management positions that work well with everybody."
Lawley Andolina’s largest accounts are in construction and non-profits, which are about one-third of the firm’s profits because their workers’ comp and liability coverage needs tend to be higher, Andolina says.
"I spend most of my time with not-for-profit organizations, dealing with social service agencies," he says.
Personal lines account for 20 percent of revenue, he says.
The firm’s insurance business is on the east side of the second-floor hallway of the Union Street building; the Lawley Benefits Group LLC practice is on the west side.
"We’re probably one of the biggest benefits brokers in town," Andolina says.
A $250,000 reconfiguration of office space was done last year, during which the office added seven employees.
"It worked out great," he says. "We’re running out of space already. Even though it’s open, it’s quieter. People seem to like it."
Asked whether his father would have expanded the business as he has in the last 14 years, Andolina says: "He always had the foresight, in terms of what he wanted to bring to the table. But the business has changed quite a bit, specifically the amount of competition we have and the expertise that a lot of people now have."
Growing in the city
Andolina grew up on Jay Street, the youngest of three boys. He attended School 43 and Jefferson High School.
His brother Lawrence is an attorney in Rochester. His brother Michael is a retired dentist.
"We walked to 43 School," he says. "We played sports there. That’s where we hung out. We never had any concerns about anybody getting hurt and stuff like that. It was all the neighborhood guys. We hung around together and took care of each other."
He graduated in 1979 from Rochester Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
Andolina lived in Brighton for several years, then moved with Melinda to East Avenue five years ago.
"We built from scratch," he says. "My wife says we downsized, but the only thing we downsized was to put our bedroom on the first floor instead of having it on the second floor."
Andolina spends much of his free time cooking. He plays some golf and was a board member alongside David Pelusio at Midvale Country Club in Penfield.
"Phil is a very honorable, hard-working gentleman," says Pelusio, president of Rochester Linoleum & Carpet Center Inc. in Henrietta.
"I met him at Midvale. He appointed me to the board. We worked together for many years at Midvale and then became very good friends. He’s a real smart guy. He’s not your average Joe. He knows his business. He knows how to handle people. He’s one of the better friends I know."
Andolina and his wife have taken an interest in wines and put a wine cellar in their new home.
"I’ve always liked to drink it," Andolina says, "but now we buy some, nothing expensive. We travel a little bit. We have relatives in Napa Valley."
He follows the New York Yankees. He is a frequent visitor to retail outlets on Park Avenue and to the city’s annual Jazz Festival, both of which are within walking distance of his home.
"I made a commitment to the city," he says. "Our property taxes are pretty high, but it’s really great."
Andolina, Ross and their wives continue to meet up regularly, Ross says.
"When we go have dinner and whatever, most of the time we don’t talk about work," Ross says. "We talk about everything else. We’ve had a million laughs over the years.
"It probably took us a year and a half to finally put the deal together, so I’ve known him now for 15 or 16 years."
Andolina is not sure any of his children will follow in his professional footsteps as he did in his dad’s.
Andolina’s oldest son, Michael, is planning to go to Yale University for his master’s degree.
"My father is Michael Carl," Andolina explains. "My brother is Michael John. My son is Michael Philip. I’m Philip Michael."
Son Justin works for a construction broker in New York City. Daughter Danielle, is a teacher. His stepson, Trevor Shannon, is an investment management consultant with FactSet Research Systems in Chicago.
Justin, who formerly worked for Liberty Mutual Insurance, seems the likeliest candidate to take the company’s reins.
"He’s talked about coming home," Andolina says. "But Rochester … New York City? He’s 28 years old. He’s single. It may happen. My other two? No."
Meanwhile, Lawley Andolina continues to thrive. It has added two employees this year, with four to six more projected by the end of the year. There are 13 openings throughout the company, mostly in Buffalo and Rochester, Andolina says.
"I just see growth," he says. "Our benefits department will be coming out with an exchange shortly. There’s talk of not so much competing with a public exchange but having our own, partnering with an organization.
"And I like to see the growth in my employees. I like watching them grow. I kid with them that I think I have 10 years left. By then, I’ll have almost 50 years in the business. I think that would be time for me to retire."
Title: Managing partner, Lawley Andolina Verdi LLC
Education: B.S. in accounting, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1979
Family: Wife Melinda; sons Michael, 30; Justin, 28; Trevor, 23; daughter Danielle, 25
Hobbies: Cooking, golf, wines, travel
Quote: "Insurance isn’t a sexy business, but you can do pretty well if you work at it. People are finding that out."
4/5/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.