COMMUNITY—For more than 40 years, American Risk Managers was led by its founder, Walter Davis Haney. With his passing in July of 2020, there will now be a “changing of the guard” for the leadership of the company.
According to his wishes, plans and goals, Mr. Walter’s partnership role will be carried forward by his oldest granddaughter, Jessica Taylor Spears, one of the Risk Managers at the independent firm.
Mr. Walter’s son, Wally Haney, president of the company and chief financial officer, made the official announcement during an interview at the office in Hamilton, Alabama, on Thursday, Nov. 12.
“I am reiterating what my father’s thoughts were and what he wanted,” Wally said. “He wanted the company to carry forward. He created American Risk Managers in 1979 and had been here for the majority of his life.
“These last nearly 50 years, his whole hobby was his work. That was his love. He loved his family and he loved the Lord, and he loved Auburn and other things, but he also loved to work.”
Wally said his father had built the business with its long-term goals in mind. As Jessica gained knowledge, experience, and professional polish in the field of Risk Management, Mr. Walter’s confidence in her grew.
“He laid the groundwork,” Wally said. “Daddy could see this thing going far into the future. And he recognized years ago that the new leader would be Jess. He told me repeatedly that Jessica was a really good Risk Manager and that the clients were noticing what a good job she was doing.
“This company was really important to him. And in his mind, at age 86, I believe he’d accomplished what he wanted to do with the business. If he’d died five or 10 years ago, Jessica would have still been as successful, but it would have been harder on her. At this point, in his and her life, it’s going to be okay.”
Jessica & Her Husband, Exie
Jessica and Exie Spears are shown in a photo taken at a wedding in Columbus, Miss.
The Original Partnership
Wally recalled how the original partnership was structured, when father and son joined forces back in 1985.
“He wanted me to do the ‘inside’ work of operating the business, such as handling the employees, and dealing with the accounts, the invoicing and the corporate paperwork,” Wally noted.
“And he said he would do the ‘outside’ work, which was calling on the Risk Management clients, dealing with all the insurance agents, and keeping up with all the changes in the insurance marketplace.
“He said, ‘We’ll be partners. You can have half of it and I’ll have half of it.’ And I said okay. Now, it’s 35 years later. I’ve enjoyed the growth of the company and I look forward to the future.”
Since his father’s desire and hope for American Risk Managers was for the company to continue to carry on as a family business—after both father and son were gone—the inclusion of the next generation was necessitated.
“About two decades ago, my niece and his granddaughter, Jessica, came to work with us,” Wally explained. “And she became involved in all aspects of American Risk Managers.
“For the last several years, she has been in a leadership role. And as we go forward, she will be the new tip of the spear for the company and the leader who everyone looks to.”
Jessica is shown with her grandmother, Sue Haney, in a photo taken on Christmas Day of 2019. Ms. Sue and Mr. Walter were married for 64 years.
Auburn Grad Joins Staff
Jessica started working at American Risk Managers full-time in August of 2001, right after she graduated from Auburn University, the college that her grandfather had also attended.
“When Jessica came here and started working with our other Risk Managers, she was really good at the jobs she began to handle,” Wally said. “And she just continued to improve. The longer she was here, the more roles we turned over to her.”
Jessica seemed to be a natural in her new position as a Risk Manager, which was not surprising. She’d been trained by the company founder himself, as well as another top Risk Manager, Ginny Hughett.
“Ginny was very successful and she taught Jessica everything she knew,” Wally said. “Before long, Jessica could handle herself very well. We had many clients remark on what a good job she was doing with their accounts.
“And then, at a certain point, we looked back and realized Jessica had become one of our best Risk Managers. She does amazing work. I know her Papa was proud of her.
“He had no doubt she could run this company and be successful doing so. And I agree 100 percent. I know the only limitations would be the ones she would place on it and she doesn’t have any.”
A Special Bond
During the last several years, Jessica gradually began taking over the management of close to 90 percent of the client load, allowing her grandfather to concentrate on a few chosen accounts.
We asked her if assuming responsibility for the other 10 percent of the work since his passing has affected her in anyway.
“The extra work itself has been fine,” she said. “It is missing being able to go to Papa and talk something over that has been hard. He was so knowledgeable about so much. I just hope I absorbed some of that.”
Wally said he has no doubts about Jessica’s abilities. But he does recognize that all their years of working closely together have made it harder for her to lose her grandfather and mentor. And that there is a bigger gap there, than if they had not worked together.
“I know it’s difficult for Jessica,” Wally noted. “And it’s not anything she’s not capable of handling. But these past 20 years or so, that her and her grandfather were able to work together, there was a deep bonding.
“He loved all his grandkids, but there was a special bond. They both enjoyed working together. So there’s a downside to it and an upside to it. And you can talk about it all day, but you have to experience it to know.”
Jessica Taylor Spears is shown with her parents, Phillip and Deborah Taylor. Deborah was Walter and Sue Haney’s first child, joined by her brother Wally, two years later.
Jessica Was Firstborn Of Third Generation
Wally also explained that Jessica is actually more like a daughter to him than a niece. “Jessica was the first baby, the first grandchild in the family,” he said. “So everybody was very close to her.”
A few years after Jessica was born, Wally became a father himself. He was eventually blessed with three daughters. Jessica was also joined by two more sisters, creating a total of six granddaughters for Mr. Walter to enjoy.
Wally noted that Mr. Walter’s views of women, which were shared by many men of his generation, were later transformed by his relationships with his half-dozen granddaughters and his hopes for their futures.
“Growing up in Beaverton, in Lamar County, in the 1930s and 1940s, my Dad was probably pretty close-minded to what the female could accomplish,” Wally said. “But then, as the Lord brings us all along on the journey, as we’re exposed on different levels to things, the Lord gave him six granddaughters.
“And his vision widened greatly to the possibilities of what they could and should be. And it’s not remarkable. We all change. But this is something I saw in him. And I used to be similar, too. Then the Lord gave me three daughters.”
Wally & Family
Wally Haney is shown with his wife, Tonya, and daughters (from left) Andrea Cantrell, Jennifer Burns and Ashton Wilbanks.
Memories Of Earlier Years
All of Mr. Walter’s grandchildren grew up in the family business, visiting the office on a regular basis. As babies, they were bounced upon his knee. As they grew older, they ventured into other aspects. We asked Jessica to share some of her first memories of American Risk Managers.
“When I was little, the business was located downtown next to Fred’s Pharmacy’s original location (on the Hamilton Court Square),” she said. “We would go to see Papa after school somedays and he would give us a dollar to go to the pharmacy and get a coke and a snack.
“I always loved doing that. It was such a treat. Also, we would always go to the office to watch the Homecoming and Christmas Parades.”
Jessica also performed her first duties at the office as a young girl, along with her sisters and cousins.
“My Aunt Tonya (Wally’s wife) would sometimes come and get me and let me go to the office and help,” she said. “I would help file and such. It was never anything big, but I always loved going and working with the other girls.”
Jessica is shown with her youngest sister, Allie Grace. Allie Grace became sister number three for the Taylors and granddaughter number six for the Haneys.
Mr. Walter Is Missed Daily
Regarding becoming a partner at this particular time, shortly after losing her grandfather, Jessica said she feels mixed emotions.
“It is bittersweet to now be a partner,” she said. “While I am so proud of this accomplishment, it came at the loss of my grandfather, who I miss daily.”
And although he is still mourning the loss of his father, too, and the office will never be the same without him, Wally said he is enthusiastic about his niece’s new role at American Risk Managers.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to continue working with Jessica as a full partner,” he said. “I have no doubts about her leadership. I have full confidence in her. There’s not a single thing we do as a company that she cannot do without my input.”
Future Goals Mirror Those Of Founder
Regarding American Risk Managers’ wide variety of consulting services, Wally said his father always felt excitement about the company’s accomplishments and the work they could do for their clients.
“He was truly excited about all aspects of the job and the services that we perform,” Wally said. “And that may be rare in some companies, but not in the companies that really succeed.
“I think companies that have been successful, and are successful, have that type of leadership. They are not limited by their vision — they can see forward and take it forward.
“And that was him and that’s what he wanted. And that’s the reason he wanted his family to carry it forward. And that’s kind of where we are at.”
Jessica’s goals for the company mirror those of her grandfather. “I would like to continue to grow American Risk Managers,” she said. “I would love for us to be to the point one day that we have more than one location.”
A Haney Family Gathering
The late Mr. Walter Haney is shown surrounded by his loving family; his wife, Sue, their children and grandchildren (and assorted spouses), as well as several of their great-grandchildren in a photo circa 2016.
Clients Are ‘Like Family & Close Friends’
Asked what she enjoys the most about being a Risk Manager, Jessica said she enjoys helping the company’s clients get the best insurance coverages at the most competitive pricing.
“I enjoy making sure they are covered for anything that may come their way,” she said. “I also enjoy the relationships we end up developing through our work. A lot of our clients have become like family and close friends.”
As we near the end of 2020, a challenging year to say the least, we asked Jessica to remark on the current difficulties of her job.
“Right now, the insurance industry is in what we call a very hard market,” she said. “Prices are going up and coverages are getting more restrictive. This is making the work we do a little harder, as far as making sure we are obtaining the best coverages and pricing for our clients.”
Jessica noted that there is always room for a few more good clients at American Risk Managers, which was designed by her grandfather to act as a type of “protective middle-man” between businesses and insurance companies.
“We always have more room for clients,” she said. “And in the insurance market that we are in, I know people are struggling. I would love to help other companies with coverages and savings.
“Businesses now, more than ever, have to look at the bottom line. One of the biggest expenses for businesses is insurance. It is important for them to make sure they are properly protected at the best possible price.”
Would Your Company Be A Good Fit For Risk Management? Schedule A Discovery Call With Jessica Today At 800-548-0117.
Photo Credits: Feature Photo – Chazz Hirschfeld (Courtesy of Our Good Lord); and Family Photos – Courtesy Of The Haney Family.