As Society Insurance enters its 100th year, our approach to 2015 is simple: Honor the Past, Embrace the Present and Celebrate the Future. Most people don’t get the chance to work for a company that has been around for 100 years, and even fewer have the opportunity to be on the job when the big event occurs.

We’ll take this year to reflect a bit on the people and events that shaped who we are today, but we certainly won’t become lost in nostalgia. Too many exciting things are going on right now to put all of our attention to history. Today is a gift … that’s why they call it the present. Embracing the present and celebrating where we’re headed in the future will be a big part of this year, as well.

Anyone who has led a group or an organization knows how hard it is to keep it going, yet alone to move it forward. When we consider the people who have led our company over nearly 100 years, it’s impossible to not be humbled and impressed by their contributions. Trying new things and innovating wasn’t simply a matter of incrementally improving results in the early days; it was a matter of survival. Imagine leading the Brotherhood of Thresherman’s Mutual Insurance Company — founded for the purpose of providing workers compensation insurance to grain threshing crews — when there were no longer grain threshing operations. You had a name, a product line and a business plan that was suddenly obsolete. Now what?

What leaders like Grace Lewis and Ethel Malone did was reinvent the company. The company eventually shortened its name to Thresherman’s Mutual, keeping a tie to the past but also moving the company forward. New markets were explored and new products to supplement Workers Compensation were added.

John Boyle led the company from 1967 to 1987. Mr. Boyle oversaw our shift from agricultural-related business to main street commercial packages and workers compensation. The TRIM product that is the base of what we are today was developed during John’s tenure. John hired young fellows like John Barouski, George Fraser and Perry Schaack to guide this monumental change.

Recent leaders have built on this history of innovation and change. Mike Wagner, who followed John Boyle as president, concluded that the time-honored Thresherman’s Mutual name wouldn’t have the marketing zip needed to sell business insurance outside of Wisconsin. He came up with the name “Society Insurance” on his note pad one day. Mike also was the creative vision behind the design of the unique building we work in today. He wanted something that wasn’t the typical insurance company office building, and, my, did he ever succeed.

When Jim Thomas joined Society as COO in 1996, the table was set with the tools to make a brand and to advance the company, but organization and business savvy was now needed to make it all come together. Jim knew that people and the technology that supports them were the keys to success, so he went about building our IS and HR departments. He also focused the company on understanding that the key to our success from a product standpoint was expertise in relatively few niches. We weren’t the biggest insurance company — just the best at what we do.

All of this leads us to where we are today. Society is a market and thought leader in the commercial niches we serve. We’ve kept our focus on the policyholders that own the company while continuing a 100 year partnership with independent agents who help us serve our customers. The company has financial strength and resources that Grace Lewis couldn’t have possibly imagined when she declared the first policyholder surplus of $301.69 in 1918.

This is a year to appreciate where we have been and where we are today, but it’s also a year to celebrate the future and the opportunities it will bring.

Our key niche markets of restaurants and bars have stood the test of time and aren’t likely to go the route of grain threshing crews. People have to eat, and they’ve always enjoyed eating and drinking in a social setting. We’re also excited about taking our market leadership to more parts of the country in the next 10 years, beginning with our Tennessee expansion in 2016.

As is the case in everything we do, this expansion is for the benefit of our policyholders. A broader spread of risk around the country lessens the chance that a bad turn in state government, a regional weather catastrophe or a slowdown in a local economy could affect the financial strength of the company. A larger company can offer more services to policyholders. As of 25 years ago, Society couldn’t even afford to staff a Risk Control Department. Now that important service is a key to what we offer. As Society grows through geographic expansion, even more services can be offered to all policyholders, so they will all receive true value from their premium payment.

What will Society Insurance look like 50 to 100 years from now? We can only imagine, but with such a great history of innovation to draw from and a steadfast focus on protecting our policyholders, it appears to be a very bright future indeed. It’s an exciting time to be associated with our company, and we look forward to embarking on our next 100 years on mutual ground with our policyholders.

-Rick Parks