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Impressive UM Graduate

B&R Insurance Inspired to Hire Others, Supports RMI Program

As Brown & Riding Insurance’s relationship with Ole Miss has grown, so has the company. B&R now has 17 offices across the country with Ole Miss alumni employed in Oxford, Tampa, Atlanta, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Dallas, Portland, Seattle and New York. Ole Miss alumni and current B&R employees at their Atlanta location are, left to right back row, Trevor Boling, Robert Alvarez, Walker McKenzie, Collin Nichols, Zac Bryant, Kyle Armitage and Beau Cantrell; and front row, Dalton Young, Mary Catherine Hodgson, Taelor Rubin and Emily Chrismer.

A University of Mississippi graduate’s resume not only resulted in Brown & Riding (B&R) Insurance hiring the applicant but also sparked the company’s interest in the university. Learning about the RMI program and its caliber of students, B&R has been inspired to make a major gift to Ole Miss and currently employs over 50 students and graduates and counting.

In 2010, then-recent Ole Miss alumnus George Sella attracted the attention of B&R’s president and CEO Jeff Rodriguez, which led to Sella becoming the company’s first employee from the Risk Management Insurance (RMI) Program in the UM School of Business Administration.

Rodriguez, who had never visited Mississippi, decided to participate in B&R’s inaugural Ole Miss recruiting trip later that year.

“I was very impressed with the school on that first trip,” said Rodriguez, “and the result was that Brown & Riding ended up making a number of new hires, including interns and full-time employees.  My relationship with Ole Miss began quite by accident due to receiving that first resume from George.”

Since that time, the company has expanded to 17 offices across the country. Sella’s employment has led to over 50 current employees from Ole Miss, making B&R the largest employer of RMI graduates, according to Andre P. Liebenberg, associate professor of finance and the Gwenette P. and Jack W. Robertson Chair of Insurance.

“Once Jeff saw the talent that we have here at Ole Miss, he began to focus on recruiting students from our program,” Liebenberg said. “Along the way, I think Jeff fell in love with Ole Miss and Oxford and has since opened a processing office in Oxford and sent two of his children to Ole Miss.”

Now B&R is furthering its relationship with Ole Miss by establishing the Brown & Riding Faculty Support Endowment, which will provide income for the recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty members in the RMI program.

“There is a need for talent,” said Liebenberg, “and although our RMI program has been successful at placing almost 100 percent of interested students in the risk and insurance industry, we are limited in the number of students we can teach and graduate due to the size of our RMI faculty. The endowment is an important first step toward being able to hire another professor.”

Rodriguez credits the RMI program for significantly improving the insurance industry, and he wants to see the program continue to offer students its well-rounded, real-world perspective.

“It is important to invest in the future of the industry, and Ole Miss has done a stellar job of turning out high-quality students,” he said. “We want to help the program expand as it will only mean great things for the industry.”

Liebenberg likewise pointed to B&R’s innovative approach.

“When they recruit at our RMI career fairs, they display the list of UM grads that they employ. I think the most impressive aspect is their retention of employees – I suspect it is somewhere around 90 percent – which is simply outstanding.”

Now a shareholder, senior vice president and broker, Sella believes the partnership between the university and B&R is mutually beneficial because it provides needed resources for the company while giving students experience in the industry.

“Interns get exposure to various teams and product lines, which can help them to grow faster in their careers,” he said, “and we get support from students who are invested, eager to learn and who could potentially become full-time employees after graduation. It’s a win-win.”

Stephen Fier, holder of the Liberto-King Professorship in Insurance and associate professor of finance, is grateful for gifts from corporations like B&R.

“Private support enables us to attract and retain award-winning RMI faculty who are focused on preparing students for rewarding careers in the risk and insurance space,” Fier said. “The students obtain a superior education both inside and outside the classroom and are more attractive to employers. This helps our program maintain an excellent job placement rate, benefiting students and the industry.”

The Brown & Riding Faculty Support Endowment is open to accept gifts from individuals and organizations. To contribute, send a check to the University of Mississippi Foundation, with the fund noted in the memo line, to 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655 or online at give.olemiss.edu.

For more information, contact Nikki Neely Davis, executive director of development, at [email protected] or 662-915-6678.

By Mary Stanton Knight