150 Years Of Service

July 16, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — In 1850, the city of Grand Rapids, population 2,686, was officially created. Just eight years later, so was the company that is now called Crosby and Henry Insurance. The new company, J.S. Crosby and Co., was located downtown on Canal Street.

Jamie Crosby is now president of the company that his great-great-great-grandfather started. Within that list of ancestors includes one who spent some time away from the company to serve as lieutenant governor of Michigan from 1881 to 1885.

Through the following generations, the company went through a few location changes, including a couple of addresses on Cherry Street, as well as some name changes. The company went from J.S. Crosby and Co. to J.S. Crosby and Sons, then back to the original name and then, in 1970, when Jamie’s father, Jim, merged the company with Bill Henry’s Henry Agency, the name was changed to Crosby and Henry Insurance.

The Henry Agency had been in business since 1868 and experienced a few name changes of its own before the merger. The basic reason for the merger, said Jamie Crosby, was that both companies had respectable names and similar books of business. The two felt they would have “better leverage and better momentum from being together,” said Crosby. The merger was well received by the community and successful, as well, according to Crosby.

Bill Henry and Jim Crosby ran the company together until 1989, when Henry retired and Crosby was the sole principal. He passed away in 1992, and son Jamie Crosby joined the agency in 1993. Prior to joining the company, he had worked at Grand Rapids Label Co., a family business on his mother’s side. Both his mother and Bill Henry still serve on the board.

“I guess I’ve got family business in my blood,” said Crosby.

The company’s main source of business for many years has been commercial insurance. Policies dating back to the Civil War era hang on the office wall, documenting insured homes, buildings and farmland.

“Back when I was younger and knowing a little bit about the business when my dad was involved, we’ve always been very active in commercial lines,” said Crosby, noting that some things like technology have altered the industry.

“Definitely a change in the way business is done, the technology and speed of things … but it still remains a pretty personal business.”

Crosby elaborated on the competitive nature of the business and the speed that technology has brought to it.

“It used to be if you wanted to insure a business, you would have to put together all your information, get applications together, send it in to your company’s underwriter, who then goes through a lengthy process of underwriting the risk and developing the premium estimate, and that may take weeks. Today we have the ability to quote insurance right here in our office, going online or using software developed by insurance companies that we represent. We’re able to do a lot of the quoting right here, and do so in a very short period of time.”

Technology has surged in the industry over the past 10 to 15 years, Crosby said — just a fraction of the time the company has been in business. With 150 years under its belt, the company has had a unique opportunity to involve itself with the city.

The company and the Crosby family both have a supportive history in the Grand Rapids community, having been involved with fundraisers, with United Way, the American Cancer Society, and various boards and associations.

“I’ve always enjoyed being around town and being a part of Rotary and talking to Rotarians that knew my grandfather,” said Crosby.

Although he now carries on the family business, he didn’t originally expect to.

“I never really looked at it as something I would get into. I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about insurance. It just didn’t hold a whole lot of interest for me, but when my father passed away in ’92, my two kids were very young and I had a different perspective, relative to family,” said Crosby.

“My perspective was entirely different than it had been, and I looked at the business and said, ‘This has been in the family for a long time, and I think maybe I need to get involved and see if I can keep it going and see if it’s something that I would want to be involved in.

“I made a mistake by not getting involved earlier when my father was still around. It would have made the learning process a whole lot easier, but I’ve enjoyed it and it’s been a good business.”

Crosby’s two children are older now: The younger is about to become a junior in high school and the elder, Emma, working for the summer at the family business, is soon to enter her freshman year of college. As far as making it a career choice, he said, “If they want to be involved, I will give them every opportunity to be involved, but I won’t push them in any way. At this point and time, I hear no interest on their part,” laughed Crosby.

Now, with the city of Grand Rapids totaling 45.3 square miles, and the city population around 197,800, Emma marks the seventh generation of Crosby’s to work at the family company.

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