Marc Byrnes got to know Eddie Taylor Jr. a dozen years ago while they were serving on the board of the newly formed Cleveland Leadership Center, a merging of four nonprofits providing leadership and community-engagement opportunities, including Leadership Cleveland. The then-chairman and chief executive officer of Oswald Cos. insurance brokerage and risk-management firm was impressed with the manner in which the no-nonsense Taylor succeeded “in unifying what could [have been] a disastrous group of self-interests” as the center’s first board chairman.
“It was basically, ‘OK, this is what we’re going to do. And if you don’t like it, I’m sorry,’” Byrnes, now Oswald’s board chairman, recalls. “That’s what this group needed at the time. He just set the table, set the direction, and moved everybody down the field.”
Byrnes was aware of Taylor’s experiences as an entrepreneur, particularly in the insurance industry. He was founder, majority owner, president and chief executive officer of Integrated Consulting Services, a workers-compensation, third-party administrative firm in Independence with a client roster of associations, group programs and independent organizations across the state. During a May 2008 Leadership Cleveland retreat to Chicago he approached Taylor about joining Oswald Cos.
“I said to him, ‘If you ever have an appetite or interest in coming back into the insurance business, let me know,’” Byrnes says. He was displeased with the insurance industry’s poor job of promoting people of color and women. Back at the office, he issued a directive to then-co-presidents David Jacobs and Robert Klonk: “We’ve got to change this.”
Those conversations began laying the foundation for Taylor Oswald, a full-service insurance brokerage launched in early 2012 as a separate-but-linked venture of Oswald Cos. that offers a minority-owned option for businesses looking to incorporate service providers in their diversity-inclusion initiatives — one capable of performing large-scale risk-management activities that leveraged the relationships and reputation Taylor had built for himself as both an entrepreneur and civic leader on various boards. Taylor is president and majority owner; Oswald maintains a minority interest.
“Taylor Oswald works to realize Oswald’s vision of advanced commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion, economic development and minority-owned businesses, as well as the means to open new paths for our clients expanding in their D&I and supplier diversity strategies," says Dave Jacobs, president and COO of the Oswald Cos. “Eddie’s years of combined experience in business and the insurance field, along with his deep involvement and leadership in the community, makes him uniquely positioned to lead this initiative.”
“So many of the startups that are created from an entrepreneurial standpoint are being created by folks of color and women,” Taylor adds. “So you want to be able to respond to that market by having service providers who also are reflective of diversity.”
According to the 53-year-old Elyria native, the firm enjoyed a 20-percent-plus year-over-year growth from 2017 to 2018 and 25- to 30-percent year-over-year growth from 2016 to 2017. Clients range from the Gilbane Building Co. to Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. The last is representative of the substantial number of public-sector clients Taylor Oswald has acquired — business Oswald hasn’t pursued historically, according to Byrnes.
“We are the largest African-American-owned agency in the region, if not the largest in the state,” Taylor says.
After conversations with Jacobs, Taylor joined Oswald in 2010, a decision based on Byrnes and Jacobs’ honesty is discussing both the company’s successes and shortcomings and the culture of commitment promoted by its employee stock ownership plan. They agreed Taylor would spend six to 10 months at Oswald “learning the people, the place and the culture to see if there was a good fit,” as Taylor puts it. If both parties agreed to a continued association, plans would be laid for a joint venture.
“All along, there was this notion to create a separate business,” Taylor says. “We didn’t know what it would look like.”
Taylor Oswald launched with Taylor and one other dedicated employee working out of Oswald Centre headquarters in downtown Cleveland. While the name may have created some initial confusion in the local market, it also provided immediate credibility. Among Taylor Oswald’s first clients was Sherwin-Williams. According to Taylor, the association resulted in part from former Sherwin-Williams senior vice president of human resources Tom Hopkins’ commitment to diversifying the company’s supplier base, in part from former Sherwin-Williams chairman and chief executive officer Christopher Connor’s participation in the Presidents’ Council Business Chamber, a local group of African-American business owners.
“We don’t have the same relationship today,” Taylor acknowledges. [Sherwin Williams] is a multinational firm that has needs that perhaps are best served by organizations that have a footprint across the globe. But it was certainly a turning point in terms of the kind of companies that we could do work for — and do that work exceptionally well.”
Taylor Oswald began handling all of Destination Cleveland’s insurance needs after David Gilbert, the convention and visitors bureau’s chief executive officer, witnessed how the firm fulfilled a major part of that role for the 2016 Republican National Convention host committee.
“It was very complicated,” Gilbert says. “Seeing the kind of work that Eddie had done there was, quite frankly, very impressive.” He adds that Taylor is “a real pillar of the community,” one he’s known for a long time and trusts.
Taylor Oswald now employs eight people including Taylor, five minorities and three women. One employee is in Oswald Cos.’ Cincinnati office; the others work out of Taylor Oswald’s dedicated offices in Oswald Centre.
“Because our agency is mostly sales focused, the fulfillment — a lot of the back-room, a lot of the ingredients that go into creating successful insurance relationships with people — so much of that work is driven by this relationship with Oswald,” he explains.
Plans call for expanding into the Detroit market this year, either by putting an employee in Oswald’s Detroit location or buying an existing agency.
“The vision is to have Taylor Oswald become the largest, strongest African-American-owned insurance agency in the country,” he says.