The more things change, the more they stay the same. Three decades after the Hagerty family’s enduring passion for classic boats led to the creation of Hagerty Marine, an enthusiastic and unwavering commitment to protect and preserve historic vessels remains at the heart of the business.
“As Hagerty has grown, evolved and expanded through the years, the spirit of making sure our clients get the most enjoyment out of the boats they collect and cherish has always remained core to everything we do,” said Hagerty President and CEO McKeel Hagerty, son of company co-founders Frank and Louise Hagerty. “It is that intense focus on the client and helping them enjoy classic boats like we do that helped us successfully expand into the classic car world.”
Hagerty Marine Vice President Carla Gernhofer, who has been with the company since the early days, said there’s a special relationship between Hagerty and its clients.
“We deal with many of the same people year after year, and a lot of them have become our friends. Some even feel like members of the family,” she said. “So it’s extremely important for us to take good care of those people.”
The decision to start Hagerty Marine arose from the family’s love of classic wooden boats. Since finding a company to insure their older boats was difficult, the Hagertys assumed (correctly) that they weren’t alone. So they set out to make it easier. After years of planning and mountains of paperwork, Hagerty Classic Marine Insurance came to fruition in 1984.
Armed with information about their new company’s unique Agreed Value policy, the Hagerty family drove to Detroit to test the waters at the annual Antique & Classic Boat Society (ACBS) meeting. The idea was an instant success.
“They asked us all kinds of questions, then we packed up and headed to Florida for another presentation,” Louise Hagerty said. “When we got there, we checked the answering machine back at home, and it was filled with messages from people wanting to sign up.”
The business grew quickly, and so did the staff. Several of those early hires are still with the company, including Gernhofer – and McKeel, who was in high school in ’84 and programmed the company’s first computer with the help of a classmate.
“That makes us sound a lot more sophisticated than we were,” McKeel said with a laugh. “We used paper files in those days, and the computer really had only one function – to print the policies. My mom only gave us one policy form to test it with, so we had to get it right.”
Of course, technology isn’t the only thing that has evolved in 30 years. The way rates and values are calculated has changed, as well. In the beginning, Hagerty had to develop its own rate engine, and since there was no definitive value guide for older boats at the time, clients’ input was invaluable – and Agreed Value essential. Now Hagerty Marine publishes its own value guide for collector boats, which can be accessed on the company’s website (www.hagertymarine.com). Over the years, the insurance products that Hagerty offers have also evolved to reflect the changing times of the classic and collector boat lifestyle.
Hagerty now provides coverage for classic fiberglass boats, known as “classic glass” or “fiberglassics,” in response to the needs of a growing clientele and its sometimes-fanatical passion for classic boats and cars. Despite being in business for several decades, Hagerty is still learning from its customers, who are highly particular when it comes to honoring tradition. For instance, a recent Hagerty advertisement pictured a boat cruising with its bumpers out – standard practice in Canada. It drew an immediate negative response from U.S. clients and served as a reminder that what is considered “traditional” in one place doesn’t always translate elsewhere.
Along with valuable client input and improved technology, dedicated researchers have also helped Hagerty Marine grow and run more efficiently. But nothing sets the company apart more than its continued pursuit of excellence, innovation and authenticity. As Hagerty employee Bev Miller said, “In today’s world, it’s important to slow things down a bit, take an extra minute with people to listen and care. It goes a long way.”
That sentiment was echoed by many following the recent passing of company co-founder Frank Hagerty. One of Frank’s greatest qualities was his ability to be present with people and to make them feel special in a conversation. It’s a gift and a legacy that has been manifested in the company that will always carry his name.