Portland, ME – John T. Leonard, the first and only president and CEO in the history of The MEMIC Group, has announced his intent to retire, effective September of 2017.
Leonard was recruited to help start the company in 1993, taking his position as president in the first few weeks of the fledgling operation. Under Leonard’s direction the company grew from a line of credit loan and operating only in Maine to a company with assets of more than $1.2 billion and offices from Maine to Florida. Now, The MEMIC Group (led by the original parent company Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Company) provides workers’ compensation insurance to more than 21,000 employers up and down the East Coast, maintains a surplus of more than $400 million, and has returned more than $220 million to policyholders since 1998. By most accounts, the company has been the catalyst for significantly reducing workplace injuries and their associated costs in its home state of Maine.
“The establishment and success of MEMIC has been a labor of love,” Leonard said. “I am so proud of this company, of its people, and of its mission to reduce injuries. The early days were really difficult but we all believed in the mission. We worked together with policyholders and workers to truly change Maine’s culture of workplace injuries to a culture of workplace safety. That work continues today, and every day there are people who go home each night, safe, because of the efforts spearheaded by MEMIC. I am immensely proud of that.
“We have now built a company that I believe is the best workers’ compensation insurer in the country. It is financially strong, highly rated by A.M. Best, and poised to become a national leader in our industry. It is now my time to step aside, and while it’s hard to leave something I love, I know that it’s in a very good position for future success.”
The company grew out of a reform of workers’ compensation laws in Maine in 1992. It is a private mutual insurance company, with its initial funding entirely through loans and insurance premiums. The company opened its doors in a small office in Westbrook, Maine in late 1992 and wrote its first policy on January 1, 1993.
Following an exodus of insurers during the unsettled time before the reform in Maine, MEMIC was established as the guaranteed market for workers’ compensation. That meant that Leonard was soon leading a company taking on thousands of new customers in each of its first few months. But the company and its board sought to not only serve as the guaranteed market, but to become a force in the commercial market in Maine.
Establishing a plan to reduce costs in Maine by reducing injuries, the company’s “partnership for workplace safety” campaign was highlighted by Leonard as company spokesman who made the case that employers and employees could work together to make workplaces safer. By 1998, lost time injuries in the state had fallen by more than 30 percent and costs for workers’ compensation insurance reduced by about 40 percent.
“(John’s) leadership made all the difference,” former Maine governor and now U.S. Senator Angus King, Jr. said in a 2013 interview. “A lot of people thought it wouldn’t work – to break through that, have it be successful and have it be such a service to Maine – it’s a real tribute to John’s leadership… I use it as an example of leadership.”
“I give John Leonard the credit for having been there at the inception and having had the vision,” said former Maine Governor John McKernan. “He understood from the beginning that… MEMIC could change the culture in the workplace all across Maine.”
In 2000, MEMIC first unveiled its diversification strategy by forming a subsidiary to write workers’ compensation insurance in other states under the “MEMIC” brand. The company grew its footprint over the years and acquired a second subsidiary in 2012. Today, the company underwrites more workers’ compensation premium outside of Maine than inside its home state, while Maine remains the home to its headquarters and its state of domicile.
“In the late 80s and early 90s, Maine was the worst state in the country for workers’ compensation,” Leonard said. “We were the company that proved that with the reforms to the law, the marketplace could again create the right balance between cost and employee safety. We took a unique approach and today, we’re taking that same approach down the East Coast and beyond.”
During his time as MEMIC’s CEO, the company and its leader has earned local and national recognition for overall performance, social responsibility, customer service and as a “Best Place to Work in Maine.” Leonard has been recognized by the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce, as the Distinguished Citizen of the Year by the Pine Tree Council of the Boy Scouts, as a “champion” by the Heart Association of Maine, and as “Legend of workers’ compensation” by the national organization known as AMCOMP. He has also been honored by leading the board of many national insurance organizations, including ACORD, the National Council of Compensation Insurance (NCCI), the American Association of Compensation Insurance Funds (AASCIF) and AMCOMP, and as a Board member of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC).
According to MEMIC Board Chair David Labbe, the company’s Board of Directors has been prepared for Leonard’s eventual retirement and has a plan to hire his successor. The company’s board has formed a search committee and expects to attract candidates internally and externally.
“John has built a strong management team here over the years,” Labbe said. “There will be very strong internal candidates but we will also do our due diligence with candidates from outside the company.
“Replacing John Leonard is no easy task. He is a unique and transformational leader who succeeded where so many thought he would fail. He leaves an incredible legacy of success, commitment, and goodwill.”