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December 2007
Tailored Insurance
By Renee Roberson

     From the outset, Hood, Hargett & Associates, Inc. looks like just another brick business building at the corner of North McDowell and Fifth Street. But venture inside, and you’ll find loyal employees working to find the best insurance premiums for their clients on three different floors, all under the management and watchful eye of David L. (Chuck) Hood Jr., president of the company.

     Hood doesn’t believe in micro-managing his employees. He says that if you have good employees, you don’t need to keep track of their every move. His philosophy for keeping his 24 employees happy is simple. If you show your employees that they are respected and trusted to perform their duties in an efficient and timely matter, they will do the best job they possibly can for you.

 

Trust is Key

     “I think our employees realize they are compensated well,” Hood says. “They are given freedom and flexibility. They don’t have to do a lot of reporting back to us. If you do your job and get results that’s what’s important. We’ve been blessed. We’ve got the most talented people working for us right now than we’ve ever had. I think everyone enjoys coming to work,” he adds.

     Hood, Hargett & Associates is a full-service independent insurance agency devoted to serving the insurance needs of a number of high-profile companies in a variety of industries throughout the southeastern United States. Hood Hargett has agency contracts with over a dozen different insurance companies and brokerage access to many additional markets. For example, if Hood Hargett has a homebuilder client, they will gather information about the business and put together a package with specific coverages for that client’s unique exposures. “It’s our job to match the proper customer with the proper insurance company,” Hood explains.

     Hood sort of landed in the insurance business by accident. A native of Charlotte, he received an economics degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1971. His original plan was to work for a year and then attend graduate school in hopes of receiving an M.B.A. He returned to Charlotte and began working at First Union in their trust department. About 15 months later an insurance agency recruited him and he hasn’t looked back.

     In 1975 Hood and Dan Hargett formed Hood, Hargett & Associates. “My wife was pregnant at the time, so it was probably a foolish move to venture out on our own, but it all worked out,” Hood jokes now.

     The newly formed company opened in July of 1975 and his son was born in January. While Hood and Hargett had a few existing clients when they opened their business, the two had to do a lot of cold calling early on. They started out contacting friends and relatives, or “getting all the lowest hanging fruit” first, as Hood jokingly puts it, and went from there.

     Over the years the company has occupied a number of locations throughout uptown Charlotte. They started out at one location on South Tryon Street, moved to another location on South Tryon Street, and then moved to their current location on North McDowell Street in 1985. Hood says they will probably be moving again in the near future.

 

A Look Inside

     The first floor of the office is tastefully decorated with dark charcoal walls and gold-accented valances. The smell of coffee percolating fills the air, and the walls hold pictures of Hood with the various retired athletes and politicians he’s met over the years.

     On the two other floors of Hood, Hargett & Associates, you’ll find cubicles covered in family photos filled with employees working industriously. Other cubicles are empty, as many employees are in and out of the office in between client meetings. The second floor also houses a kitchen for employees to use, and Hood likes to stop by and joke with employees as they eat their lunch.

     The length of years many employees have worked for Hood gives insight into what kind of boss he must be. There are several employees that have been with him over 10 years, including one that’s worked there since July of 1975.

     “When we started out, we hired two customer service representatives to help us, including Jean Sherrill,” says Hood. “She’s still here.” Sherrill now serves as the company’s office manager, commercial account manager and accountant.

     “We worked together for a year at another insurance agency prior to this one,” explains Sherrill. “I was vacationing at the beach back in 1975 when Chuck called me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to come work for him at his new business. I was very flattered,” she remembers.

     Hood and Sherrill were in their mid-twenties when Hood, Hargett & Associates was formed, and Sherrill says she started out making coffee and covering accounting, customer service, and secretarial duties. Today, she still does a little bit of everything around the office, and says she can’t imagine ever working anywhere else.

     “I couldn’t ask for a better person to work for,” Sherrill adds. “He’s kind, he’s generous, and he’s thoughtful. “There’s a lot of trust, understanding and compassion here. He’s just a good kind man. We’re just a big family. If you’ve got a problem, you take it to him, and he’ll do everything he can to solve it. I can’t imagine working for anybody else. We’ve grown old together,” she jokes.

     After Hargett retired in 1988, Hood took over the business as president. Now in his 32nd year of business, it’s a job he clearly loves, and he’s used his position as a prominent local business owner in numerous fundraising efforts and community involvement. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for New Dominion Bank, and the First Tee of Charlotte, as well as the Board of Visitors for Charlotte Country Day School and Board of Advisors for the Alexander Youth Network. Previously, he has served on the Board of Directors for the Charlotte Metro YMCA and the Executive Committee of the Greater Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

     “I first met Chuck seventeen years ago when I joined the Alexander Youth Network,” remembers Craig Bass, president of the organization. “He has been an active supporter of the organization for as long as I’ve been around.”

     When Bass first became CEO of the Alexander Youth Network, he wanted to avoid any conflicts of interest so he didn’t do business with any members on the Board of Directors. After Chuck finished his term on the board, he called Bass up one day and asked if he could bid on the group’s insurance.

     “He was able to put together a much better insurance package for us and save the agency money as well,” adds Bass. “Recently, our board asked me to get some more insurance bids to ensure that we were still getting the best deal possible. Chuck, once again, came out on top with the best package and the best price, and he was a good sport about it,” Bass jokes.

 

Educational Opportunities

     Much of Hood’s fundraising efforts revolve around the importance of education for young people. Hood’s children attended Charlotte Country Day School, and after they graduated he decided to help give back to the school in various efforts. In early 2000, Hood served as co-chair of a $34 million capital campaign at Charlotte Country Day School. In 2001, he helped establish the Sammy Brody Endowed Scholarship Fund at Charlotte Country Day School. The annual scholarship is awarded to a deserving incoming freshman or sophomore at the school.

     In 2006, Hood purchased the Breakfast Club America franchise after serving as its title sponsor for five years. Now the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club brings business owners together eight times a year for networking opportunities. Approximately 250 to 300 people attend the breakfast events. Jennifer Snyder, manager for the club, coordinates speakers for each event almost exclusively through the Washington Speakers Bureau. Hood hired her to manage the club because she had worked for the previous owner and was experienced at driving membership levels and organizing the club’s events.

     Hood’s love for the project is evident as he points out past and future speakers, as well as the scholarships the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club Student Athlete Program has awarded to area high school students. In April 2007, after listening to a moving speech by Liz Murray who went from “homeless to Harvard,” Hood decided to rename the scholarship after her.

     “Liz’s story was so inspirational, so motivational, so much what our Student Athlete Program is about, I just knew it was the right thing to do,” Hood says.

     Each month during the school year (September through May), the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club awards a $1,000 scholarship to the Liz Murray Scholarship Fund winner at its monthly breakfast meeting held at Carmel Country Club. Each month’s winner is invited to be a part of the breakfast, where they are introduced and recognized from the podium before being invited to sit with the guest speaker at the head table. The student’s parents, high school principal and coach are also invited and encouraged to attend.

 

Inspiring Employees to Give Back

     Philanthropy is a subject Hood is passionate about. He takes great joy in his fundraising efforts, and many of his employees, including Snyder, share in his generous spirit. She recently received the 2007 Lake Township Chamber of Commerce Community Service Person of the Year Award.

     Snyder grew up in Ohio, and was moved when she learned of the plight of Blake Davis, who lost his mother and unborn sister at the age of two. She began working to promote “Blake’s Bright Tomorrow,” a college fundraiser for Davis.

     “This tragedy literally hit close to home for me as I grew up in this community and my parents still live there,” Snyder told Business News last month. “I wanted to do something to make a difference in this young boy’s life so that his grandmother and family can rebuild their lives secure in the knowledge that Blake’s future higher education expenses will be covered.”

     Clearly proud of the work of one of his employees, Hood accompanied Snyder to Hartville, Ohio, when she accepted the award by members of the local chamber of commerce.

 

Becoming Part of Charlotte’s Growth

     Like any business, Hood has weathered a few ups and downs in revenue over the years, particularly after 9/11, when insurance premiums “went through the roof,” as he puts it. When he’s not servicing clients, serving on various committees or helping Snyder with the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, Hood enjoys spending time with his family and the occasional round of golf. Hood, Hargett & Associates also recently served as a sponsor for the 2007 “Driving Away Hunger Golf Tournament,” held at the Carolina Golf Club in May.

     From the outside, Hood may make running a successful business look easy, but he admits there are drawbacks to being a small business owner.

     “The hardest thing for me is letting go,” he says. “I don’t believe that every business owner worth his salt is ever satisfied.”

     Bass, however, is very satisfied with the level of customer service he receives from Chuck and the other employees at Hood Hargett.

     “Chuck has developed a depth of knowledge about our business, which is quite specialized,” he says.                    
      “Consequently, he has become the agent for many of our peer nonprofits.”

      “The two things about Chuck and the folks at Hood Hargett that really set them apart are service and community,” adds Bass. “They are always cheerful and responsive to us when we call them for help, no matter how many times we ask them the same questions! And they are involved in supporting the community. When we need help, Chuck is there, and I know he’s involved in a number of other charitable organizations in the area. He obviously believes in giving back.”

Renee Roberson is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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