Primerica survives by having co-CEOs running the company

By Elliott Brack
GwinnettForum.com, April 6, 2012

Next spring, one of Gwinnett's key corporations, Primerica Inc., will move their corporate offices about two miles to a sparkling new and efficient 344,476 square foot building just off Georgia Highway 120 at Meadow Creek Road.

Primerica, which employs 1,700 employees off Breckenridge Boulevard in 385,217 square feet, has been part of the Gwinnett corporate world since 1985. It began as A.L. Williams Associates in Tucker in 1977, later was located near Northlake Mall, changed its name along the way, and at one time was part of the mega financial giant, Citi Group. Primerica wrested itself from Citi Group and went public on April 1, 2010.

We spent time with co-CEO John Addison (the other co-CEO is Richard Williams), specifically asking how a big mid-cap company ($1.7-8 billion) could be run by "co-CEOs." The short answer is that the two have worked together in running the firm for 13 years, get along easily, have divided their responsibilities like partners, and "it just happened."

Addison adds: "I take care of the agency and marketing and product side, and Richard handles the finances and those details." Addison is from Covington, and Richard is from New Jersey, and came to Primerica to do due diligence for the forerunner of Citi Group.

The pair became particularly close all along, but especially in the waning days of Citi Group's ownership, often together fighting to keep Primerica distinct, and not gobbled up. Addison says: "The Citi Group people picked the leadership team. They recognized that we were both good guys, and knew what we were doing in running the company, and that it was not a forced relationship. We've never fought. We have a shared vision." He adds: "And when we both retire (both are near age 55), we will find something else to do together."

From its very beginning, the cornerstone of Primerica is the idea of "buy term life insurance, and invest the difference." Originally, customers often pulled funds out of cash-value life insurance. These days, instead of replacement insurance, it's mostly new insurance sales. The Primerica sales force has only about 10 percent of its 90,000 agents as full time. "These part time agents are earning extra money," Addison says, "And we stay in close contact with them." They do this through their own pioneering private television network, linking directly with the agents each week.

"Our typical client has a household income of $65,000, and many are upside down on their home mortgage, since the housing market collapsed in early 2009." More than 4.3 million lives are insured through Primerica.

Becoming an independent public company for Primerica wasn't easy, especially as it came during the 2009-10 financial crisis. "We wanted to remain whole as a company, and were about to stare into an abyss. But Richard and I had confidence in Primerica and went on the road, into 14 cities, mainly in the USA, but including cities in Italy, England and Germany, and key US cities, to tell our story. And it worked. The initial public offer was originally priced at $15, but Citi Group had a lot of demand for it, and it opened in 2010 at $19. Today it is selling for $26."

Why did the firm decide to have its new facilities near their present location? Addison says: "Gwinnett has been good to us. But we also wanted to relocate near to where we were because of our employees, to make it continue to be convenient to them."

 

Primerica, headquartered in Duluth, GA, is a leading distributor of financial products to middle income households in North America with approximately 95,000 licensed representatives. The company and its representatives offer clients term life insurance, mutual funds, variable annuities and other financial products. Primerica insures 4.3 million lives and more than 2 million clients maintain investment accounts with the company. Primerica's mission is to serve middle income families by helping them make informed financial decisions and providing them with the strategies and means to gain financial independence.