Cass & Johansing – Insuring LA’s Past and Future

by | Jun 21, 2022 | Celebrating Family Business

Geoff Johansing
COO/Broker
Cass & Johansing now IOA Insurance Services
4th Generation
Insurance Agency

Can you tell us how the business started?

My great grandfather was an insurance agent in Cleveland, Ohio.  The insurance carriers wanted him to start a business in Los Angeles so in 1913 he moved West to set up an insurance agency.  My great grandfather met Louis Cass and they set up Cass & Johansing in downtown Los Angeles in 1915.  The business did very well because these were the early days of LA’s development so there was tremendous growth.  My grandfather joined the firm in the 1940s and my father joined the firm in the early 70s.  I joined the firm in 1994.

Our firm had a significant presence in LA’s business life.  In the early 1950s we built a building downtown which was near where the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce is currently located.  It was two or three floors and had a cafeteria.  We then moved to an entire floor at 1910 Sunset.  Our clients included many well-known LA organizations including Union Oil, the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Van de Kamp, and Vons.

One of the most interesting companies we worked with was the Auto Club.  Automobile policies use to have three different parts: liability, comprehensive, and collision.  We set up a program where we combined all three policies together into one auto policy.  The Auto Club used the program to sell their insurance coverage.  We were the company that started the Auto Club’s insurance program.

Did the Cass family have four generations of family members working in the business?

No.  Both founders brought their sons into the family business.  My great grandfather brought in my grandfather Paul, and his older brother, Harry.  Louie Cass Sr. brought in his son Louie.  It didn’t work out for Louie Jr. so he left the business.  It wound up being my grandfather and his brother.  Louie Sr. stayed for a while, and then they bought him out.  Even though there were no Cass family members in the business, the firm had a 40+ history in Los Angeles so they decided to keep the name.

Can you tell us about life growing up in the family business? 

The family business was a big part of our lives.  We would go down to the office during summer which was right by Echo Park.  We would play at Echo Park and we’d also go play at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.  We never had official jobs during the summer, but we’d make copies, do filing, and other silly stuff like that.  We’d typically go to lunch at  Taix on Sunset.  It’s an old family-owned French Restaurant and we knew the names of everybody that worked there.

His office had a very distinctive smell and I remember my father coming home and smelling like the office.  I don’t recall having nightly conversations about the everyday interactions of the family business; however, it must have had a huge impact on us.  I’m the oldest of eight kids and four of us entered the insurance business.

Did the company hold scheduled events for the employees?

Even though that shouldn’t be a controversial question, it actually is.  There were things that I cannot believe they did back then to some of the employees.  Back in the day, there was a paddle that they would use to smack ladies on their butt as a type of initiation and that was just one thing.  They had something called the Two Bit Club and everyone would pitch in some money to stock up the bar.  We had a cafeteria so after work, family and employees, would hang out and get a little crazy.  Everyone had their own little glass with their names engraved on it and a one-ounce marker so you could measure your shot.  Nobody was counting the number of shots.

It was definitely a social atmosphere also, and the employees developed long term relationships.  I bought a used surfboard on Facebook Marketplace for my daughter.  When I met the owner to pick up the board, it turned out that his father worked for the firm and I remember training him on our new management system.

Can you tell me about your work history in business? 

I had an accounting degree and my dad asked me to help in the accounting department because, Chris, who ran the department for a long, long time, was sick.  Her nickname was “Sergeant” and it was a perfect name for her.  She was a very sweet lady inside, but you had to get through a really thick shell to get there.  Ingrid also worked in the department and she was a very funny German woman.  She would say to me, “Geoff, I like fancy things.”  She had glittery nail polish and wore lots of rings and bracelets.  She was in her mid-60s and was single.  Eventually, we brought in an insurance automation system so the staff requirements became less and less.  Once we did the implementation, I found running the accounting department pretty boring.

I left the agency and joined a CPA firm that wanted to develop an insurance accounting department.  They asked if I wanted to go into a sales and marketing function and that was perfect.  However, the project folded and I went to work for one of the firm’s clients.  Finally, I went to my dad and asked him if I could join the firm selling insurance.  He said no!

Why didn’t he want you to sell insurance?

One core tenant of the family business is that you needed to get experience in the insurance industry outside of the family business before working in it.  My dad worked for an insurance company up in Northern California as an underwriter before he started in the family business.  My father told me to go interview other insurance companies and see if they’d hire me.  That wasn’t easy because our firm had been in the area since 1915 and my last name is Johansing, everybody knew who I was.  Every interview ended at the same place, why would we train you so you can go back and work for your family business.  Eventually, my dad relented and moved me into the insurance selling side of the business.  That was 23-years ago so it worked out well.

Was there an event that triggered the change from “the kid” to a valued member of the management team?

I think it was my ability to read the financials and assess what we were doing and where we were headed.  We had some difficult times with separating the business of selling insurance to running an insurance business.  I had the responsibility for making things sustainable and people recognized my role in the firm.

Cass & Johansing had a long successful history in Los Angeles.  What led to combining with IOC?

Cass & Johansing’s transition from Generation Two to Generation Three didn’t go as planned.  The life insurance proceeds that were intended to purchase the agency stock were spent on supporting lifestyles.  We are a very big family and the stock was also owned by family members who were not involved in the business.  Things got very contentious in the 1990s and caused a large family riff.  We were also starting to run into resource allocation issues with trying to serve the needs of the clients.

We had conversations over a five-year period about what we should do.  We knew what we were doing wasn’t sustainable.  We reduced the number offices from four to two, the number of employees from 30 to 20.  We needed to manage our book of business to make sure we were making a profit. We created an insurance program for Leisure World in the 60’s as they were building their business in Northern and Southern California.  These were small condo policies that cost $500 and we’d get a 10% commission.  The residents were older so we received lots of calls and inquiries on issues and we couldn’t keep up.

We struggled with what to do and how to do it.  If we decided to cut back, it was going to impact members of our family.  I had a brother that came into the business.  He needed more training than we give could give him so we had to let him go.  During this time period, my father got very sick and was in the ICU.  It was incredibly stressful for myself and my family.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in the business.

We were introduced to IOA and they were a good match for us.  I grew up Catholic in a devout Catholic family. IOA is  Christian organization and very family focused.  Joining them helped us handle a lot of issues including stock ownership by outside family members; getting a sizable amount of cash for my parents; and getting us to the next level as an agency and not selling out.  I own my book of business, I’m a shareholder at IOA and I still work with my sister and dad.  IOA has 300+ producers with a similar relationship with us so I get to focus on selling insurance and let IOA handle the operations.

What is one memory from the family business that you cherish the most?

The opportunity to have my grandfather, father and myself in the same room discussing work.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when coming into the family business?

How to treat others.

Is there a Fifth Generation of Johansing waiting to go into the business?

I have two daughters, one is 18 and is 16 and I’m open for them to do anything that they want.  Both of them have talked about the insurance business so if they want to join us, that would be great.

Short Answer

Biggest non-family idol or inspiration? Jeff Jones / IOA producer that brought us onboard
What keeps you up at night? Keeping my family and clients secure.
What are you streaming? Ted Lasso
What’s on your turntable or Spotify playlist? Eric Church, Imagine Dragons, Sam Cooke and a ton of music and podcasts
Godfather I or Godfather II? Godfather I
Favorite LA Sports team Lakers
Favorite LA College USC for no real reason.
Favorite place to listen to music Greek Theater
Quintessential LA activity or experience Hollywood Bowl
Desert, Beach or Mountains Mountains, sailings
Best part of LA I think the best and worst are simply driving around and looking at the diversity
Least favorite part of LA – Homelessness is a terrible sight throughout the city.
Favorite restaurant Taix
Best junk food In-&-Out
LA Social Causes Ronald McDonald House

Geoff can be reached at Geoff.Johansing@ioausa.com or 626 243-9127.

 

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.