Generations of Leaders: Universal Insurance Programs’ Lasting Legacy

Posted by Erica Shatzer on Jun 3, 2024 1:03:00 PM

Some parents have successfully managed to accomplish that feat with their own children; others are actively shaping their successors to ensure their family business continues to thrive after they step down. At Universal Insurance Programs, for instance, one mother's exceptional example has generated two generations of energetic, ambitious women.


Self-Made Leader


Randy Tipton, chairman of the board for Phoenix, Ariz.-based Universal Insurance, has been in the insurance industry for nearly five decades. After graduating from high school and getting married, she landed an entry-level job at an insurance company. She was 17 years old and eager to learn the ropes in what was a “male-dominated world.” Over the years, she educated herself, reading insurance-related materials, attending educational seminars, and studying to obtain insurance licenses. 


Tipton says she had to “be sharp, professional, and prepared,” but being a minority helped her build the resilience and confidence she needed to grow. “Challenges help make you stronger.” Tipton made some strategic moves to grow and learn in this industry, including working at Transamerica Insurance for 10 years. While there she reached the position of assistant regional manager and was often the only woman in the conference room. She acquired so much knowledge in her roles at this company, but a desire to be close to the client prompted her to apply for an open position at Phoenix-based MiniCo Insurance Agency, where she spent five years learning the intricacies of underwriting for self-storage and the nuances of the industry. At the time, MiniCo produced a trade publication, Mini-Storage Messenger, in which the company would promote its various insurance products—a cross-promotion strategy that appealed to Tipton.


It was that interest that led her to the door of an industry competitor: Universal Insurance, which was owned by Virgo Publishing, LLC. Similar to MiniCo, Universal’s self-storage insurance products were promoted within its magazine Inside Self-Storage. Tipton recalls that Virgo Publishing had nearly two dozen niche business magazines when she started at Universal as vice president in 1995. “I thought it would be intriguing to create similar models for other niche markets,” she says. 


Under Tipton’s direction, Universal Insurance went on to develop robust insurance programs for several other industries, including tanning salons and day spas—both of which remain in place to this day. Universal still promotes and markets those programs through corresponding industry-specific magazines and trade shows. 


“Universal Insurance was built on a code of ethics that includes honesty, integrity, and friendliness,” says Tipton. “We pride ourselves on treating everybody with open communication and respect. For over 25 years, our experienced team of specialized insurance professionals create an ease of mind for our clients across the country. Universal Insurance is a solution-based organization that solves problems in order to protect your business.”


Following 10 years of hard work and dedication, Tipton was ready to take over the reins. In 2005, she purchased Universal Insurance from Virgo Publishing and stepped into the role of president with poise. “It’s not the small business it was 30 years ago,” she says. For that reason, she continues to focus on education to“become better educated about insurance to run a better business.”


A Model Mom


Screenshot 2024-06-27 at 12.50.32 PMAlthough Tipton, who takes adversity in stride, makes the corporate climb from an entry-level position to president seem graceful, she overcame more than her fair share of stumbling blocks during that ascension. In addition to “outside influences” beyond her control, such as challenging economic times, she was juggling the countless responsibilities of rearing two children as a single mother.


“We were in it together, the three of us,” Tipton says about being a working mom without spousal support. Because work and life sometimes overlapped, her children regularly witnessed her labors. “I saw her rise up to be an honorable career woman,” says Jenny Bortman, president and CEO of Universal Insurance Programs. “I’m lucky to have her as my mom.” 


When Tipton needed to put in extra hours, and they weren’t in school or extracurriculars, her children would accompany her to the office and complete age-appropriate tasks. They also chipped in at home by completing household chores. “I’d make it fun for them,” she adds. Besides earning some spending money, they were learning a valuable life lesson: “Good hard work is rewarded.” 


Throughout their lives, Tipton also emphasized the importance of education. They were both encouraged to attend university, obtain degrees and/licenses, and become lifelong learners.


Honesty was another principle that she both practiced and preached. Of her children, it was her daughter, Jenny, who most mirrored Tipton’s drive and work ethic in the insurance industry. “She was always interested in the business,” she says, adding that Jenny enjoyed tagging along to do projects in the office when she needed to work on Saturdays. “I like to say that she was bred for it.” 


“Randy’s supportive and intuitive guidance has been invaluable,” Bortman retorts, as she had always thought insurance to be fun and interesting. 


Devoted Daughter 


Screenshot 2024-06-27 at 12.50.24 PMThe same year that Tipton purchased UIP, her daughter Jenny graduated from Northern Arizona University with a major in chemistry and a minor in math. She gained sales experience at NestlePurina for a few years before leaving Las Vegas and returning to Arizona with her husband. The couple, who have been married since 2006, were ready to start a family, and it was her husband, her “rock,” who encouraged her to join Universal Insurance Programs in 2007 as an account executive.


Most evenings, even to this day, Bortman takes home insurance-related reading materials to learn as much as possible about the business and broaden her horizons. She obtained the various licenses she needed to step into new roles and is dedicated to always learning more. Bortman goes on to say that working at a Fortune 500 company at 22 years old helped her build confidence.


Of course, she is grateful for her mother’s constant encouragement along the way—priceless praise that eased her transitions within the company and empowered her to successfully carry the load of new responsibilities. “She’s a wealth of knowledge,” Bortman says about Tipton. “We work so well together.” 


Mutual respect has been another beneficial, although sometimes challenging, aspect of their working relationship. “We don’t want each other to work so hard,” says Bortman,“ so we take on stuff as not to overload each other.” 


Over the last 16 years, Bortman, a goal-oriented social butterfly, has become an indispensable member of the UIP team,bolstering UIP’s growth through her inno-vative thinking and progressive marketing strategies, even during periods of economic uncertainty, starting in 2007, when she left the stability of a large corporation for the family business. She knew she made the right decision, but it was a hard time at Universal, especially when businesses are closing on an almost daily basis. “We grew despite a shrinking industry,” she says about the tanning sector, noting that many tanning salons had gone out of business. 


Most recently, COVID-19 forced many of the tanning salons, hair/nail salons, and day spas that UIP insures to close their doors for extended periods of time. In situations like those, Bortman has been successful by being “up front” with clients and facing issues head on. She says it’s best to show strength instead of being fearful. She is a true believer that “when one door closes another one opens that’s even bigger and better.” This mindset enables UIP to continue to pivot and find different ways to grow and thrive. 


“She’s a visionary,” says Tipton, adding that they have always been “compatible” in the business. “She sees the big picture, has great new ideas, and works hard—all of which are a recipe for success. She always knows where she is going.” 


Before being promoted from COO to president and CEO this May, Bortman presented a formal presentation to the company’s partners. She says that showcasing her strengths and proving that she was the best person to fill her mother's shoes was a “good exercise,” even though she already had Tipton's whole-hearted approval. “She knows this business inside and out,” Tipton says. “My daughter embodies everything we stand for at Universal Insurance: collaboration, accountability, enthusiasm, and relentless loyalty. She has forged incredibly strong relationships with our partners over the past 15-plus years. I have every confidence in her.”


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Aspirations For UIP 

According to Tipton, UIP’s vision has always been “to provide insurance solutions in an enthusiastic and collaborative way, remaining relentlessly loyal to our clients and our team while holding ourselves accountable for our actions.” 


Bortman plans to uphold the enduring vision while complementing it with her own objective of building up team leaders who can enhance the company's existing insurance programs and build new ones. She’s already begun investing in UIP’s management team, hiring a business coach to focus on its vision, strategy, leadership, and growth. In addition, she has been employing new team members and grooming others to become underwriters in order to “continue on the momentum of a growing company.” 


Serving as a board member for another insurance agency, Bortman is highly motivated to build new relationships while remaining friendly with the competition. “The success of this company and the people we support are of the utmost importance to me,” says Bortman, who’s passionate about watching others grow and blossom. “As president, I’ll do everything I can to build on the legacy my mom has created. We're not a small business anymore, and the time is right for me to bring new ideas and a fresh approach to our company's next phase. It’s an honor to take on this role, and I’m looking forward to executing an exciting strategy for continued growth and innovation.”


One aspect of her plan is to place a renewed focus on systems and technology, streamlining processes to improve experiences for clients, brokers, carriers,and team members. This includes having a “faster, better product than the competition,” Bortman says, pointing out that the societal shift to “instant” has been particularly challenging because insurance is methodical. For that reason, UIP brought on an IT manager approximately 1.5 years ago to assist with the progression of its claims filing process as well as the enhancement of its communication channels. 


Finally, she’s also brainstorming new verticals to expand UIP’s offerings. “Insurance is a hard market,” says Bortman,who mentions that weather-related claims and increasingly litigious people have only made it more difficult. “We’re looking at different avenues,”she says, adding that being resilient,diversified, and strong for the company,employees, clients, and carriers is a core business strategy. Developing new programs that could help UIP’s existing clients is another potential route.“When our clients are happy, everyone is happy.”


Next Generation

TiptonsBut no one is happier than Tipton. “Jenny will take the company to new levels,” she says. “I am so proud and excited to see that!” Tipton reveals that other insurance companies inquired about acquiring UIP in the past, but she wanted to keep it a family business. “The self-storage industry is very family oriented,” she says. “I love working in the industry. I’m blessed and thankful to be in it.”


What’s more, Tipton has been planning this succession for 10 years, and being a grandmother has made it even more meaningful. “It’s a good time to pass it over and take on a different role,” says Tipton, who turns 70 this year and is eager to spend more time traveling, playing with her four grandkids, volunteering, mentoring others, upholding the integrity of underwriting, working on special projects, and serving as an ambassador for the company. “Now I have the joy of seeing my daughter grow and prosper.” 


To that end, Bortman says, “I’m building a legacy that I may pass down to my own daughter.” Lily, who’s 10 and a half years old, already delights in working in UPs mailroom, the same department where Bortman got her feet wet as a child. Her son, Levi, 12, loves to come into the office too, but he is dedicated and geared up to become a professional soccer player. 


While Bortman is a realist, she also believes hard work and the right skills can help you follow your dreams, whether it’s the family business or professional sports. “She always makes everything a million times better,” Lily says about her mother, “and that’s why I’m here today working for my mom and grandma.” And Bortman, with deep appreciation and admiration not only for her mom but also her supporting husband and loving children, couldn’t be prouder. 


Though Lily still has a lot of growing up to do, and there will be new challenges to face in the future, the solid foundation Tipton built for Universal Insurance Programs will undoubtedly be able to weather any storm, especially with Bortman there to reinforce the groundwork that has kept the company—and family—standing strong for decades.



Erica Shatzer is the editor of Modern Storage Media.