Peter Parkin, president of Vancouver’s Shephard Ashmore Insurance, heads one of the very few insurance brokerages in Canada that specialize in insuring musicians on tour. It’s a unique niche in a normally staid industry, and for 25 years Parkin’s company has been writing policies for acts like Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, Michael Buble, Hedley, Simple Plan, and Our Lady Peace. Here, he sits down with Advantage to discuss how Shephard Ashmore found and evolved its niche.
Advantage: So, does your job have any fringe benefits?
Peter Parkin: Oh, yes, it would be hard to imagine better benefits. I was thinking that while I was at the Pearl Jam concert last week.
How did you evolve an insurance brokerage to specialize in covering rock bands on tour? Why would you want to?
It’s not as surprising as you would think. In the mid-’80s, the previous owner of Shephard Ashmore, Scot Simmons, owned a nightclub with live music. He looked at an enormous pile of musical equipment that one of the bands brought in and asked their manager, “How do you insure your equipment?” The answer was, “We can’t.”
It grew from there. Scot used his contacts in the insurance industry to start developing a program providing basic equipment policies for musicians. Eventually the brokerage ended up changing its entire business focus from that of a general-purpose brokerage to one specializing in the entertainment industry.
How do you keep it profitable?
People have a cliché image of musicians abusing their equipment, smashing their guitars—well, maybe Pete Townshend does that as part of his act—but in reality, this equipment is so important. Musicians treat it with the utmost care. On average, we have better results with our brokerage than many other brokerages.
Are live shows still the draw they used to be?
More than ever. Whereas bands used to depend on making their living selling albums, they now depend, to a much larger extent, on touring to produce revenue. Many bands are on the road playing lots more dates. We are working with more than 200 Canadian bands right now, and they need to insure more than just their equipment—they need liability, workers compensation, coverage for touring vehicles, and emergency-travel-medical for themselves, their families, and their road crews year-round.
How did you get involved with entertainment insurance?
I worked as a commercial insurance underwriter for over 15 years, which provided the essential technical education and experience. I ended up underwriting business for Shephard Ashmore, which gave me some exposure to insuring bands like Loverboy and Bryan Adams. To someone like me, who had been playing guitar since [the age of] 11, it seemed very interesting and exciting.
When did you take the reins?
Scot and I got to know each other. He was looking for an opportunity to move on from the retail-insurance business and had no firm succession plan. So my business partner, Craig Arnatt, and I decided we should look at buying the company. With the full support of the Economical Insurance Group, where I worked, we became 50 percent shareholders in Shephard Ashmore. Scot stayed on as a shareholder for two years, which allowed us to learn the idiosyncrasies of the industry. We completed a very orderly transfer of the remaining shares in 2010.
What advice would you give someone stepping into a role like yours?
Learn to delegate! When you are surrounded by talented people who are experts in their field, you need to share information and trust them to get the job done. When choosing a partner, find someone whose skill sets differ from your own. Partner with someone who is not so much like you but who complements you.
Given that you dominate the Canadian entertainment-insurance market now, how will Shephard Ashmore grow in the years ahead?
In addition to working directly with large acts, we provide insurance for many festivals and community events. In fact, there are many smaller events, like sports tournaments, that require short-term insurance as a precondition for them to get a municipal permit. We are developing a series of commercial-liability products that can be purchased online to satisfy these needs. Craig, who specializes in information technology, is developing a completely automated system to streamline the insurance-purchasing experience in this area.