By Dan Reynolds
Aon's Mike Stankard, a four-time Power BrokerŽ winner in the automotive category, is a trusted expert in his field. Over the past few years, he's helped clients cope with a global economic crisis and he's managed massive property loss and business interruption exposures from the March, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The managing director and automotive practice leader for Aon Risk Solutions is also a family man, but there are times when a hard-working man has to cut loose, and Stankard, by his own admission, is engaging in something that could be described as a fling.
So, what does she look like? She's a dusty rose color, to be technical about her, and although not as rare as an individual snowflake, she is pretty rare. She is in fact, one of only 1,400 or so made in 1957.
She is a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Seville, and she represents the first foray that Stankard is making into the realm of automobile car collecting. In pursuing this hobby, Stankard is exhibiting a trait that many of his brethren who work in automotive insurance brokering share; a deep-running passion for cars and the desire, in some cases, to own as many of them as possible.
The Detroit-based Stankard said he loves the work he does because he loves being involved in the auto industry. And just as surely, he loves the cars themselves.
There may be no town in the U.S. that is more car-conscious than Detroit, which as we know serves as the headquarters for General Motors. Vintage autos share the roads in that part of Michigan with not only the latest and greatest cars made in the U.S. but the world over.
Stankard has desired for years to own something truly exotic. He still has kids in college though, and he told himself he would be good and wait. But the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, the annual car cruise and show in August that brings out the best vintage cars in Detroit, was breaking him down.
"For the last 10 years I have been drooling and just waiting until I could have one of those and so this year I was able to participate first hand," Stankard said.
And the car he found in Minnesota by way of Manitoba, Canada is a beauty. She sports generous whitewalls and a curvaceous chassis. She also hails from a time when it could be said that automotive designers ruled the roost in Detroit, not accountants.
Stankard has lived through the times when the American automobile industry may have lost customers because the designs of its cars were neglected.
"I will speak for the American buyer, who I think has always had and continues to have an eye for design," Stankard said.
"If a car is not interesting looking they are not interested in buying it," Stankard said.
He said that focus on design seems to be coming back. He cites in particular some of the more recent design work being done by Cadillac. "They have gone with an edgy, sexy look if you will and I think that's great," Stankard said.
The Skau Stable
As Stankard now proudly cruises Detroit in his vintage Eldorado, he shares the road with a cross-town rival, an automobile broker who has a keen appetite for cars and a sharp method in acquiring them.
If Stankard presents himself as a bit of a romantic whose professional credentials can well speak for him, Jeff Skau, a managing director in Marsh's automotive practice, is one who, in the pursuit of his hobby, allows the tools and ambition that make him an effective broker bubble much closer to the surface.
He makes no bones about being aggressive and he has a well-honed knack for finding good deals. And he has a stable of cars that would make even the most indifferent motorist jealous.
Caution should govern the motorist who dares impede the progress of Skau as he commutes in his Mercedes G 55, or Gelandewagen. The sports utility vehicle is the kind favored by the likes of Detroit Red Wings forward Sergi Federov and can get in touch with 140 miles per hour in a hurry when duly provoked.
For Skau, who drives close to 40,000 miles per year, it is his office and an admitted urban assault vehicle.
"It has the size and the all-wheel drive yet it is very quick and responsive," Skau said. "I use it to get to and from the office in Detroit and if anything gets in my way, good luck," he said.
But when Skau takes to the Michigan countryside on a balmy summer afternoon, it is not in the Mercedes but rather, in an elegant 2007 Jaguar XK convertible that he sets out. It has all of 4,000 miles on it and he followed his selection pattern in acquiring it. He purchased it from an owner in the Sun Belt. No rust that way and no suspension issues from running in and out of potholes.
"What I like to do is buy high-end foreign cars that are two years old with low miles from Southern states," Skau said.
Why buy new, he reasons, when you can let someone else absorb the first two years of a car's depreciating value and then pick up the car at a savings? And who would argue with him?
Other members of the Skau stable of cars include a Jeep Wrangler, a Range Rover and a Mercedes E 350 wagon, a car that Skau heaps praise on. In his life, he has owned 19 cars and he is probably not done.
We all have that one car that we remember. Maybe we bought in college, maybe we were lucky enough to drive it in high school and had our first kiss in it.
Gregory Myers, executive management director of Beecher Carlson, like Stankard a four-time Power BrokerŽ winner in the automotive category, had such a car that he can't seem to forget.
It was a 1971 Datsun 240Z which he bought when he was a senior in college. "It was a great driving car and at that point in time they did not make Z's in black," he said. "I had the chrome stripped off of the car and had it painted black."
The car's license plate read "BLK NITE" and Myers recalls that the thing was a bit of a chick magnet as he cruised the fertile hunting grounds of the University of California at San Diego back in 1977.
But as we learned in "Puff the Magic Dragon" we all grow up sometime, and so did Myers. Marriage and parenthood followed for him and there came a time where he could not rationalize hanging on to that beloved 240Z. "I couldn't support having a two-seater in that manner," Myers said.
He's had other loves along the way, including a BMW 540, a six-speed with a V8 engine. But Myers admits he is pining a bit these days. "I am still enthralled with cars and regret that I don't have that special car right now," Myers said.
A "Just So" Story
Aon's Stankard has a colleague who is also no stranger to the Power BrokerŽ winner circle. His name is Anthony DeFelice. DeFelice is a New York-based national casualty practice leader for Aon and a three-time Power BrokerŽ winner in the automotive category.
DeFelice works in a casualty automotive practice that places product liability for almost every car manufacturer of note.
He seeks peace of mind in whatever time he is able to cordon off from his 60 hours-plus working week.
That's when he retreats to his seven-acre estate in New Jersey, where he enjoys the company of a restored 1931 Packard sedan and a collection of vintage tractors: These include a 1950 Farmall Cub, a 1948 John Deere and a 1949 Ford 8N.
All of these are housed in a barn DeFelice commissioned from some Amish barn builders and which was completed in 2010. It is his version of the man cave and it is right in every detail. That's the way DeFelice, an admitted perfectionist, likes it.
"I would say that most definitely everything has got to be right and if it is not right, I don't want it," DeFelice said. He's a broker who likes things "just-so."
For all of these brokers, the love of the automobile or its cousins is genuine, as is their love of the industry. And it is long-lasting.
Stankard can still recall his 1970 BMW 2002, its boxy style and its red color. He bought it in college with money he made working in a steel mill one summer. He remembers who he sold it to, and he knows where that car is to this day. He has also let it be known that he would buy it back were it ever to become available again.
"If he ever got tired of it," Stankard said of the current owner, "I would buy it back in a heartbeat."
DAN REYNOLDS is managing editor of Risk & InsuranceŽ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 21, 2012
Copyright 2012© LRP Publications