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  • Why RI: Sandy Parrillo, President and CEO of Providence Mutual, Says the State’s Connectedness Breeds Transparency

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    You can’t hide in Rhode Island. Let’s face it, when Rhode Islanders speak to each other, within 10 minutes we usually find that we either went to school together or are related. And we certainly know 10 other people in common. There’s not six degrees of separation in Rhode Island. It’s more like one and a half. And as the leader of a business operating in a state with an abundance of connections, I understand that we have to be very transparent with our employees, policyholders, agents and community.
     
    I started at Providence Mutual while I was still in utero. Well, almost. Believe it or not, I began here as an intern during my senior year in college, and I’ve been here ever since. I just celebrated my 40th anniversary with the company and been CEO since 2000. But as long as I’ve been with Providence Mutual, it’s been here much, much longer. We’ve been in business since 1800, and Rhode Island has been our home the whole time. We’re a property casualty insurance company that sells insurance products exclusively through independent agents. We do business in seven states, with Rhode Island being our largest. Our revenue is about $90 million, and we have approximately 100 employees here in Warwick and 350 independent agents throughout our territory.
     
    As the oldest mutual insurance company in New England and the fifth-oldest in the United States, we’re steeped in the history of Rhode Island. The company was formed by some of Providence’s most prominent citizens and leaders, people like Moses Brown, John Nicholas Brown, David Howell, Zachariah Allen and Samuel Slater who signed our deed of settlement. Every street on the East Side—Waterman, Angell, Eddy, Atwell, etc.—they were all residents who signed our deed of settlement. At one point, even though we’re  nonpolitical now, the president of Providence Mutual even served as mayor of Providence. There was also a woman who signed Providence Mutual’s deed of settlement, which was unheard of back then. Her name was Rebecah Williams, but we don’t believe she was related to Roger Williams, who founded the state of Rhode Island. I’m proud to be a member of a company that was forward-thinking and engaged in diversity, even back then. Another fascinating fact is that back in 1801, Providence Mutual insured the Slater Mill, the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. We have insured the steeple on the First Baptist Church, the John Brown House and the Stephen Hopkins House, all seminal properties in the state and country’s history.
     
    We’ve remained true to our roots. As a mutual company, our commitment is to our policyholders. Regardless of any of the challenges that have hit us, whether they’ve been weather-related events, hurricanes, major fires or the blizzard of ’78, we have kept the promises we make to our policyholders. These policyholders are Rhode Islanders—our neighbors, friends, relatives and employees. Also, because Rhode Island is our home and the growth opportunities that have been given to Providence Mutual, we feel it’s our obligation to give back to the state. Even when we’ve had to face down economic or business challenges in the state, we’ve been steadfast in our commitment to stay here and to continue to protect people in Rhode Island.
     
    The insurance industry is facing a graying of talent—a definite challenge as we go forward—but we’ve benefited from our proximity to the great institutions of higher learning, from which we can attract young people. I’ve had interns from Bryant, Rhode Island College, New England Institute of Technology, URI and CCRI, which is our next-door neighbor. Our chief actuary volunteers at Bryant University as a liaison of the Casualty Actuarial Society to familiarize students with the actuarial profession specifically as it pertains to the insurance industry.  Our employee group consists of graduates of nearly every college or university in the state. This has given us a notable advantage. 
     
    So, too, has our involvement in the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been involved with the Chamber for about a dozen years in varying capacities. I came on as a director, and I’ve since been chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee and vice chair of the Board of Trustees. And certainly the reason that Providence Mutual is so involved and such a strong supporter of the Chamber is in part because of the advocacy work it does. Our business isn’t always well understood. We’ve needed the support and partnership of the Chamber to better express why, for instance, proposed legislation may affect our business or business in general either positively or negatively.
     
    Again, in Rhode Island, you get to know each other. Here, I can talk to the president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, which is the premier chamber and one of the larger ones across the U.S., and to me she’s Laurie, a friend and fellow URI grad. And I’m just Sandy to her. You get that in Rhode Island, but not in other places.
     
    I’m so very proud of everything that Providence Mutual has done and of the commitment we’ve made to Rhode Island. It’s rare to see companies that have been successful and stayed true to their mission for going on 218 years. Our home state has held us to it.
     
    Sandy Parrillo sits on the board of directors for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and is president and CEO of Providence Mutual.
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