Orland insurance firm has grown into one of country’s biggest

BY MIKE NOLAN
mnolan@southtownstar.com

February 17, 2012 10:00PM

Glenn Horton, President and CEO of Horton Insurance, talks about his company in the conference room where his fishing hobby is on display at the companies offices at 10320 W. Orland Parkway in Orland Park, Illinois, Friday, May, 6, 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media


Although he’s at the helm of a multimillion-dollar insurance brokerage, Glenn Horton admits he really doesn’t know a whole lot about insurance.

“I wouldn’t be a good guy to write your (insurance) coverage for you,” the Oak Lawn native and Orland Park resident said.

But that’s not a big deal since he’s long past those days when, fresh out of college, he worked alongside his dad, Donald, selling auto and homeowner’s policies from a tiny storefront insurance agency in Alsip. As CEO and majority owner of The Horton Group, one of the country’s biggest privately owned insurance brokerages, he’s the big-picture guy.

“There are people who work in their business, and people who work on their business,” he said. “My dad always worked in the business. His idea of growing the business was to write as many policies as he could, and when it got to the point where we had to hire someone else, he did.”

For Donald Horton’s son, he ultimately had to leave the nuts and bolts of policies and coverage to others if he was going to transform the company.

What started four decades ago as a small, family-owned insurance agency with fewer than 10 people on the payroll now has nearly 400 employees in four states.

Glenn Horton described himself as “a completely average and unexceptional student” at Richards High School in Oak Lawn but said he always had a keen interest in business. After graduating from Valparaiso University with a degree in economics, Horton said, he “wanted to go to work immediately.”

It appears his career path already had been laid out for him.

“I think I always knew I wanted to be in business,” Horton, 55, said. “I got into insurance either by accident or by birth.”

Insurance wasn’t his dad’s first occupation. He’d been a crane operator at construction sites until, at the age of 45, he shifted careers.

Donald’s brother, Bill, also got into the insurance business, opening Horton Insurance Agency in 1971 on 143rd Street in Orland Park, next to Fox’s Pizza. Both brothers later combined their agencies.

Their sister and her husband owned Buschbach Insurance in Oak Lawn, and that agency merged with Horton Group 10 years ago, Glenn Horton said.

In 1984, his father and uncle sold the business to Glenn and a partner, Frank Poppie.

“I probably really wasn’t ready” to take over the business at that time, Horton said.

When he bought the business, revenue from insurance commissions and other fees was $340,000. The company finished 2011 with revenues in the neighborhood of $50 million, and Horton said he expects that number will hit $75 million within a few years. The company has three Illinois offices as well as locations in Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Fishing is his golf

As diversions, Horton said he tried snow skiing and scuba diving. He’s not a golfer but is passionate about deep-sea fishing. Saltwater trophy fish line the walls of the company’s conference room, including a marlin, tarpon, grouper and a cubera snapper caught by son David. If he’s making plans for dining out, Tinley Park’s Tin Fish restaurant is at the top of Horton’s list.

He and his wife have a home in Key Largo, Fla., and a 35-foot fishing boat.

While it’s considered a pleasure boat, Capt. Glenn doesn’t hit the water with anybody on board who’s not serious about catching a big one.

“People think you do it to relax, but it’s very competitive,” he said. “It’s my golf.”

Just like Glenn Horton following his father into the insurance business, Glenn’s other son, Dan, joined the company as a sales executive five years ago. Dan, who previously was a pilot for Midwest Airlines in Milwaukee, works in Horton’s office in Waukesha, Wis., just west of Milwaukee.

His dad wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of his son coming on board.

“Kids can come into a business, and it can end up destroying a (family) relationship,” Glenn Horton said.

He said it was fortunate that didn’t happen between him and his father, who lives in Orland Park. His dad retired from the business about a year after selling the firm to his son.

“I don’t think we spent enough time (working together) for it to happen,” he said.

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