In 1923, executive Hawthorne K. Dent leaves Northwestern Mutual Fire Insurance Co. to establish the General Insurance Co. of America in Seattle...
In 1923, executive Hawthorne K. Dent leaves Northwestern Mutual Fire Insurance Co. to establish the General Insurance Co. of America in Seattle.
Initially a fire-insurance company, “the General” diversifies into other insurance arenas with the rise of the automobile. Starting with 14 employees and an annual premium volume of less than $500,000, the company sees its annual premiums reach $6.5 million by 1928.
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By offering competitive pricing, the General continues to grow during the Great Depression and expands across the U.S. and Canada.
By 1936, the General is Washington state’s leading fire-insurance company. It moves from its first offices downtown to the University District.
In 1937, it’s the first insurance company to offer “blanket policies” that combine a variety of coverage in one policy. Other insurance companies follow suit.
In the five years after World War II, the General’s insurance business grows more than 200 percent.
In 1953, the company adopts automated billing to lower rates through a new subsidiary named Selective Auto and Fire Insurance Co. of America, or “Safeco.”
In 1958, the company enters the life-insurance business.
Safeco begins offering mutual funds and commercial lines of credit.
Recognizing the success of the Safeco subsidiary, the General is officially renamed Safeco in 1968.
Safeco’s annual premium volume exceeds $350 million.
Safeco completes its 22-story tower in the University District in 1973.
Despite some catastrophic losses, such as the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the devastation from Hurricane Hugo, Safeco’s annual premium volume surpasses $850 million.
In 1990, Safeco relaxes its white-shirt-and-tie dress code and has a “casual day” — but for one day only. In 1996, the company finally relaxes its strict dress code permanently to help recruit younger employees.
Safeco’s acquisition of American States Insurance of Indianapolis in 1997 doubles the size of Safeco’s business and distribution base, but the cost hurts the company’s financial position.
In 1998, the company purchases the naming rights to the Seattle Mariners’ ballpark, Safeco Field.
After a decade of company expansion, earnings begin to decline.
To cut costs, CEO Mike McGavick in 2001 announces that 1,200 employees, or 10 percent of Safeco’s work force, will be cut over two years.
Safeco restructures, reduces costs and makes fundamental changes in its product lines, and rebounds from a loss of nearly $1 billion in 2001 to profit of more than $300 million in 2002.
Safeco spins off its life-insurance and investment units as Symetra Financial to White Mountain Insurance Group and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
McGavick resigns at the end of 2005 to run for U.S. Senate. Utility exec Paula Reynolds joins company as president and CEO in January 2006.
Safeco agrees to sell its 22-story U District tower to the University of Washington and moves its headquarters into leased space in downtown Seattle.
Reynolds commemorates Safeco’s move from Nasdaq to the New York Stock Exchange by ringing the NYSE’s opening bell Nov. 30, 2006. Also under her tenure, Safeco cuts $75 million in costs and lays off more than 300 employees.
In 2006, Safeco establishes the Safeco Insurance Foundation, a philanthropic organization with a $90 million endowment.
On April 23, Liberty Mutual Group says it is buying Safeco for $6.2 billion in cash, creating the nation’s fifth-largest property and casualty insurer.
Compiled by news researcher Gene Balk from Seattle Times news sources
The Pink Panther in the 1970s was considered the company’s national “spokesperson.”