Ed Gumbrecht: Leading with Heart
Surviving a deadly storm, a catastrophic flood, or a house fire is a life-changing event. While the insurance business may seem like a world of numbers and reports, for Ed Gumbrecht, it’s about helping clients, friends, and neighbors rebuild their lives following tragedy.
Ed is the president, managing partner, and chief operating officer of the Gowrie Group insurance company—and he’s dedicated to making his work matter in the real world, whether or not it involves insurance.
“For many people, the concept of insurance is a cost they reluctantly pay in the hope they never need to receive the economic benefit, and sure, that’s very important. But really, it’s about having a relationship that you can depend upon when the worst happens—and that’s the value of the work we do,” he says.
Part of Ed’s motivation to join the company was a shared philosophy with Chairman and CEO Carter Gowrie and Chris Pesce of Madison who runs the group’s sister company, Maritime Program Group.
“I have the privilege to lead an organization that believes in community engagement. We all feel how important it is to align our work with the things we are passionate about. Something that is unique at our firm that I think has made us successful is we are friends and business partners—in that order,” he says.
“We encourage our staff, clients, and business partners to participate in their community—to be engaged and get involved—and we want to be supportive of the great stuff they do. It’s true that when you lead with your heart, good things happen.”
In the past 14 years, the Gowrie Group Challenge has raised more than $1.5 million for the Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries (SSKP), funding more than four million meals.
“When I joined, the company had always given to many non-profits and we were concerned that we were sprinkling it without effect, so we came up with the idea of contributing everything to one really worthy cause. We brainstormed ideas and decided to lean on local business leaders and clients to join us in giving, and we committed to matching their dollars,” he says.
“The Shoreline Soup Kitchen is a wonderful organization, and we’ve learned so much about the great work they do, and about our community,” Ed says. “I was surprised to learn how great the need is on the shoreline. You just assume that other families in your community are operating with the same resources that you are but that’s really not the case.”
In addition to donating money, many of the Gowrie Group team volunteer with the organization and every summer they cook and serve a barbeque meal for the SSKP clients. Sharing their commitment with other business leaders has been inspiring, Ed says.
“Our business friends have embraced this. Chuck Cumello of Essex Financial Services recently backed up a financial contribution with manpower, taking a team of financial advisors to work in the soup kitchen. He said it’s the best thing they’ve ever done,” Ed says. “It’s contagious.”
Every year, the staff purchases a gift for the group’s partners—and the usual neckties or gift cards are not on the shopping list.
“The staff know that what really gets us excited is when they make a contribution to a cause that’s important on our behalf. Last Christmas, they made a generous contribution to Bikes for Kids in Essex, and we’re so pleased to support that non-profit group.”
Ed and the Gowrie Group team have also participated in fundraising and building for Habitat for Humanity.
“We would say it’s not so much ‘giving back’ as investing in our community,” he says. “Life is about so much more than work and we want our team to be what they are and what they care about. To truly believe in it.”
Ed grew up in Huntington, New York, spending much of his childhood on a sailboat on Long Island Sound. There, he had a high school friend, Carolyn, who also loved sailing and, after reconnecting many years later, became his wife. Sailing has been central to many of Ed’s relationships.
“As early as I can remember, my dad was buying boats. We were a big family that spent a lot of time on the water, and I taught sailing as a teenager,” he says.
Ed graduated from SUNY-Albany with majors in English and political science. Having been already “turned off long ago” by the thought a career in politics, Ed was hired straight out of college into a management training program with Aetna in Hartford.
“I was on a career track with big insurance companies and worked in Hartford, the capitol of insurance in the U.S., and in New York. It was fun and intense,” he says. “I also held executive positions at Aetna, Chubb Group, and was president of a Bermudan reinsurance company before moving with my family back to Connecticut.”
The Gowrie Group was founded 43 years ago, and when an original partner retired in 2003, Gowrie approached Ed to join the boutique independent company. It was a no-brainer for Ed.
“Carter was a world class sailor and has an affinity for all things marine. We had worked together on an insurance project and we share a love of sailing, so when he approached me to join the Gowrie Group, it was a natural fit,” he says.
“We are uniquely a company of sailors and boaters, so for our clients, we are authentic in that space. We are now the largest marine insurance specialist in the country and one of the larger independent insurance brokers in the U.S.”
With employees and clients up and down the east and west coasts of the U.S., the heart of the Gowrie Group operation is right here on the shoreline. As the company has expanded into insuring emergency service operations, museums, and more than 1,000 non-profit groups, so has the local operation.
“Roughly 100 of Connecticut’s best and brightest work at our headquarters in Westbrook, and many of our team are from Madison, Killingworth, and other local towns. Our culture is very important to us—it’s unique and fun. Insurance can be dry, obviously, so we want our staff to feel valued and engaged,” he says.
When Ed was offered a partnership with the Gowrie Group, the opportunity to live on the Connecticut shoreline was a deciding factor. Madison was the perfect place to raise their two daughters, Emily and Claire, and a short commute to Westbrook, home to Ed’s new office and Carolyn’s job as a therapist with Westbrook Youth & Family Services.
“We were living in a land-locked area of New Jersey and we wanted our children to have the experience growing up on the water like we did,” he says. “We love all of Madison—the charming downtown, football games at Strong Field, coaching Little League for my girls’ teams. It’s a town that’s just full of the good stuff.”
A self-confessed “habitual participant in community charitable fundraisers,” Ed is a veteran of the Turkey Trot, Madison Tri, Leprechaun Run, the Vista and Smilow rides, and the Penguin Plunge. Ed was also very involved in the New Jersey Songwriters’ Association in the early 1990s.
“I’ve always said that starting up a songwriters group here on the shoreline would be my next project, so watch this space!” he says, smiling.