In The Beginning ...Published: January 2014
I'm guessing you don't know who Bill Oakerson is. Yes, if you've been insured with us for a while, you might have noticed his name as publisher on Seaworthy's masthead year after year. Perhaps you've seen him mentioned as CEO of BoatUS somewhere, sometime. The fact is, there's no reason for you to know who he is, and that's the way Bill likes it. But if you find your insurance policy easy to understand, if you enjoy Seaworthy, if you've ever been helped by our Catastrophe (CAT) Teams, if you've received exceptional service on a claim, if you've called TowBoatUS to get a tow, then you know Bill Oakerson.
Bill wasn't even 30 years old when he came to BoatUS in 1977 as an underwriter from Connecticut General. He knew insurance, but he loved boats. In just three years, Bill had been promoted to Director of the Insurance Division, a lofty title that put him in charge of half a dozen people. But he didn't care about titles or the number of reports. He was too busy shaping the future.
It was Bill who worked relentlessly to strip our policy language of every bit of legalese possible. He put in place our claims handling policy and procedures and wrote our underwriting guidelines, and designed both to be tough but fair while giving the benefit of the doubt to the policyholder. And as he began to understand the treasure trove of information lurking in our claim files, he also realized that knowing what went wrong on boats would benefit boaters.
In 1983, Bill set up the Damage Avoidance Department and put Ernie Braatz in charge of mining those claims and sharing the results. The first issue of Seaworthy went out that spring. That same year, when Hurricane Alicia struck Galveston, Texas, Bill could not sit in Alexandria, Virginia while our policyholders struggled to figure out where their boats were. He took Ernie Braatz and a master salvor, Mike McCook, and they flew down to Galveston to help any way they could. Ernie would be killed in a car accident a few years later, and Bill would put Bob Adriance in charge of Seaworthy. Mike would become a key member of our CAT teams, and Bill would become CEO of BoatUS. And the CAT teams and Seaworthy would become two of the cornerstones of the BoatUS Marine Insurance program.
If you asked Bill, he'd give credit for all of this to others because that's the way he's made. But Bill has left his imprint on every part of BoatUS. By the time you read this, he will be retired. But he will still be part of us. Because the biggest thing Bill did was to instill an absolute dedication to our members in the very heart and soul of BoatUS. He taught every employee that each member is special, each member deserves the very best service we can provide. And he didn't let us forget to have fun along the way. If you've ever finished a call with BoatUS and been left with the sense that we truly care about you, you've spoken to Bill — even if you didn't know who he was.
Seaworthy, the damage-avoidance newsletter, is brought to you by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program. For an insurance quote, please call 1-800-283-2883 or apply online at BoatUS.com.
To comment on this article, please contact Seaworthy@BoatUS.com
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