Insurance industry pioneer and Wichita native, William C. “Bill” Cohen, Jr., passed away September 5 at age 83 after a long illness. After starting in insurance at Cohen Steenrod, an insurance firm run by his father, Cohen – along with partners Paul Yankey and Joe Moddrell – founded insurance brokerage IMA in 1974. An entrepreneur who believed in the power of the individual to make a difference, he founded IMA as an employee-owned company with its own foundation, the IMA Foundation, to give back to the communities where employees lived and worked.
He was ahead of his time in many ways. IMA, now IMA Financial Group, was among the first insurance brokers to offer services such as risk control, claims and underwriting. Employee ownership was groundbreaking, and corporate foundations were uncommon in the 1970’s, especially for a company of IMA’s size.
“I marvel at the way that Bill, Paul and Joe structured the ownership of this company,” said Robert L. Cohen, Bill’s son and chairman and CEO of IMA Financial Group. “They shared the rewards of good ideas and hard work, and, in doing so, they enriched the lives of their many employees and the Wichita community. I was blessed to work beside my dad and, eventually, take reins from him. He never stopped being the first person I called for advice, even after his retirement. He was an incredible businessman, father and mentor.”
Over the course of four decades, Bill served as President, Chairman and CEO and member of the board of directors for IMA Financial Group.
From the very beginning, Bill believed in delivering superior knowledge and service to clients. He recruited, educated and advanced top quality talent, leading to remarkable loyalty among both clients and associates. In fact, 15 of IMA’s original 16 associates remained at IMA until retirement. The company’s breadth and depth of expertise also gave it a competitive advantage. Now with more than 800 employees, it is consistently named a top insurance broker, and currently ranks as the 6th largest employee-owned, independent insurance broker in the U.S.
Employee ownership remains a key to IMA’s success.
Said Rob Cohen: “My dad knew that employee ownership would limit his personal stake in the company, but he and his co-founders believed that it would significantly enhance the culture of the organization and, ultimately, would carry the company far beyond their initial vision and geography. They were right.”
IMA now has major offices in six cities and dozens of satellite offices across the country.
“Bill was ahead of his time,” said Bob Reiter, long-time colleague and president of IMA’s retail division. “He created a clear advantage in the insurance industry in 1974 by offering risk control, claims and underwriting, then continued to invest in an incredibly talented resource team that created programs and services that separated IMA from its competition. That thinking remains at the core of our business.”
Bill will also be remembered for his incredible commitment to community. The IMA Foundation has contributed millions of dollars to deserving nonprofit organizations in IMA communities, including over $150,000 to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, Bill and his wife Dorothy supported many causes, particularly his beloved Wichita State University, to which they made a multi-million-dollar commitment; establishing the Dorothy and Bill Cohen Honors College to support WSU students for years to come.
Ruth Rohs, SVP Corporate Communications/Executive Director of the IMA Foundation, Ruth.firstname.lastname@example.org