Steve Odell is the CEO of Odell Studner, a boutique insurance consulting, risk management, and insurance brokerage firm located in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Odell Studner serves clients in a variety of service areas, including cybersecurity, commercial insurance, personal insurance, and employee benefits. The firm’s practice groups encompass captives, staffing, human services, real estate and construction, and life sciences. Odell Studner has been recognized as a top insurance firm and a best place to work by Business Insurance, the Philadelphia Business Journal, Inc. and more. Apart from professional services, the firm also contributes to its community through the Odell Studner Foundation, which provides assistance to families in distress.
Steve Odell spoke with Jeff Mack, Executive Managing Director at Newmark Grubb Frank, for this interview.
JEFF MACK: How did Odell Studner begin?
STEVE ODELL: Well, it’s a long beginning. There are three generations of Odells and Studners, whose roots go back to the 1920s. Predecessor firms primarily started in 1957 on up, to firms such as Clair Odell Group, which we sold to Mellon Bank in 1998. That became a bank code agency and ultimately Citizen’s took over Mellon, and we worked for Citizen’s Bank, and then I joke about it: we got the band back together again and got the sons, my brother, myself, Brett Studner, and our other partner Geoff Goldwater together, and we relaunched Odell Studner in September of 2008.
Q. What motivated you to get the band back together?
A. Well, I took a goal setting course when I was in my 20s from a consultant who always said something that stuck in my head: What do you want written on your tombstone? I look back and there was always a goal that I had, which was to start my own firm and to run my own firm. We always had so many family and other partners involved that I was never able to accomplish that, so in speaking with my brother and Brett and Geoff, we thought it was a wonderful opportunity—although September of 2008 might not have been the best time in the history of the world to have restarted a business, it was one of the best decisions we ever made.
Q. What are each of the partners’ roles at the firm?
A. My brother Rob has been with me since he got out of school as well. He runs our real estate practice group, which is a very robust, niche-focused practice for real estate owners in the tri-state area. My other partner Brett Studner has been in the business. He is like another brother to me. He has been in business since he got out of school out of Muhlenberg. We joked about that a little bit, being Penn Staters, of course. Brett oversees the general practice as well as a lot of focus on human service companies, which are social service not-for-profit companies in the Philly marketplace. And then my other partner, Geoff Goldwater, runs our temporary staffing practice, which is a national practice that ensures and works with temporary staffing companies all over the country.
Q. What are your main areas of business?
A. In addition to real estate and the human services practice I just referenced, temporary staffing practice is a very exciting thing for us because we’re probably as well-known nationally in the temporary staffing space as we are locally in this Philly marketplace. We are involved in the national associations. We are one of the largest brokers for temporary staffing companies in the country, and we’re doing business in every state out there on a national basis, so that platform has been very successful for us. We also do a lot of work with offshore captive insurance companies. That has been a very exciting business model for us, too, where we bring middle market companies—primarily family-owned businesses—into a position where they can own a share in their own insurance company. The policyholders become the owners and a lot of entrepreneurs get very excited about that opportunity as well.
Q. How would you describe your consulting style?
A. It’s much more about finance than it is about insurance. We get into much higher level discussions with [clients’] accountants, tax attorneys, things like that, about other ways where they can deploy dollars which were dead expense for insurance that they never thought they would ever be able to recoup. Now they can in essence form almost a profit center and then ultimately they can create a tax advantaged model where they can repatriate dividends back to something other than the company. It could be a trust for their kids or grandchildren, or a separate LLC. It’s not about insurance—it’s much more about finance.
Q. How did you get involved in temporary staffing?
A. I got referred to a temporary staffing company up in north Jersey. They were having some problems and were just looking for a different solution. I got lucky and was able to find them a solution. Then, we got referred to another staffing company completely coincidentally. Then, we started doing some due diligence and research on the space and realized there were very few brokers specialized in this space. It was a redline class of business; no insurance carriers wanted to insure them. We love the stressed businesses because it really limits the competition. If we can become an expert in those business models, that’s what creates success for us in all of these practice groups I mentioned.