PRESERVE AND SERVE
Honoring the past while building a future for community, the agency, and others
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
“I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors,” says Joshua Morey, president of The J. Morey Company, Inc., an independent agency with four offices in southern California. He’s referring to his decision to follow his father into a business
that he learned “was of great importance to our community. It is a product that everyone needs and by providing it I am able to work with and help the businesses and people in our community.”
The Morey family immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1897 and started a general store called The Asia Company in the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles. Years later, Josh’s father, John Morey, started working for a friend in the insurance industry and then decided to strike out on his own. He and his brothers, Jack and James, started the J. Morey agency in 1980 in Cerritos, California.
Josh essentially was raised in an insurance family and saw how much effort his father put into the business. “But I initially had no desire to work in insurance nor to take over the business,” Josh recalls.
Because of Josh’s lack of interest in joining the agency, John and his brothers worked hard to build an agency that would be attractive to outside buyers if other ways to perpetuate internally did not open up. That included establishing a wholesale brokerage, Arrowood Insurance, in 1995. Arrowood offered custom designed programs for the Japanese-American community that could be written by other retail agencies with specific preferred market insurance companies.
John followed that by starting to offer health, life and long-term care coverages in 2004. Following a positive response from clients to the effort, he established M.I. Insurance Services, Inc., in 2006 to specifically handle complex health and life coverages for customers that needed that.
“I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors. … [Insurance] is a product that everyone needs and by providing it I am able to work with and help the businesses and people in our community.”
The J. Morey Company, an Ori-gen Family Company
Meanwhile, Josh came back from a trip to Japan with a greater under-standing of the importance of insurance to the Japanese community and a new-found desire to try his hand at the business. Fortunately for him and for the agency, John readily agreed to give him a chance.
“My father wanted to see what I could do, so he appointed me as a property/casualty commission-only producer,” he explains. “Then two years later, he told me I needed to open a new branch office with its own profit-and-loss balance sheet. I decided to pay homage to our great-grandparents by re-opening the branch in Little Tokyo, near where The Asia Company had been located until it shut down when my grandparents were placed in an internment camp during World War II.
“I was joined at the branch by Kevin Fukuyama, who was working part-time at the agency when I came on board and then transitioned to full-time after he graduated from college in 2010,” he explains. Today, the agency has offices in Cypress, Little Tokyo, San Jose and Torrance.
“We have created an environment where people can grow. That has helped us attract many younger employees to the agency. We see our main role as helping people, and we instill that in all our staff.”
Chief Executive Officer
The J. Morey Company, an Ori-gen Family Company
The success Josh and Kevin had with the new branch in Little Tokyo convinced John that perpetuation to the next generation was possible, and he and his brothers sold their ownership to them. Today, Josh serves as president of the agency and Kevin is chief executive officer.
The agency has grown from 18 employees when Josh and Kevin took over to 170 employees today, but it still maintains a family atmosphere that is open and transparent. “We have created an environment where people can grow,” Kevin says. “That has helped us attract many younger employees to the agency. We see our main role as helping people, and we instill that in all our staff.
“The result is that we have a collective group of good people that inspires a weird sense of confidence in all of us, because we know that we can rely on each other to do the right thing.”
As the agency grew under Josh’s and Kevin’s leadership through both acquisitions and organically, they began to see a need in the independent agency ranks for better ways to perpetuate than selling to the highest bidder. “A lot of smaller agencies have trouble getting appointments and competing with the big guys for business,” Kevin continues.
“We thought there might be a way we could offer a solution for these agencies by establishing a parent company that would help with perpetuation without taking over the acquired agency’s identity,” he explains. In 2022, they came up with a solution when J. Morey Company and Alliance 360° Insurance Solutions—a benefits agency—merged and formed Ori-gen.
It turned out that another Japanese American-owned agency was thinking along the same lines as J. Morey Company, and that led to what Josh refers to as “the jumpstart of our Hawaiian Ori-gen Family.”
Mitch Noguchi, president at Honolulu-based Noguchi & Associates, talks about the meeting that led to his firm signing on: “About two or three years ago, Josh and I had met to arrange an informal deal with a client who had offices in both our states,” Mitch explains. “In the process of putting the deal together, we closed down a few bars, got to really know each other, and saw that we were both facing the same problems vis-a-vis large competitors who were getting preferential treatment because of their size.
“We were both looking for a solution that we could offer to any independent agency looking to stay independent,” Mitch adds.
“[I] learned that we still faced disadvantages when competing with the big brokers. They often got better deals from companies than we did.”
Noguchi & Associates, an Ori-gen Family Company
The Family Grows
Two years after John founded J. Morey Insurance, Hideo Noguchi started his own agency, Noguchi & Associates, in Honolulu. Its goal: to serve the insurance needs of the Japanese-American community in Hawaii. Hideo’s son, Mitch, joined the agency after graduating from USC and was thrown into the surety bond field, where a need had opened up at the agency.
“I took a crash course for about a month and then started working in surety at the agency,” Mitch recalls. “That was 19 or so years ago, and while I worked with clients during the day, I worked hard to learn more about the field—staying every night until 9 or 10 to continue my studies.
“As part of my learning experience, I developed a strong relationship with the local representative for Tokio Marine, who arranged for me to be trained in the insurer’s Pasadena office. And that’s where I met Josh. We were both pretty green and about the same age, so we hung out together for that brief time.”
Then Mitch moved on to the company’s New York office, where he spent seven months. “I got into every office and started to really develop a depth of understanding about the insurance business,” he explains. “I saw how big and broad the industry is, which made it quite clear how much I didn’t know and that this would require a lifetime of learning.
“I also began to realize how lucky I was to be with an agency that had some scale and could get appointments from most of the major carriers, when smaller agencies were not so fortunate. At the same time, I learned that we still faced disadvantages when competing with the big brokers. They often got better deals from companies than we did.”
It also became clear to Mitch that they needed to expand to the mainland if the wanted to continue to grow. “A lot of the businesses we insured were doing exactly that and we needed to follow,” he recalls. “In fact, one of our biggest accounts was actively growing in California. So, who could be better to talk with than Josh, who I had spent some time with eight years earlier?” And those talks ultimately led to Noguchi becoming part of the Ori-gen Family.
Meanwhile, in California, Kevin apparently was looking for more to do. The fact that he was running the service side of a large and growing agency while Josh headed up sales was not enough. “We needed to continue to move forward,” Kevin says, “but more compelling was my desire to become part of something that would provide solutions to those smaller agencies that wanted to remain independent.
“Josh and I both saw how important this was to not only help our J. Morey agency prosper and grow, but to provide a resource that helped independent agents achieve parity with the big brokers while delivering the added advantage of being trusted advisors who treat their clients as part of their family. And they can continue to be an integral part of the community that they serve.
“We have seen too many smaller agencies having to sell to one of the big brokers and in that process losing their identity in the community,” Kevin continues. “Josh, Mitch and I all have the same desire—to see that end.”
During the pandemic, they were able to create Ori-gen and start offering what Kevin describes as “a way for smaller agencies to perpetuate that didn’t involve selling to the big guys and seeing their agency identity disappear.
“We weren’t traveling as much because of COVID,” he recalls, “but we were providing extra contact and servicing via technology so clients, already stressed by the pandemic, wouldn’t feel abandoned. Still, we had time to build Ori-gen into a sustainable and powerful resource for agencies like J. Morey and Noguchi that wanted to be part of something bigger, but at the same time maintain their local presence,” notes Kevin, who became president of the parent company when it was form-ed during the pandemic. “The only change on their letterhead or website is that below the agency name we add, ‘An Ori-gen Family Company.’”
There are other benefits Ori-gen family companies realize, as well. “Many of the smaller agencies lacked sophisticated automation solutions,” Kevin points out. “I grew up with technology, so it was second-nature to me. I also saw how well technology tools served us during COVID.
“We were able to increase our service contacts electronically and maintain our strong relationship via the internet with our far-flung family,” he notes. “The heart of what we do is take care of people. Ori-gen lets us include friendly competitors among those people that we help. I’m so lucky to be involved.”
The spirit of giving to others is also manifest in agency philanthropic and charitable endeavors. At J. Morey, Community Relations Manager Sara Hutter oversees the agency’s annual corporate giving of around $70,000. “The money is only part of it,” she explains. “We have quarterly volunteer events that include food drives, toy drives, beach clean-up and so on. And, because of the response, we’re looking to increase that to six or seven events a year.
“Following the establishment of Ori-gen, we set up Ori-gen Giving to provide even greater impact in our expanding community of like-minded agencies,” Sara notes. “It’s really about something that’s bigger than insurance and our leadership believes in that.”
“Community is at the heart of everything we do as a company. We are dedicated to advancing diverse communities … .”
Community Relations Manager
The J. Morey Company, an Ori-gen Family Company
Sara worked on a communications program after graduating from USC and through that met people from J. Morey. “I’ve been here four years now,” she explains, “and it keeps getting better. I’ve been able to create my own path and be part of something that is truly special.
“Community is at the heart of every-thing we do as a company,” Sara continues. “We are dedicated to advancing diverse communities and that involves engaging with a wide variety of community organizations.” These include Japanese American National Museum, Center for the Pacific Asian Family, Asian American Drug Abuse Program, Little Tokyo Community Council, U.S.-Japan Council, Jessie Rees Foundation, Illumination Foundation, APA Community Holiday Toy Drive, and The Food Pantry/Pathways of Hope.
“Our giving embodies the agency’s and its parent company’s goal of honoring the past, so we can invest in the future for the next generation,” Sara concludes.
Rough Notes is proud to recognize J. Morey as our Agency of the Month for the work it has done to build on its heritage and pave the way for future success—of its community, of the agency, and of other agencies. Its work in the creation of Ori-gen is already serving to help smaller agencies to maintain their identity and continue to serve their communities even after their founders have retired.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.