Whether you know it through the gecko or the caveman, GEICO is one of the most well-branded insurance firms in the US. The Maryland-based firm is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway and provides coverage for more than 27 million vehicles owned by more than 16 million policyholders. It’s an insurance force to be reckoned with.
A brief history of GEICO
GEICO was founded in 1936 by husband and wife team Leo and Lillian Goodwin, who were brave enough to set up a new company at the height of the Great Depression. The company was established as the Government Employees Insurance Company, with an initial client target of federal employees and certain categories of enlisted military officers. Within a year, GEICO had written 3,700 policies and hired 12 staff members.
In 1948, Benjamin Graham, a business professor at Columbia University in New York, chose to invest in GEICO. This was a pivotal moment in the firm’s history as Graham would later teach a young Warren Buffet at Columbia and therefore establish the famous link between GEICO and Buffet. In 1951, Buffet visited Washington to learn more about GEICO and had an impromptu meeting with Lorimer Davidson, an investment banker and good friend of the Goodwins. After this meeting, Buffet decided to buy some GEICO stock – and the rest is history.
When Goodwin retired in 1958, Davidson was named his successor. He went on to lead the company through 20 years of steady growth, reaching the one million policyholder mark in 1964 and generating insurance premiums of $150 million in 1965. Growth slowed down in the 1970s and years of aggressive expansion were starting to take a toll on the company’s loss reserves.
GEICO responded by exercising prudent underwriting – a move that triggered the second Warren Buffet appearance, when he reportedly purchased $1 million shares in GEICO stock in 1976. In the 1980s, GEICO introduced a 24-hour a day, 365-day a year telephone service for claims, sales and service. This customer-centric model remains with the firm today.
Buffet’s Berkshire makes the bid
In the early 1990s, GEICO went from strength to strength under the leadership of new chairman, president and CEO Olza “Tony” Nicely. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway investment firm made a bid for the shares of GEICO’s remaining stock in 1995, and by 1996 GEICO became a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary.
GEICO at a glance – 2018
- GEICO insures more than 27 million vehicles and has more than 16 million auto policies in force
- It’s the second largest private passenger auto insurer in the US
- The firm employs more than 40,000 associates and maintains 17 major offices across the country
- GEICO enjoys high ratings from A. M. Best, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s for financial strength and claims-paying ability