By Marjorie Preston
Photography by Mitro Hood
“Do you have life insurance, Phil? Because if you do, you could always use a little more, right? But you wanna know something? I got the feeling you ain’t got any. Am I right or am I right? Or am I right?” – Ned Ryerson, Groundhog Day
Perhaps no other industry is as determinedly old-school as life insurance. Think of nerdy Ned Ryerson in the 1993 comedy “Groundhog Day.” He’s the stereotypical insurance agent writ large: pounding on doors, pouncing on prospects, and extolling the benefits of “whole life, term, uniflex, fire, theft, auto, dental, health with the optional death and dismemberment plan…”
Ned lugs a briefcase and likely logs his orders in a ledger — by hand.
Despite the rapid-fire technologies now embraced by almost every industry, when it comes to the insurance business, old-school still rules. Like Ned Ryerson, fully 90 percent of life insurance salespeople still hand-write orders, print out policies and deliver them by mail, according to Tim Wallace, CEO of iPipeline, developer of software solutions for the industry.
Wallace and his company are out to change all that. Their mission: to no less than revolutionize the industry by bringing it fully, enthusiastically online and into the cloud.
Headquartered in Exton, PA, with nine offices worldwide (Atlanta; Charlotte, NC; Danville, CA; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Milwaukee; Salt Lake City; Tokyo; the United Kingdom; and Vancouver), iPipeline offers channel solutions for carriers, distributors, producers and financial professionals that enable them to market, sell and process orders more quickly.
It’s about time — literally. Administered the old-fashioned way, the average insurance policy can take up to 55 days to process. With iPipeline’s suite of software, that same policy can be written and processed in a couple of hours — or, for more complex policies, a couple of weeks at most.
“We’ve taken the sales cycle and condensed it down, an hour to two weeks versus two or three months,” says Wallace.
A better way
In 2014, life insurance in the U.S. alone is an almost trillion-dollar industry, up from about $670 billion in 2009. So why hasn’t it kept pace with the times?
“The technology has been available for a while,” says Wallace. “It was just this industry. It’s been historically so far behind in the adoption and use of technology that nobody really brought the ideas to the forefront and automated it. It took a couple of innovative people internally in the industry and people from outside the industry like myself to come in and say, ‘Hey, there’s a whole better way of doing this.’”
Under Wallace’s leadership, iPipeline’s reach and revenues have skyrocketed. In 2006, when he first took the helm, the company had 35 employees and was generating $7 million to $8 million per year. Since then, it’s seen hand-over-fist growth, with $90 million in billings expected for this year, and the pivotal $100 million benchmark well within reach. In addition, says Wallace, the company will likely have 500 employees worldwide by the end of 2014.
“When I got here, I said, ‘Guys, we are going to be a $100 million company in five years,” he says. He admits that prediction caused a little eye-rolling. A senior technology manager shook her head and replied, “Tim, don’t take this wrong, but you’re like the 13th CEO we’ve had in eight years.”
“Listen,” Wallace replied, “you haven’t had me before.”
In old Westerns, there’s a saying for that kind of attitude: “No brag, just fact.”
How it works
Founded in 1995, iPipeline provides next-generation sales distribution software through an on-demand, subscription-based service. It automates, streamlines and accelerates the transaction at every step, from marketing to sales to processing, including health-class ratings, policy quotes, e-applications, illustrations, document e-delivery and related professional services.
The company’s customers — more than 125 life insurance carriers, 1,200 distributors and financial institutions as well as their producers and financial professionals, including literally hundreds of thousands of agents and advisors on the street — are linked through a single web-based network that integrates with more than 800 websites, including the industry’s largest banks, wire houses, broker-dealers and insurance distributors. The system is also a one-stop repository for hundreds of thousands of insurance forms, which differ by company, by state and, within each state, by a complex tangle of regulatory requirements.
Before iPipeline, “If I wanted to run you six quotes, I’d have to go to each carrier’s website, individually run a quote, aggregate it and bring it to you,” says Wallace. “Now I could go out and get five competitive quotes from Genworth, Transamerica, Pacific Life, Met Life and Hartford, and say, ‘Here are the differences, here’s the price tag, and here’s the one I’d recommend.’ Then the consumer would make the choice.”
Developing insurance policies through iPipeline is not only quicker, but 100 percent accurate, whereas policies written by hand have a disconcertingly high error rate of 65 percent, says Wallace.
From the outset, the value of the service and the size of the potential market were undeniable. But even though iPipeline was equipped to meet the demand (a demand, it should be added, the insurance industry did not even fully acknowledge), the company wasn’t growing proportionately. That’s where Wallace came in, says Mike DiPiano, managing partner of NewSpring Capital, one of the initial investors who invited him to come aboard.
“I’d known Tim for about three years and was very impressed,” says DiPiano. “He’s very focused on the critical juice that a business needs. He does a terrific job of understanding his people and putting them in good places. He knows how to allocate resources, both capital and HR. And he is very honest, which makes him a good leader. So we thought we’d give him a call and see if this was something he’d be interested in doing.”
Wallace agreed to take a look at the company. What he saw intrigued him. “After doing a little research I came back and said, ‘Mike, you have a hell of an opportunity here. You have a fragmented industry. Most of the software companies are lemonade stands, and they’re servicing multibillion-dollar companies. These little companies are running mission-critical systems for the big guys. There’s a huge opportunity here to grow a big software company.’”
Wallace saw the chance to turn an emerging enterprise into the market leader. “That’s what I’ve done with all my businesses,” he says. “I visualize and say, ‘OK these are the pieces we can put together. If we do it and execute to it, we’ll grow.’”
Before he was tapped for iPipeline, Wallace knew next to nothing about life insurance. It didn’t matter. With more than 30 years of experience in the software, service and consulting industry, he’s accustomed to switching gears. In one of his first jobs out of college, at Arthur Andersen & Company, he worked in “15, 20 industries: financial services, the oil and gas industry, retail distribution, manufacturing.”
And Wallace has always been an entrepreneur. He grew up in Pittsburgh, one of four kids of a utility lineman and his wife. His work ethic was bred in the bone. Tim and his brother Tom would rise at 4:30 a.m. each morning to deliver the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; when they finished their routes, the brothers would race back home, jump back in bed and steal another hour of shut-eye before getting up again for school. In the ninth grade, when Tim Wallace started caddying for a local country club, he got his first glimpse of how the other half lives. It made him hungry.
“I had a great life as a kid, but I had no idea there were rich and poor until then; I was like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know people lived like this. This is incredible. How did they do this, how did they get there?’ It wasn’t anything against my parents, but I knew very early on in life that I wanted to live like that.”
The money he earned from caddying (as well as jobs as an apprentice chef, waiter and bartender at the same country club) got him through college. He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, an MBA from Miami University, and went to work at Arthur Andersen. Then he and Tom — who had earned his degree in computer programming — launched their own business.
Righting sails, raising Titanics
It was 1983, the same year a pair of Seattle upstarts unveiled a computer operating system they called Windows. Though skeptics called it “vaporware,” Bill Gates and Paul Allen were undeterred in their mission to “put a computer on every desktop and in every home.” IBM’s first personal computer was still a novelty — and a pricy one at that, costing $1,595, or the equivalent of $4,000 today.
In Steeltown, the Wallace brothers also recognized the emerging importance of PCs. They bought one of the first portables, an Osborne. In actuality, this unwieldy contraption was about as portable as an anvil; the bicep-builder weighed more than 24 pounds. But it could store “1,600 typed pages on two floppy diskettes,” according to promotional materials of the period. And it enabled Tim and Tom Wallace and a partner to establish The Waldec Group, the first computer reselling company in Pittsburgh.
“This was when PCs were just coming out. Nobody knew what to do with them,” says Wallace. “I knew the business side of it, Tom knew the technical side of it, so we just started selling these things.”
Starting with small and mid-sized businesses, Waldec’s pool of clients eventually included U.S. Steel, Mellon Bank, PNC and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “After 10 years, we sold our first company for a couple million dollars,” says Wallace. “And we said, ‘Hey this is the greatest. It sure beats working for somebody else.’”
Wallace then became president and CEO of XLConnect Solutions, Inc., which he also co-founded. He took the company public in October of 1996, and sold it to Xerox two years later for $420 million. He served for a time as CEO of the renamed XeroxConnect.
From there he went on to FullTilt Solutions Inc., where he presided as chairman and CEO. The Wayne, PA-based company founded by Bob Moyer became a leading provider of master data management software for business-to-business e-commerce, and ranked among the regional Deloitte Technology Fast 50 for four consecutive years. Forrester Research ranked FullTilt No. 1 above all competitors except IBM and SAP as a leader in the marketplace. During his time there, Wallace raised $22 million in venture capital for the company.
A four-time finalist and 2011 winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Philadelphia Award in the Technology category, Wallace also gained a reputation as a corporate Houdini — the kind of leader who could get companies out of tight spots, and do it with dispatch. In 2008, just before joining iPipeline, he became interim president and COO of MEDecision Inc., a foundering medical software company in Wayne, PA.
The previous year, MEDecision had lost $6 million, or 39 cents per share, on revenues of $44.8 million. Its stock value had plummeted from $10 per share in 2006, when it went public, to between $1 and $2. When founder and CEO David St. Clair sent out the SOS, Wallace, a longtime board member, took the reins. Within months, he stabilized the company and helped it get ready for sale to Chicago-based Health Care Service Corp. (HCSC). HCSC paid $121 million, or a comparatively robust $7 per share.
During that time, he got the call from Mike DiPiano about an insurance software company with room to grow. “I just said, ‘Hey Mike, I’m a little busy right now. If you’re willing to wait, I may be available.’”
Ninety days later, when the MEDecision sale closed, Wallace joined iPipeline.
Good to great
Under then-president and CEO Larry Berran, iPipeline had just gotten a good shot in the arm: an infusion of $18 million in series-A financing led by NewSpring and Volition Capital of Boston. At the time, Berran said the firm would use the funding to expand its sales and marketing with both carriers and distributors, develop additional point-of-sale capabilities for agents, and make “select tuck-in acquisitions to extend the depth of the offering.”
It was time to get growing. And along came Tim Wallace.
For a unique perspective on Wallace as a leader, just ask the man he replaced. Larry Berran was effectively supplanted when Tim Wallace joined iPipeline (he then took on the dual roles of chief operating officer and chief financial officer, and continues in those capacities today).
Berran, in his early 30s at the time, willingly ceded the top spot to a man known for putting the pedal to the metal when it came to corporate growth.
“Tim thinks big,” says Berran. “We had a $7 million company and wanted to be $10 million. He just did it on a bigger scale. He believes that if you believe it, you can achieve it. That’s one of the mottos at our company.”
Even so, Berran concedes, “If you think about it, it could have been very intense between Tim and I. People don’t hang around if they think a guy is coming in to undermine them. But we’ve just had a great working relationship. It’s not like Tim was worried about the guy behind him, but he was able to empathize with me, which I liked. And I thought, ‘This is somebody I can learn from.’”
In fact, in 2011, when he was asked by the Philadelphia Business Journal for the best career advice he ever got, Berran quoted Tim Wallace, who told him, “Believe in yourself and don’t sell yourself short.”
From his corner office — dominated by golf memorabilia and a bookshelf overflowing with business and motivational books — the new CEO picked up a half-dozen ancillary businesses, adding some of the competition to the corporate fold.
As the company expanded, so did investor interest. In early 2012, Wallace helped to raise $71.44 million in venture capital. That put iPipeline at No. 8 on a list of the nation’s largest venture capital deals for the year. The Philadelphia Inquirer hailed the benchmark, even while joshing about the business’ “dauntingly dull” profile. But “there can be big money in boring,” the paper noted.
And how. DiPiano compares Wallace to Mike Hagan, who built the weight-loss company NutriSystem from a $20 million company to an $800 million behemoth in just four years.
“Neither of them came from the industry where they became leaders,” DiPiano says. “Neither of them brought anybody with them; both inherited a team and used the team. Neither was viewed as a visionary, but had visionaries on the team. Both executed well by utilizing their people. And in both cases, the people came to literally adore them. Mike Hagan was an exceptional leader. So is Tim. Both of these men know how to get things done for others.”
Berran concurs. He recalls Wallace’s former longtime secretary, Ginger Rosen, now retired, who used to grumble about the boss’s habit of compiling flash cards with the names and photos of everyone on staff. “She always complained about the flash cards. I’d laugh and say, ‘Ginger, he wants to know who people are. He wants to call them by name. That’s pretty impressive from my standpoint.’”
Wallace is “pretty hard-charging,” says Berran, and at a towering 6-feet-4, he can be a little intimidating. “But he’s also very personable and compassionate. He’s very approachable, and we have an open-door policy pretty much throughout the organization. Everyone in the rank-and-file can approach him if they need something.”
Forecasting the future
As iPipeline lays the foundation for its future growth, Wallace sees a bright horizon that he’ll surely march toward with confidence and conviction.
“We just believe we’ve got a big market opportunity to help an industry that has been very underserved with the use of technology,” says Wallace. “So we continue to innovate, we continue to talk to the customers about where their pain points are, where we can take costs out of the model, and where we can do a better job of connecting all the people involved in the issuance and the ongoing service of the life insurance policy.”
He’s confident about the company’s growth potential, and no wonder. According to Wallace, only 10 percent to 15 percent of insurance providers are using the kind of technological solutions offered by iPipeline. “We think we can grow for the next five years at 40 percent per year,” he says.
It’s worth noting that in 2011, Wallace said he foresees iPipeline eventually becoming a $250 million-a-year business, leading the industry in SaaS.
And so far, he observes, his revenue forecasts for the company have been 100 percent accurate.
Or, as Ned Ryerson would say, “Bing! Right again.” CEO
Marjorie Preston is a freelance writer based in Media, PA. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CEO OF THE YEAR
Each year, SmartCEO magazine names a CEO of the Year. In selecting its CEO of the Year, SmartCEO looks for CEOs who are true leaders among their peers. More than company revenues, profits and community popularity, SmartCEO’s CEOs of the Year have proven track records of innovation and bringing value to the marketplace. They lead more than just companies; they lead industries in new directions.
Why iPipeline CEO Tim Wallace?
When Tim Wallace took the helm of iPipeline in 2006, the company was a small insurance SaaS provider that was standing at the head of a fragmented trillion-dollar industry in need of a technological makeover, and needed a leader to take it to the next level. Over the past eight years, Wallace, who has led iPipeline on a vision quest to “no less than revolutionize the industry by bringing it fully, enthusiastically online and into the cloud,” has spearheaded strategic acquisitions, fueled national and global growth, cultivated a customer-centric corporate culture, and boosted the company from $7 million in revenue and 35 employees, to nearly $100 million and 500 employees. To date, the company has placed on the Inc. 5000 list five times and Wallace won the 2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Philadelphia Award in the Technology category. For these impressive achievements and more, SmartCEO honors him as our 2014 Philadelphia CEO of the Year.
WHAT MAKES TIM TICK?
Through his involvement in growing seven companies, serial entrepreneur and iPipeline CEO
Tim Wallace has picked up a few pieces of sage advice over the years. Here’s a glimpse into Tim’s leadership philosophies.
On his work ethic: “I like to say you make your own luck. People often say to me, ‘Tim, how did you get to where you are?’ I tell them the same thing every time — I’ll outwork anybody. I’m in the office by 6:30 or 7; 7:30 is really running late. But I love what I’m doing. If I didn’t, I’d be doing something else.”
On staying humble: “I like to lead by example. There’s nothing around here I’m not willing to do, including emptying the garbage cans in the kitchen or the bathroom.”
On the importance of candor: “I’m going to tell you the unvarnished truth, whether you want to hear it or not. All too often you get into companies where the biggest elephant in the room is something nobody wants to talk about. I talk about anything.”
On optimism: “I believe in trying to create really positive environments. If there is one thing I can tell people, the single best piece of advice I can give you is if you are around negative people, get rid of them. Don’t associate with them. They will disrupt and ruin the whole situation.”
On goal-setting: “I’m willing to work hard and do whatever it takes to get to the top of that mountain. I am a very goal-oriented person and I have always been.”
On employee orientation: “I’ll take them through our core values and say, ‘If those values don’t resonate with you, if you don’t believe in this stuff, please leave, because you won’t be happy here.’”
On the personal touch: “I write like 500 thank-you notes a year, hand-written. I can’t tell you how much it means to people to get a hand-written thank-you note instead of an email.”
On customer service: “You build companies from the customer back. If you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to make them successful.”
THE MULTI-TALENTED TIM WALLACE
More than an entrepreneurial talent, iPipeline CEO Tim Wallace worked at a country club as a caddy, waiter, bartender and apprentice chef in high school and college. Cooking, he says, is a passion that he still pursues today.
Thanks to all those years as a country-club chef, Wallace boasts that he’s a whiz in the kitchen: “Oh God, I can cook anything.” In fact, he says, if he had been cooking professionally in the era of “Top Chef,” the Food Channel, celebrity restaurant chains and multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, he might have stayed in the kitchen.
“But back then, if you were a chef, you were maybe killing it making $80,000 a year, and working on your feet 120 hours a week,” he says. “But I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I probably cook 60 percent of the time when I’m home on the weekends.” His specialty? “Salmon Wellington, because I love to make my own homemade béarnaise sauce.”
“Hey, Tim taught me how to make pancakes,” says Larry Berran, iPipeline’s COO and CFO. “He makes them really fluffy, like my kids like them. The secret is to really beat up the egg whites.”
Through the years, iPipeline has racked up numerous industry and business awards. Here’s a list of the company’s most recent accolades:
2014 Digital Strategist of the Year Award winner
2014 GrowthCap Top 25 CEOs B2B Software Award winner
2014 Red Herring North America Top 100 Award winner
2014 BEA Insurance Solutions Firm of the Year Award winner
2014 Philadelphia Business Journal Top IT Pro Award winner
2014 Philadelphia 100 Award winner
2013 Enterprise Awards Technology CEO of the Year Award winner
2012 Inc. Hire Power Award winner
2012 Celent Model Insurer Award winner for work with Erie Life
2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Philadelphia Award winner
2011 Pennsylvania Lead 411 Hot Company Award winner
2011 Inc. 5000: 2011 Ranking: 859
2010, 2011 OnDemand Top 100 winner
2010 FSOkx Excellence Award winner for Technology Innovation in Financial Services Transformation
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Celent Leading Vendor in Life/Health Category
2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 Deloitte Greater Philadelphia Fast 50 Award winner
2009, 2010 Rave Awards: 94/100 for Overall Customer Satisfactions in Illustrations
2009 ACORD Award winner for Infrastructure Platform
2009 Microsoft WFS Innovator Award winner for Business Transformation