Gifted Graduates Are Industry 'Insurance'
By Bill Dabney
Eric Donahoe, a 35-year veteran of the insurance business, hopes his planned gift to the University of Mississippi will help students discover that there is a lot more to his profession than pushing papers.
For much of his career, Eric has been a soldier of sorts—standing guard over the security of major corporations and being proactive in preventing the businesses from becoming victims of risk. He designs the insurance coverage they need based on their level of potential risk.
Clients may only need minimal coverage to protect their business when a customer slips and falls on the premises, but they need protection from a much greater risk–criminal activity that may compromise a company's internet security.
"We had a client whose network was hacked by a code that prevented the business owner from accessing his own system," Eric says. "The client was locked out, so basically the business was held hostage and there was a ransom. The system was shut down until the client paid the ransom. They couldn't operate."
In situations like this, several things could happen: the company has no insurance against this particular risk and has to pay the hacker's ransom, sometimes in the millions of dollars; the company has coverage but doesn't need to make a claim because tech support finds a way to break the code; or the company's insurance pays the ransom to keep the business afloat.
When Eric, a native of Crystal Springs, Miss., graduated from Ole Miss in 1980, he had no idea the insurance business could be so fascinating.
"It has just been a fantastic career," he says. "I tell people all the time—especially young people—that if you want an exciting career, work in the insurance industry. It's amazing how many opportunities it affords to learn so much about global operations."
Through a $250,000 gift in his will, Eric established an endowment to support faculty and staff in the School of Business Administration's risk management and insurance program at the University of Mississippi Foundation. He hopes the gift will bring new life to an industry he has grown to love.
"I had some discussions with (professor of finance) Larry Cox when I was thinking about doing this and he made a great comment, ‘To attract the best and brightest students, you really have to have great faculty and staff'," Eric says. "Our industry needs bright young people coming into it and if this will help to attract really bright, talented young professionals to our industry, then that's a fantastic thing."
UM School of Business Administration Dean Ken Cyree said private gifts like Eric's help the University establish national credibility.
"Eric's gift will significantly improve the level of faculty and staff we can attract, which directly affects the quality of education our students receive," he says. "We greatly appreciate his generosity."
After graduating from Ole Miss, Eric joined Traveler's Insurance Company of Jackson, where he worked for two years before joining the Bottrell Agency, an independent insurance firm in Jackson that was acquired by Trustmark Bank in 1999. He worked at Bottrell for 24 years before accepting a position with Seitlin, now a subsidiary of the Marsh & McLennan Agency – an insurance brokerage operation in South Florida. Eric says his professional experiences have all been personally rewarding.
"I never knew all that was involved in an automobile dealership, for example, and how that type of business operated until I was in the insurance industry," he says. "You become an essential part of these businesses' management teams because they count on you to manage their risk. That's what you're doing—you're helping them stay in business."
After a decade in the warm Miami sun, Eric felt his family ties had weakened. While visiting Oxford friend and Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother Mitch Mattingly, Eric decided he would enjoy having a home near his alma mater, as well.
"I knew I would return to Mississippi at some point," he says. "This is home and there are so many wonderful things happening in Oxford. I felt like it was a great idea to be close to the University and experience all the things it offers. I thought I would just travel back and forth from Mississippi to South Florida."
Meanwhile, Bottrell opened an Oxford location and asked Eric to return to the job he held for 24 years.
"It was a great opportunity for me to rejoin the firm that I was with for so long," he says. "During my time away, I would think about what true, lifelong friends I made while I was in school here. When I came back and reconnected, it was like there was no lost time. I just fell right back into those wonderful friendships and relationships."
Eric's planned gift gives him membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the University opened the Lyceum doors to its first students. The society recognizes generous donors who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.
"I wanted to give back to the University that has been such a major influence in my life and my career," he says. "I also wanted to give back to an industry that has been such a big influence in my life, and has afforded me so many opportunities."
Adam Lee, development officer for the School of Business Administration, believes Eric's gift will accomplish its goal.
"Private gifts of all sizes are important," he says. "But generations of students, and ultimately the insurance industry itself, will benefit from the support Eric's gift will provide to our faculty and staff. I hope his generosity will inspire others to support programs that have impacted their lives."
For more information about including the University in a will or other estate plans, contact Sandra Guest at 662-915-5208 or email@example.com.