Steve Cates, who has been instrumental in moving Waco-based Texas Life Insurance Co. from a small regional carrier to a national company with 730,000 policies in force and $1.1 billion in assets, has announced he will retire Dec. 31, ending almost 20 years as president and CEO of the company with headquarters at 900 Washington Ave.
Cates, 63, will continue to serve as vice chairman of the company’s board of directors. Texas Life was founded in 1901, and its website claims it is the oldest life insurance company based in the state. The company holds charter No. 1 from the Texas Department of Banking because there was no state insurance department when it started selling policies, according to its website.
Cates is only the sixth president in Texas Life’s history, “and I was proud of the opportunity I was afforded and I’m proud of the success, stability and sales performance this company has shown. I’m also pleased I’m being succeeded by someone with a vested interested in Texas Life and who undoubtedly will serve the community well.”
Doug Dixon, 56, who joined Texas Life in 2014, bringing with him 23 years experience in the insurance industry, will assume Cates’ title. He moved to Waco from Ohio about five years ago, first taking a job as vice president of marketing and franchise development at The Dwyer Group while weighing a job offer from Cates.
His wife, Andrea Dixon, had accepted a position at Baylor University as executive director of the Center for Professional Selling and Keller Center for Research. Andrea Dixon is also serving as vice chairwoman of Baylor’s search committee working to find a permanent successor to Ken Starr and is the newly appointed faculty regent.
Doug Dixon said Cates has created a solid foundation that will need no major changes, only tweaking that’s more related to management style than anything else.
“This is a very healthy organization, and I hope to continue to guide it in that direction,” he said. “I want to continue that trajectory.”
2015 sales growth
Sales grew at a record 18 percent in 2015 after several years of no growth, and numbers are up 40 percent so far this year from last year, Doug Dixon said.
“Steve has done a great job of putting technology in place,” Dixon said. “During his presidency, revenue has grown 390 percent, but the head count is up only 16 percent.”
Texas Life Insurance employs 145 people, and all but four work at the company headquarters on Washington Avenue.
It is hiring to fill a handful of IT positions as it finalizes efforts to move into New York, the only state where it does not have a presence.
“We’re in the final stages of approval, and then we’ll be in all 50 states and the District of Columbia,” Dixon said. “New York is known as a very challenging state in which to do business, because its department of insurance makes it that way. That’s why a lot of insurance companies do not do business there.”
Texas Life’s connections at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., the New York City-based former owner of Texas Life, has created opportunities, he said.
“When we were owned by MetLife, we were still much more regional than we are now,” Dixon said.
Cates was instrumental in guiding the company through its sale by MetLife to Wilton Re in 2009. Wilton Re is a U.S. life insurance company that specializes in buying active life insurance policies and helping companies develop new products and strategies, according to the company’s website.
Texas Life released a fact sheet showing it enjoyed $242 million in premium revenue in its fiscal year 2016.
“These numbers do not include third-party policies issued and administered for other companies,” Cates said.
Texas Life specializes in providing what it calls voluntary payment life insurance to employees where they work.
“We’re very involved in the teacher market, districts that employ literally hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers, including the Waco ISD,” Cates said. “I would say we are probably in 70 percent of the school districts in the state of Texas, and the highest concentration of our policyholders is in the education field.”
Cates said he has remained busy outside the insurance arena by serving on the advisory board of the downtown Public Improvement District No. 1, which allocates tax money generated within the PID zone to projects that benefit Waco’s central city. He also serves as a trustee of the Waco Foundation and the Providence Foundation.
“I’ve been involved with the PID for years and I’m elated with what’s happening in Waco, the resurgence and revitalization,” Cates said. “What I’ve witnessed is shared ownership. Everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction. I’ve never seen such a concerted effort on the part of so many to enhance this city.”
As he spoke, Cates, who had an office in Manhattan, New York, for a time, said he was looking out his office window at Waco’s downtown.
“It looks great,” he said. “It’s vibrant, has momentum in a positive way, and I expect that to continue.”