Having enjoyed a 40-year career at the 90-year-old agency his grandfather built, Tom Carlisle is proud to lead an exceptional team at Carlisle Insurance, the oldest locally owned agency in South Texas.
By: Sarah Tindall
Photos by: Dustin Ashcraft
When you ask Tom Carlisle what makes him proud to be the president of Carlisle Insurance Agency Inc., he’ll give a humble smile the size of Texas and say, “Since 1925 … that says it all.” As a third-generation Carlisle, Tom takes pride in knowing that it’s a rare opportunity in today’s corporate America to still be locally owned. Carlisle Insurance is the oldest locally owned agency in South Texas, and it has doubled in size and revenue within the last five years.
But to understand why an Alice-raised boy has pride as fierce as a lion and why he is where he is today, one must go back to the beginning: 90 years ago. The values of honesty, integrity and hard work in the Carlisle family run just as deep as the oil wells in the booming little town of Alice, Texas, to which John L. Carlisle moved his family in the early 1920s to work at Alice Bank & Trust. While employed at the bank, John opened Carlisle Insurance and referred his banking clients to the insurance agency so the company could write the homeowner policies.
According to Tom, his grandfather had a knack for banking, so it made perfect sense to put Tom’s dad, Cecil Carlisle, in charge of the insurance business after he graduated from Texas A&M University in 1943. “Cecil Carlisle was a leader and led by example,” Tom explains. “He always dressed sharp and believed that your image is very important as a business owner. My dad was tremendously generous throughout his successful career and always gave back to the community.”
Cecil was born a talented leader, and as mayor of Alice, he was the first South Texas mayor to close a contract with Corpus Christi to shift the rural community from relying on well water to surface water from Lake Corpus Christi. Tom has fond memories of growing up during the oil boom in Alice with his siblings and 14 cousins.
“My father was a visionary, and that made him very successful,” Tom says. “At the time that Alice was booming, he began to purchase smaller insurance agencies in the area. His first purchase was San Diego Insurance Agency in San Diego, Texas. My father also purchased an agency in Premont that is still operating today, and later merged the Bishop, Texas agency he purchased with a new office that he opened in Kingsville.”
After high school, Tom attended Texas A&I – Kingsville and then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. In 1975, Tom began his lifelong career in insurance at the family business. Tom recalls his start at the agency: “Our agency had outgrown the office, so my dad cleared out the receptionist area and put two desks facing each other. My brother, Chuck, and I had to sit out there with our desks touching and share a phone.”
His brother, who had returned to work for the agency just a few years before Tom, quickly took him under his wing. “I remember my first week, when Chuck grabbed me and said, ‘Let’s go solicit some insurance today,’” Tom says. “I give my brother full credit for teaching me how to sell insurance.”
In just the few years after starting his career, Tom witnessed many important milestones at the agency. In 1978, his father completed the construction of the new Alice office at 1802 East Main St. that is still in operation today. The following year, Carlisle Insurance was honored as the top life insurance-producing agency in the United States for The Hartford, and Tom was asked to join the Harford National Council.
“I was truly honored because only 12 agencies in the U.S. were chosen, and our agency was the only property and casualty agency chosen,” Tom says. “I remember telling the president of The Hartford as we stood on the top floor of The Hartford Tower overlooking the snowy landscape of Connecticut, ‘If my grandfather could see me now, he’d never believe it!’”
Tom continued to build on his father and grandfather’s vision when he opened the Corpus Christi office in 1998. “I got my first major Corpus Christi client, the Port of Corpus Christi, in 1997 and saw the opportunity to grow the agency,” he recalls. “We took most of the ninth floor in the Prosperity Bank building and started major renovations. Scot Oshman and I opened for business with a couple of fold up tables and a lot of dust.”
In his ninth year as president of Carlisle Insurance and a total of 40 years at the agency, Tom says he still goes to work every day because there is never one day the same and he enjoys the challenge of interpreting the policies for his clients to make sure they are purchasing the broadest coverage available.
“My customers are a part of my life … they are family,” Tom says. “Many people have been my customer for over 30 years, and it truly fulfils me to help them work through their challenges. To see my customers succeed and grow is rewarding. I take pride in carrying on my dad’s tradition and kind-hearted contributions to the community. He taught me that our success comes from the community; therefore, it is essential to give back to the community and the local charities that our customers are passionate about.”
The future of Carlisle Insurance is as strong as it’s ever been, and Tom gives credit to the fourth generation of Carlisles coming up in the business and the entire team working at the agency. “I believe it’s because we continue to invest in young professionals that are aggressive and knowledgeable to keep our agency ahead of the curve,” he says. “There is great opportunity to expand in South Texas right now, and I’m enjoying my role in mentoring the next generation to take it to the next level.”
Tom says the agency’s biggest asset is the staff, which he also refers to as his family. “Even our current vice president and stockholder, Jerry Bravenec, has been with us since the early ‘80s and has built our Public Entity Division, which now includes over 60 school districts in South Texas,” Tom adds.
The agency has welcomed several fourth-generation family members to join in on the success, including Peter Matl in 2002, Chuck’s son-in-law; Chase Carlisle in 2008, Tom’s son; Daniel Carlisle in 2010, Chuck’s son; and Juliana Carlisle in 2011, Tom’s daughter.
Carlisle Insurance currently has offices in Corpus Christi, Alice, Kingsville and Premont and has clients that span throughout 12 states. The agency also opened a new office location in San Antonio in March.