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Althans Continues as Family Business After More than Nine Decades

by Brian Doering

When Arthur J. Althans began selling insurance, he had one simple philosophy: "To provide each customer with professional services including a personal touch."

As one of three children born to German immigrants, Mr. Althans was extremely active in the Cleveland community and decided not to join the family grocery business. Instead, he signed a contract with the Aetna Insurance Company as an independent contractor.

The year was 1925 when "Art" Althans started his agency in downtown Cleveland in the former Union Commerce Building. Along with his younger brother, Carl Althans, who joined him several years later, the brothers worked together selling commercial and personal insurance products.

The Althans brothers believed the measure of success to be the number of long-time customers spanning several generations. That same belief also applies to their own family's success.

The second generation of Althans began in 1957 with Carl Althans' oldest son, John, joining the company and four years later Art's son, Arthur "Buzz" Althans, joined the firm.

By the 1970s, the Althans recognized that Cuyahoga and Geauga counties were growing with many businesses and families being started or moving to the suburbs. So, in 1973 the decision was made to move the company from downtown Cleveland. They purchased what was a residential home in South Russell's business district and moved the agency to its current location.

After the move, Art Althans retired, and in 1980, John's youngest son, James C. Althans, now 62, joined the firm along with his older son, John, a few years later. Five years after that, Buzz Althan's son, Michael, joined the company to complete the third generation of Althans.

Fast forward to 2020, and Althans Insurance has grown into one of the largest full-service agencies in Northeast Ohio celebrating its 95th anniversary. James' youngest son, James Capron Althans, 26, represents the fourth generation joining the company in 2015.

"There were five employees when the company moved to its South Russell location, and since that time, four additions have been put on the building," the elder James said. "Today we have 60 employees working at Althans Insurance."

The company's mission is to meet and exceed the expectations of its clients by adhering to the highest level of integrity and ethical standards with a motivated and talented team of individuals.

James said the strength of the company is its people. "Our average employee has been with the company for over 12 years, and ownership has been and will be expanded to these associates."

The company realizes a fourth generation family business is a rarity in the business world.

Althans Owners Looking Up For A Group Photo

"Being a fourth-generation family business that has been a pillar of the community for over 95 years, the Althans team provides a measurable and sustainable value to its clients through the development of innovative risk management, insurance and life and benefit solutions," James said. "We achieve this by way of assertive pursuit of competitive pricing, providing a stronger value proposition for clients."

James is also very much aware of the difficulties that come with running a family business. He works alongside family members Michael A. Althans, 55, who is the chief operating officer, and John S. Althans, 65, chief financial officer.

As the saying goes: "The first generation makes it, the second generation spends it and the third generation blows it." James believes it starts with the family values, honesty, integrity, hard work and learning to get along.

"John, Mike and I literally started from the ground up," James said. "As kids, each of us did the landscaping, cleaned the office, painted the building and other maintenance. Our fathers always required us to have summer jobs and pay expenses."

"None of us were given books of business to manage when we joined the company. We received great training and support, but we were required to build our own client bases," James said. "We don't always agree on issues for running the company. What is important is, that we respect each other's opinions and we don't hold grudges."

James Althans believes what has contributed to their company's success are shared values in both business and their personal lives. "I believe a big part of it is our culture. 'A' Team, that is what we call ourselves, it's part of our logo, it's even on my license plate. Sharing knowledge/team approach to handling clients."

Along with being invested in their clients, they are also invested in their team. "We have a plaque in our lobby with nameplates of the people with 20 years or more of service," James said. "Of the 30 people on the plaque, 14 are still with the company."

The company prides itself on being active members in the community, as well as participating in nonprofit work.

James said the easiest and most profitable route for their fathers would have been to sell the business to another agency, broker or private equity firm. "Instead, they gave us the opportunity to buy the company and trusted us to meet our obligation to buy them out over time. It was very important that we grew the business to make sure we can meet that obligation. It worked out well for all of us."

Between James, Michael and John, they have nine children and only one has chosen to join the business from that fourth generation. "We've never wanted to force anyone to join the company, it is an option for all, but we respect anyone's decision to pursue a career in some other field," James said.

"The door is always open, you never know when someone may change their mind. This is why we have other employees that will have an opportunity to own part of the business."

Since 1925, Althans Insurance has been making history, while many of their competitors have become history.

"We are very proud that we've been able to transition ownership of the company to future generations," James said. "Today with so many mergers, acquisitions and takeovers in our industry as well as others businesses, we have been fortunate to have been around for 95 years and look forward to our 100th year anniversary."