BRIDGTON — Chalmers Insurance Group has been passed down to the fourth generation in a family that has run it since 1857.
Jim Chalmers and Dottie Chalmers Cutter, cousins who grew up on the same street in Bridgton, recently bought the insurance group from their respective fathers, Bruce and Bill Chalmers, in a transfer that took effect on Jan. 1.
“They built this company to what it is, so they deserve to retire comfortably,” Dottie said about their predecessors.
She added that she and her new partner are “certainly ready to roll up our sleeves and do the work.”
Bill and Bruce Chalmers will continue to serve on the company’s board and as mentors.
“Our transition to the fourth generation has been carefully planned to set a balance for our entire family,” Bill Chalmers said in a press release. “Bruce and I are very proud of the end results and look forward to mentoring when asked. We are confident in Jim and Dottie’s abilities as leaders, combined with the experience, vision, and expertise of Steve Cote, president, to take Chalmers Insurance Group into the future and hopefully into the hands of the fifth generation.”
Dottie said the business first eased into a transition period in 2014, when Bill and Bruce “gave up the day to day” and Cote became the first non-family member to lead the company. A family meeting was called in December 2016, and the plan to hand things over to the fourth generation was outlined.
Dottie and Jim both say the company has had to adapt to changing times in the insurance industry.
“Technology has changed so much since back when our dads – our grandfathers, even – started,” said Dottie, who added an online presence and social media are important “in order to stay kind of relevant and appeal to the younger demographic.”
Jim noted the industry has consolidated and Chalmers had an opportunity to acquire other agencies.
The Chalmers are also involved with the Institute for Family-Owned Business, a nonprofit that is “dedicated to the success of family-owned businesses in the state of Maine,” according to its website.
Catherine Wygant Fossett, the institute’s executive director, said it’s “really remarkable” when a business can make it to the fourth generation and the Chalmer Insurance Group is “a wonderful family business.”
Wygant pointed out that Dottie is involved with several of the institute’s initiatives and the Chalmers “share their challenges and their successes” to help other family-owned businesses navigate their way forward.
Jim and Dottie said between the company’s nine office in Maine and New Hampshire they now have nearly 90 employees. The group offers a variety of insurance services.
Along with their new role as owners, the pair already had well-established roles within the organization: Dottie is the company’s vice president of operations and Jim is the vice president of sales.
Neither said they felt pressure to join to family business.
“No pressure other than the sense of, wouldn’t it be special,” Jim said. “I always think, wouldn’t it be strange driving down Main Street in Bridgton and this building not saying Chalmers on it.”
Dottie said she could remember being on a ski chairlift with Jim as kids and making plans to come back and work for the family business. Jim joked about being in kindergarten or first grade and talking about what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“It was either play in the NFL or be an insurance agent, you know? Hey, I reached one of my goals,” he laughed.
Jim played football at Bowdoin, where Dottie also went to college.
Dottie said her dad “secretly whispered in my ear, too, growing up” about the insurance business, but she initially thought it sounded boring and wanted to be a doctor.
“Now, I’m doing it with my own kids – starting early,” she said.
“It’s working,” she continued, adding that her 7-year-old daughter wants to be an insurance agent.
Dottie lives in North Yarmouth and Jim in Yarmouth, but he is planning to move back to Bridgton.
“This is the home team – the home office,” Jim said about the company’s Bridgton office. “You’re only as good as you are in your hometown.”
Bill and Bruce Chalmers maintained the properties in the company sale and now the new owners pay rent to their fathers.
The new owners declined to say how much they purchased the business for, but Dottie smiled and said they “negotiated good terms.”
“More than my weekly allowance,” Jim said with a laugh.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Dottie Chalmers Cutter and Jim Chalmers are now the fourth generation in their family to own Chalmers Insurance Group.