At 9:30 a.m. (Eastern) on Monday, December 6, McKeel Hagerty and members of his team are scheduled to be on the balcony above the New York Stock Exchange trading floor to ring the opening bell on Hagerty’s initial public offering of stock in the insurance and automotive lifestyle company.
While the event is ceremonial — trading on HGTY stock actually begins Friday, December 3 — it is significant for both the company, for McKeel Hagerty, and for its potential impact on the collector car hobby as a whole.
For Hagerty the company, the IPO means an infusion of money. For McKeel Hagerty, it means that instead of meeting seemingly non-stop with potential investors and Wall Street analysts, he might find time to go for a drive in one of his collector cars. As for the hobby…
“We’re purpose driven,” McKeel Hagerty said. “When we say it, we mean it: Our purpose is to save driving and car culture for future generations, and that is not going to happen without resources and without a reason. We’re going public to help fulfill the mission, to build an organization that can contribute to the purpose, an organization that is big enough. It can’t be done in a big non-profit way. It’s going to take (the car) clubs and (collector car) businesses, but also a couple of big players.”
And, obviously, he expects HGTY, as Hagerty will be traded on the NYSE, to be one of those big players.
Hagerty began, quite literally, as a mom-and-pop insurance agency, McKeel’s parents specializing in insuring vintage wooden boats, which are popular with people living in Midwestern resort areas such as Traverse City, Michigan, where Hagerty is based.
Typically, people who have vintage boats also have collector cars, and they wanted the Hagertys to insure those vehicles as well. The workload grew so quickly that McKeel was called home from his seminary studies to join his parents and sisters in the expanding business, a business that has grown to more than a thousand employees and not only insures collector vehicles but provides places for them to be seen, shared, driven and even stored.
In addition to running his family’s business, McKeel Hagerty did a term as president of the Young Presidents Organization, a global group of chief executives who are less than 45 years old.
In that role, he was at a technology conference in 2017 where the keynote speaker, who was working on autonomous cities free of privately owned vehicles, told Hagerty, “I’m putting you out of business.”
Hagerty wasn’t about to let that happen, not only for his family business but for their customers who enjoy their cars and car events just the joy of driving cool cars on great roads, and for future generations as well.
And so instead of just sponsoring car shows, Hagerty acquired the rights to run them, including several major concours d’elegance. The company also is building a series of collector car clubhouses/storage facilities, has a program through which people with collector cars can share them to others who would like to see what the hobby has to offer, and there’s a driver’s club, a non-profit foundation, and now the IPO to propel the effort.
One thing McKeel Hagerty says he has found encouraging is the reaction from the Wall Street investment community.
“A lot of people who are successful in the financial community like cars, too,” he said. “Many of them knew our brand and were excited about having the first enthusiast company in this space.
“We’d have a call, a 30-minute call, and the first 22 minutes we talked about business and then for the last 8 minutes it would be about cars.”
While acquiring concours for the Hagerty portfolio, McKeel and his team are making changes they believe will make such events, and the collector car hobby itself, relevant to a wider audience.
He used the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, staged in October for the first time under Hagerty management, as an example. Under Hagerty, Greenwich is becoming a multi-day festival, with family friendly events on Friday (at Greenwich, a Bonhams auction and a driving tour) and Saturday, and with the weekend culminating with the concours showcasing the best of the best on Sunday.
At Greenwich, those Saturday events included a Concours d’Lemons (“a lot of fun”), a RADwood event (“celebrating the 1980s and ‘90s, when I had hair”), and a Porscella show for modified Porsches. There was a series of seminars, a slot-car track, and Jay Ward of Pixar brought the real Lightning McQueen to the new Kids Fun Zone.
Hagerty also added a Jumbtron display screen for the concours to provide interviews and context to the show field, and to provide a feed for livestreaming the event on the internet so it could be enjoyed by those unable to attend in person.
“The (concours) model needs to be more family friendly and have more digital elements in ways for the modern consumer to interact, but never to be dummied down with less quality cars,” he added. “We think events like Greenwich will become festivals with different things happening and culminating with the concours on the final day. Bill Warner really pioneered this at Amelia Island (which Hagerty also has acquired).”
Hagerty said his company will continue to expand in 2022 and beyond.
“We have lots of things we’re looking at,” he said. “I can tell you we didn’t go public to go small. We went public to grow the enterprise and to create more.”
One piece of the collector car puzzle not part so far off the Hagerty portfolio is an auction, though there are rumors swirling that that’s about to change.
“Auctions are tricky,” Hagerty auctioned. “They’re not an event. They’re a business that looks like an event.”
Although he’s not interested in adding towing companies to the Hagerty portfolio, he is worried about that industry, especially with so many towing operations closing during covid and remaining closed as the truck drivers have not returned.
Hagerty insurance and its driver’s club offer road-side service that is contracted out to various local towing firms. McKeel said his company is eager to find partners in enhancing that service for its clients and club members.
Yes, there’s a lot on the Hagerty plate. There’s that bell to ring Monday morning, and then maybe time to go for a nice long drive.