After 82 years of service to residents in and around the local community, one of Delaware’s longest-running family businesses is now under new ownership. Hilborn Insurance, which began its work in downtown Delaware in 1938, has been sold to Steve Brown of the Sunbury-based Payne and Brown Agency, a press release announced in January.
The acquisition was made in April of last year, although the Hilborn name has continued on with the company since the purchase, and all employees have elected to remain with the new owner. Jack Hilborn, who served as the sole proprietor of the business since 1994 when his father and company founder, Wayne, passed away, said it was simply the right time for the sake of the business’ future.
“Neither of my two kids wanted to switch careers … They both have excellent jobs and careers, and they’re both grown and gone,” Hilborn told The Gazette. “I’m getting of that age — I’m 71 years old — that I need to start thinking about what I’m going to do with the business, so I sold it.”
Hilborn said it was far from easy to make the decision, one he wrestled with for a year, but ultimately did so for the longevity of the company. Five bidders made their run at acquiring the company, but Hilborn ultimately decided on Brown, for whom Hilborn said he has great respect for and an existing relationship.
“He is a fine, fine guy,” Hilborn said of Brown. “He is the current president of the Ohio Independent Insurance Agency Association, which is the lead trade organization for independent insurance agents in the state of Ohio … I think my dad would have been pleased with where the agency is going.”
“I’ve had a friendship with Jack going back to close to 15 years,” Brown said. “I just expressed my interest in putting a bid in to buy the agency because he’s family-owned, in a small town, and he does things the right way. Those are all factors we look for when we’re buying agencies.”
Brown said his agency always keeps the name of the companies it purchases in order to preserve the legacies of the families who built them.
“For us, we don’t have to have the name on the door for the agencies that we operate,” he said. “We do all the work, but the people who built the foundations of the agency, they’re the ones that still need to be recognized for all their efforts that they’ve put into it over the years.
“Hilborn Insurance is an 82-year agency, and their legacy needs to continue beyond the Hilborn family, as far as I’m concerned, for as long as we’re in Delaware, which we will be forever. It’s always going to be called Hilborn Insurance,” Brown added.
Despite the sale, Hilborn said he is not yet ready to entirely wrap up his career in insurance, one that began in 1974 when he returned to Delaware and joined his father in the business. He will remain an agent in the company, at least for another year or two, before bowing out for good. Although he remains active, Hilborn said the sale of the company did bring about a period of reflection on his highly-successful run as a business owner in his hometown.
“I have enjoyed owning a small business,” Hilborn said. “I really have thrived on that, being an owner of a small business in my hometown. I grew up in Delaware and came back … We have enjoyed this very much over a long period of time.”
He added, “Hilborn Insurance will go on indefinitely. Steve Brown is an excellent insurance agent, and I am not the person to take it to the next step as far as marketing the agency in this new age of technology that we find ourselves in … It was the right decision for me, no question about it.”