North Risk Partners – C.O. Brown Celebrates 100 Years in Business

Not all businesses succeed, and for those that do, there are lessons to be learned from their legacies. For Rochester-based insurance agency, North Risk Partners – C.O. Brown, this legacy of success is one spanning 100 years. The firm celebrated a century in business in September.  

The agency was founded by Clarence O. Brown in 1917. While the C.O. Brown story started with a male founder, the future is bright for women in leadership at the company and throughout the insurance industry as a whole.


The insurance industry has been historically male dominated. Acknowledging this, it remains an industry-wide priority to create more opportunities for women in management, sales and beyond. According to one study, only 15 percent of insurance companies are led by female executives.

Beth Morris, operations manager at North Risk Partners – C.O. Brown, says the local firm is an inclusive, affirming place for women in management. Since she started working for the company 28 years ago, she says, “We’ve grown and changed. We’ve had new positions and growth opportunities open up for women in roles that weren’t available 20 years ago.” 

Dorothy Cooper began working at C.O. Brown in 1945 and spent her career working in a variety roles from reception to bookkeeping to account management until she retired in 1996. During her tenure of more than 50 years, she says, “It’s always been a great place to work with a supportive, inclusive spirit from the top down.” Despite the company’s supportive culture, she remembers feeling like there was a glass ceiling for women in the insurance industry when she retired in the late 90s. 


Today, 20 years into her retirement, Cooper notes, “Women have been taking their place in the business world more than they did 25 years ago.” 

As women are playing a more integral role in the workforce, Morris is confident in the opportunities that exist at North Risk Partners – C.O. Brown and the spirit of teamwork present between both men and women. She shares that there are a number of women in management positions at the company, and she attributes the company’s success to a collaborative culture between men and women across all aspects of leadership.

“We keep a good balance. The men and women support one another, and we make a great team,” Morris comments.


As C.O. Brown embarks on the next chapter, the focus is on the next generation of future insurance professionals. Creating opportunities in the insurance field for both men and women remains one of the company’s top priorities. 

To young people starting in the field, Morris says, “Get your education, and start building a solid network.” Like any career, being successful takes hard work and determination. 

“The field moves quickly,” Lisa Ratgen, manager at North Risk Partners – C.O. Brown, shares. “The industry is changing, and the company is changing. You have to be open to learning and growing in order to keep up with the fast-paced momentum.”

And while education and networking are important tools for success, according to Cooper, to be successful in this industry, it’s critical to have strong people skills above all else. It’s a person-focused, service-oriented culture that C.O. Brown has valued for the last 100 years. 

“We’re grateful to be a part of the Rochester community, and for the last 100 years we’ve tried to stay involved and play a big role in giving back,” Cooper says. “Our agency’s leadership and employees have always been a huge part of the community and we are proud to carry on that tradition.”

Tori Utley is a Rochester-based writer and entrepreneur.