Published December 13, 2011
Volume 19, Number 12

BB&T’s Mark Ruggles—A Trusted Adviser in Many Arenas  

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

Mark Ruggles' richly textured life is characterized by a strong work ethic and a high level of energy. He has earned considerable professional success in the role of trusted adviser. He is also a family man, a committed community citizen, and--a sign that he is not totally straight-laced--the drummer in a rock band.

Ruggles is Area President of Hacienda's BB&T-Tanner Insurance, a division of BB&T Insurance Services, based in Raleigh, N.C. He describes his primary responsibility as helping businesses protect their operations. “We help clients determine their risk appetite and then craft insurance coverage to address the risks they are and are not willing to take,” he says.

Serving a customer base that consists primarily of middle-market companies, he focuses on providing leadership to his team of specialized sales representatives, also known as producers. He has a clear notion of what it takes to be a good leader. “The biggest thing is to be fair. Then consistent, then as transparent as possible. This is what I have found to be successful and effective, and what I see in other successful leaders.”

In his business, that translates into assisting producers in their efforts “to get the best products at the best price for our clients.” Every customer situation is unique. “If the client is a real estate developer, for example, you can’t just hand him a standard policy and say 'sign here.' You have to add endorsements and coverages to reflect what the client needs.”

The other key part of his job is “recruiting top sales talent in the Bay Area.” The financially sound BB&T has “a good appetite to grow” and is investing in hiring new sales professionals. “Every day I look at who is talented and not happy where they are,” Ruggles relates.

Aligning a candidate’s talent with the business need is pivotal. “When there are mismatches, people are not performing to their optimum,” he notes, citing an Einstein quote, “’If a fish grows up thinking it can walk, it will live its life in disappointment.’ You’ve got to get the right people in the right spots.”

Still, there is one first and foremost attribute he insists upon in every potential recruit: “Strong business character. Everything else derives from that.”

Singling out character as the top criterion for a new hire is not hard to understand given Ruggles' upbringing. He grew up in Arcadia, a comfortable Los Angeles suburb next to Pasadena. He was number five in a large family--eight children, equally divided between girls and boys.

With so many siblings, “first and foremost we learned how to compete, first for attention, then for food, then for the best clothing,” he recalls.

It was not the Darwinian survival of the fittest, however. Instead of generating winners and losers, the competition instilled a sense of fairness. “We all have to eat, and some are hungrier than others. So you learn to speak up and how to organize. When you do those things, you are putting yourself in the front of the leadership bus.”

Presiding over the family was a father with an inspirational work ethic. A wine and spirits distributor, “he really pushed us to get good grades. He sent us all to private school through 12th grade. He always told us that he wasn't going to pay for college, but we were all going. He would say, 'if you get a good job, it will take care of you for life.'” As it turned out, all eight siblings have at least a bachelors degree; four have masters; and two have doctorates. 

Ruggles put himself through college at Cal Poly Pomona, graduating with a B.S. in business administration. Undecided on a career, he followed the lead of one of his older sisters, who was working as an accountant at Arthur Andersen, and joined Price Waterhouse, earning his CPA.

It was in this setting that he realized his affinity for the trusted adviser role. However, his next two positions saw him changing hats. He became the controller at Public Storage for three years, after which he moved to the Sullivan Group, an insurance brokerage in Los Angeles, where he spent 17 years as CFO. It was his first entrée into insurance, but still on the financial side. He switched over to operations in 1999 when he took a management position in the Southern California office of brokerage firm Brown & Brown. He joined BB&T-Tanner in his current capacity in May 2009. Last fall he settled in to a new home in Livermore after 18 months of weekly commuting. 

Throughout, he put the work ethic instilled in him since childhood into practice. “Coming up the ranks means putting in lots of hours--60 to 80 hour-workweeks,” he observes. In accounting, it was all day Saturday, and Sundays in tax season. “You do what it takes to get the job done and move the business forward.”

Asked about his biggest business surprise, Ruggles replies, “The characteristic that most surprised me is that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Determination and some calculated risk-taking get results. A common trait among my peers, those who get ahead, is that they are focused, determined, and willing to take risk--responsibly.”

While Ruggles still works hard today, he has been able to dial back to 10-hour workdays, typically followed by some kind of outside activity. He just completed the 2011 Leadership Pleasanton class, and he is currently chair of the Tri-Valley YMCA board. This commitment gives him a seat on the metropolitan board in Oakland, where he chairs the investment committee.

He is also into his third year of mentoring a young man from a single-parent household, now a sophomore in high school. They have dinner together every Tuesday night, talking about “school, dating, and sports.”  In this relationship, too, Ruggles is exercising the role of trusted adviser. “I have told him that I will never judge him or tell him what to do. Instead, I provide my input so he makes the best possible decisions.” 

Ruggles' immediate family is as accomplished as his own siblings. Wife Bernadette is an emergency room trauma nurse at U.C.L.A. These days, she does the commuting, working a few shifts per month.  She also owns a medical/legal consulting business, providing expert witness services.

Their daughter, a University of San Diego graduate, is the PR/merchandise manager for the Music Mart and has her own side business, promoting rock bands. Their son is in his third year at the University of Oregon, where he is majoring in psychology with plans of becoming a basketball coach.

As if his schedule is not full enough, Ruggles is also a drummer in a band, aptly named Jetlag, back in Orange County. They have been together for about eight years. In hiatus for a time after he moved, they have just started practicing again. “When we start getting gigs again, I’ll drive down with my drum set. It's more rewarding than just playing drums on my own.”

In his spare time, he likes to ride his bike through the Livermore wine country or take the Iron Horse Trail to Danville. On the rare occasions when he can sit still, he likes to read. Given his work ethic, if there is a book on his “To-Do” list, he is sure to finish it.


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