Mission Matters – Kelley Culley

Kelley Culley’s journey into the insurance industry was no accident. Unlike many who just “happen” into the field, her path was more deliberate. Her grandfather founded Reno Insurance Agency in the Miami Valley in 1960, and her father, Doug, joined in 1978 after serving three years in Germany with the Army and earning a B.S. in Insurance and Risk Management from The Ohio State University. With that pedigree, she was certain that the insurance field was the right fit for her.

However, Kelley didn’t plan to work on the agency side initially. She earned the same degree from the same university as her father had 30 years earlier while working part-time in the billing department at State Auto in Columbus. After graduation, she took a personal lines underwriting position and then earned her MBA at Capital University in the evenings. She credits her mentors at State Auto with helping to deepen her understanding of the industry over the next nine years. Gradually, her passion for small business needs grew.

Things Come Together

In March 2013, her husband Sean, an Army JAG officer, was activated to Fort Campbell in Tennessee. Seeing this as the right time, Kelley joined her family’s agency in Dayton. They sold their condo in Columbus, and Kelley moved with their one-year-old son, Jackson, into her parents’ home while Sean served in Tennessee. Kelley began working at the agency, building her own book of business, and developing a niche in trucking insurance. In fact, Kelley didn’t stop at just helping her clients with their insurance needs but stepped in to help navigate the bureaucratic maze as well.

Once the every-other-week trips between Dayton and Clarksville were behind them and the young family was all back in Ohio, a local law firm where Kelley had contacts wanted to interview Sean. In short order, he was offered the job and Kelley says the minute the offer letter was in hand, her mind was on buying a house and getting settled.

They are a family of five now and are as busy as you would expect: Jackson, 12, just wrapped up with flag football and will spend a week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama in June; Shannon, 9, played ice hockey this spring until she broke her finger and had to bow out the rest of the season (it remains to be seen whether she will pick it up again, but Kelley says her still small but very extroverted daughter “likes skating and checking people”); and Emily, 4, who has her sister’s big personality, but has grown to be very adaptable. Born just a few months before Covid, she has had to roll with Mom & Dad handling all the hurdles the pandemic brought on, including Kelley trying to virtually school the older kids at home and run her agency. Now that the kids are old enough for more adventurous trips, she’s planning vacations to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons for next year. “We’ve talked about it for years, we decided we’re going to just do it.” Following in a parent’s footsteps doesn’t stop with Kelley, as Sean is now General Counsel for Wright State University, like his father who retired a few years ago as General Counsel for Ohio State University. And Kelley’s sister, Heather, took the same path as their mom: both became teachers.

Like Father, Like Daughter

Kelley describes Doug Reno as larger-than-life, outspoken, and always looking out for others’ best interests, traits she sees in herself as well. “I couldn’t pick a better business partner, we’re on the same page, both always looking out for the best interest of the agency. There are no surprises.” She values the trust and shared vision they have for the agency’s future. The plan has always been to transition the business to Kelley, and she is prepared to continue its legacy, whether or not her own children choose to join.

Opportunity, Involvement, and Advocacy 

Kelley began her service with OIA on the Advocacy Committee in 2018 and served as President of the Dayton Independent Insurance Agents Association in 2021-22 during her three-year stint on the board from 2019-22. She was elected to the OIA Board in 2023. Kelley is proud of the board’s accomplishments, particularly in strengthening the organization and valuable programs that matter to agents. “I think my work on the board has helped give a voice to the needs of small multigenerational agencies. Even with all the mergers and acquisitions we’ve seen in this industry, there’s still plenty of smaller agencies that need a voice and OIA gives us that.” For the next generation of independent agents, Kelley advises, “You really need to make yourself a student of this industry. Keep learning and keep growing your knowledge base. That will allow you to assist your clients and help them mitigate their risks.” She also emphasizes, “Instead of trying to sell to your customers, try to connect with your customers and just form that personal one-on-one connection where you understand their business.”

In addition to her work with industry organizations, she also volunteers with her sorority, Kappa Delta, which she feels had a strong influence on her leadership development. Of her service, Kelley says, “It’s important for our kids to see that their parents are volunteering and taking on leadership roles. My husband’s occupation and mine are not just jobs, we wholeheartedly feel that the organizations we work for do good work and play an important role in our community.”

When asked what time in your career made you most proud, Kelley shares that, “After the Dayton tornadoes came through Memorial Day weekend in 2019, we had many clients impacted, but I had one commercial account that got absolutely destroyed. The policy I put together did exactly what it was designed to do, and they were able to rebuild and come back even stronger. I’ve had a few clients tell me over the years that my impact on their business allowed them to stay in business and that’s the best feeling in the world.”

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