“Old adjusters never die. They just adjust!” says Milton Brown at the age of 92. Milt was the 4th adjuster at KA’s Winnipeg office circa. 1956.
May 1st, 2022 marked Kernaghan Adjusters’ 69th anniversary. In our 70th year of operation, we reflect on our humble beginnings, and Stanley Kernaghan’s (SJK) dream of creating a pan-Canadian independent adjusting firm stretching from coast to coast, built upon the promise of service excellence and reliability.
Stan Kernaghan grew up on his father’s farm in Southwest Manitoba, just two miles from the 49th parallel. In 1940, he responded to an advert to join the Royal Canadian Airforce. Days later he was sworn into the RCAF where his initial training quickly revealed his aptitude for flight. At the mere age of 19, he was transferred to the RAF and on his way to fight a war in Europe, a man grown, a pilot, and a soldier. SJK’s time with the RAF included 9 months of fighting in North Africa, flying a Bristol Beaufighter Twin Engine, which he considered “the star of the show”, “the cat’s meow”. The war ended while SJK was in Canada preparing for his second tour. He left the Air Force 1946, decorated with the Air Force Cross and the prestigious Distinguished Flying Medal.
From War Hero to pots & pans salesman. Post-War life was uncertain and full of opportunity. SJK married Agnes Brody in 1947 and worked several part-time jobs. During an era when his employer at Hudson’s Bay deemed ‘looking too arrogant’ grounds for his dismissal, SJK knew he had found his home in the insurance industry when joining W.O Jones as a trainee adjuster. Two years later, he would leave and join General Accident’s claims department. In short order he became the claims manager for Central Canada. It was the quality of reports coming in from IA firms, and a ‘do better’ attitude that resulted in his decision to go out on his own and start SJ Kernaghan and Co Ltd in 1953.
Courage and experience would not guarantee enough business to pay for a half-time secretary and $40 a month rent, let alone his own salary. However, his years at General Accident had convinced him there was room for competition in the independent field. SJK’s optimism and business intuition proved correct. Within months he was flooded with claims and hired a full-time secretary and his first adjuster, Charlie Hoffman. By November 1953, he hired Ron Newcomb who in time would be pivotal to the company’s growth and success. Together they were known as the ‘Twin Towers’.
Ironically, things had come full circle. In 1953, Kernaghan Adjusters opened the doors of it’s first office in the very same premises SJK worked as a trainee adjuster for W.O Jones just two years prior. By 1955, they had outgrown the office and moved to a larger unit in the same building. The company was expanding quickly, and a new wave of adjusters were hired in 1956. One of whom was Milton Brown.
In a recent letter to Patti Kernaghan, Milt reflects on the early days in the Winnipeg office and on SJK “Your father was a very disciplined, methodical man. Likely in part from his time in the Air Force . In the very early stages of establishing his business he had an idea to help improve and impress his staff of adjusters. He rented a large meeting room at the motel in Falcon Lake for a two-day seminar. He called it TNT. It stood for ‘Today Not Tomorrow!’ Among other things, the seminar was to impress on us to get the work done promptly, today, not leaving it unattended resulting in an unhappy client.”
In the first 18 years of operation, not a single employee left the company. An attestation to the company’s values. The dream was realized in 1969 with the opening of our Halifax branch. Stretching from Vancouver Island to the Atlantic, Kernaghan Adjusters was Canada’s first privately-owned national independent adjusting firm. The Kernaghan family relocated from Winnipeg to Vancouver in 1970 where Head Office was established. The rest, as they say, ‘is history’.
Milton Brown, 92, has written a series of letters to Patti Kernaghan detailing his memories of the early days of Kernaghan Adjusters, the insurance industry, and the business of adjusting. These letters will be published as part of a new bi-weekly series on Kernaghan Adjusters’ website Kernaghan.com – Milt’s Chronicles.