Tamir Zuckerman had spent a lot of time in Emporia over the past 10 years, but until a few months ago, he had never experienced a Kansas summer.
Zuckerman, who made the move to Emporia from Tel Aviv, Israel, with his family last year, said the heat and humidity was nothing compared to the Mediterranean summer with which he grew up.
“The Israeli summer is pretty brutal, so this wasn’t too bad,” he said with a laugh. “I liked it; I could just live in summer. I’m dreading the winter that is coming.”
Even with the coming winter, Zuckerman is happy to be a part of the community and is embracing life in the Midwest, where he has founded Sela Group, LLC., an insurance brokerage firm specializing in finding hard-to-locate property and casualty insurance policies for clients all over the world. He is an independent insurance agent, producer and broker with a multi-state property and casualty and surplus license, a member of the Israeli Bar Association, and a licensed mediator. He works with a number of firms around the world in order to find the best policies for clients bringing business to the US.
“The idea was not really to compete with any of the agents here because I don’t really have the added value of living here for 30-plus years and knowing everyone from church and everywhere else,” Zuckerman said. “So, the idea was going to my strongest suit, which was finding companies and people from my previous connections. I work with a lot of agents abroad in Israel and London when they have companies that need solutions for their companies in the United States.”
Israel has a high concentration of high-tech companies that look to expanding into the US as they grow in operation.
“That’s where I come into the picture because I’m licensed in multiple states, wherever high-tech is,” Zuckerman said. “All of those companies are bringing something new, and that’s not something that insurance companies want to hear. When someone’s coming with something new, they’re struggling to find solutions, so my whole business model was finding those carriers that would be open to hear about interesting new ideas about businesses that didn’t exist. I never say, ‘no,’ and I have some pretty complicated clients, but eventually I find something for them. I’m very pleased about this niche that I have.”
So, how does a successful broker from Israel find himself building an international insurance brokerage in Emporia?
Zuckerman’s wife, Katherine Eusey-Zuckerman, grew up here.
“My wife is from here originally and her family lives here, so that’s how I got to know the place,” he said. “We’ve spent quite a bit of time, spending a few weeks every year — either around Christmas or around September.”
They met by chance during a trip abroad to Mexico. She moved to Israel in 2008, and soon the couple married. Eventually, they welcomed sons Tom, 5, and Gil, 3. Zuckerman said that’s when the couple started thinking about the possibility of making some big changes.
“Spending a lot of time here was really eye-opening to a different way of life than what we had there,” he said. “So, we went through with it.”
The cost of living in Emporia compared to Tel Aviv is much lower, and the opportunity to own a home with a yard for their children to play in rather than living in a small apartment appealed to the family.
“We always visited here and it was kind of an alternate universe from what we had,” Zuckerman said. “In Israel the cost of living is extremely high, and traffic and big cities and small apartments. When you have no other option, that’s just life; that’s fine. But we always had the other side, like, ‘Wait, we can always have a life here.’”
Zuckerman said it was hard to leave his side of the family behind in Israel, but it’s important to him that his sons stay immersed in that part of their heritage. Zuckerman speaks Hebrew to the boys at home while Eusey-Zuckerman speaks English. He wants them to be able to communicate with the other set of grandparents during visits back home.
The children have been enjoying living in Emporia, too, and Zuckerman said that makes it easier to focus on the business.
Zuckerman is no stranger to the insurance business. He worked with Madanes Insurance Agency Ltd., the largest insurance agency in Israel, for more than a decade as head of the sales and commercial account management division. Prior to that, he was a member of the Israeli Air Force for a little more than three years, reaching the rank of Sergeant Major. Afterward, he was assigned duty to the Israel Defense Forces — the military reserves that provide assistance during emergencies.
“I went to law school and did four years of law school in Israel and, somewhere in the middle of that, I started working at the biggest insurance agency in Israel,” he said. “I grew up in that agency. ... I started out very part-time doing the jobs nobody else wanted to do — data entry and things like that. After I had my law degree, I did my internship there in insurance and in tort, mainly in medical malpractice, and I made progress in that agency into senior management.”
Zuckerman said his background in law has been an important element to his success in the insurance business.
“I’m a member of the Israeli Bar Association and I will continue paying the fees every year to stay with the bar,” he said. “It gave me a big stepping stone, mainly to business, and when I became a manager when I wanted to hire underwriters I told HR, ‘Just bring my lawyers.’ It prepares you a lot for a things, in negotiations, in contracts.”
Zuckerman said anyone interested in learning more about Sela Group is welcome to visit www.sela-group.com.
“My real specialty is finding the things that other carriers told you, ‘no,’” he said. “Things that are not the ordinary insurance — that’s the thing that I do best, because I am an independent broker. I’m here, always open and interested in learning about everyone’s businesses.”