Stephen D. Sprowls, president of PLUS Inc., died suddenly on Aug. 25, while on a brief family vacation in Denver, Colorado. Sprowls spent his entire career in the insurance business, serving the last 31 years as president of PLUS Inc., an Austin-headquartered wholesale insurance brokerage, specializing in the placement of professional lines coverage.
Friends, employees, colleagues, and competitors mourn his passing, as he served as trainer and mentor to so many insurance professionals and as a staunch advocate for the insurance industry and the specialty insurance market. Throughout his career, Sprowls “loved to bring others into the business,” said his son Garrett Sprowls, who worked with his dad for the last 12 years.
Sprowls remained an active member of the Texas Surplus Lines Association, having served as the association’s president in 1986-87, but never walking away from sharing his talents there with others. He leaves a vacancy in the role of chairman of TSLA’s Regulatory Committee.
Jean Patterson, executive director of TSLA, met Sprowls for the first time when she was newly hired by TSLA. Both were first-time attendees at TSLA’s Mid-Year Meeting in 1981. Patterson remembers Sprowls as a mentor and good friend with whom she shared many joyful and helpful conversations.
TSLA members counted on Sprowls to add levity to their networking events. He invented the Carbonaro Effect, even though it later became named for a television magician. With utmost confidence Sprowls could make the most ridiculous statements seem credible, then laugh at himself when caught. TSLA honored Sprowls with the Surfer of the Year award in 1987, the only time it was ever presented. Earlier that year, Sprowls broke his hip surfing and spent an entire year on crutches.
Sprowls graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, with minors in business and history. He went on to SMU Law School, but after a year realized a law career was not a good match.
Sprowls started on the claims side of the insurance industry, perhaps, said Garrett Sprowls, because of his brief legal training. But the elder Sprowls was drawn to underwriting. He honed his underwriting skills while serving as a manager, broker, underwriter and marketing rep for Specialty Insurance Managers (SIM), where he worked for 11 years. Sprowls rose to executive vice president with SIM while building a wholesale E&S book with a professional liability specialty.
In 1990, Sprowls purchased that piece of business from SIM to open Professional Lines Underwriting Specialists or PLUS Inc. in December 1990. He remained lifelong friends with the Berry family, owners of SIM.
Sprowls earned the CPCU designation in 1980, then in 1995 became the 60th person worldwide to earn the Registered Professional Liability Underwriter (RPLU) designation from the Professional Liability Underwriting Society. In 2011, Sprowls became the fourth person in the United States to earn the RPLU+ credential.
This past June, PLUS was sold to Dallas-based Towerstone, the wholesale insurance division of IMA Financial Group, with the expectation that Sprowls would spend at least three years there to facilitate the transition.
When Sprowls served as president of TSLA, he and others spearheaded the passage of the legislation creating the Surplus Lines Stamping Office of Texas. Sprowls served on the SLSOT inaugural board of directors, then as board secretary in 1990 and vice chairman in 1991.
Friends, colleagues and competitors have shared many Steve stories with his survivors, his wife of 48 years Judy, his children Kristy Gilbert and Garrett. The stories highlight his kindness, skills, generosity and love of family and friends. “Those who loved him saw the best of themselves reflected in his eyes and smile,” wrote Gilbert in her father’s obituary.
Steve Sprowls, 1950-2021, is remembered fondly by all who knew him. Memorial services will be held in an outdoor setting at the end of September.