Memory of the Month: the man in the middle

By on September 27, 2013 at 4:08 PM

Posted in: Odds & Ends, Working at GEICO

Each month, we share an image from GEICO’s past and invite you to exercise your caption-writing skills.

Leo&CoEarlier this month, as we do every year, we celebrated GEICO’s birthday. It has been 77 years since the company’s founder, Leo Goodwin, pulled up stakes in Fort Worth, Texas, and moved the brand-new Government Employees Insurance Company to the location where most of his target market was: Washington, D.C.

That’s Leo, front and center in the photo on this page, which was shot at a very early company anniversary, probably around 1940. And that’s the entire company – all 35 employees – in this photo with him.

We celebrated our 77th birthday with a tailgate theme last Friday. (We have nearly 29,000 employees around the nation now, so we can’t exactly get them all together in one room for a photo.) At the corporate headquarters, employees were invited to wear their favorite sports team gear, and we set up a grill on the lawn and served hot dogs at lunchtime. We got lucky with spectacular weather, and it was a pleasant little celebration of something truly extraordinary.

Leo Goodwin wasn’t some young hotshot in 1936. He was nearly 50, and he’d had a fine career at USAA. But that company only allowed military veterans to hold its top executive positions, and Goodwin never served.

Having bumped into what I like to call the “khaki ceiling” at USAA, Goodwin decided to launch his own company – in the midst of the Great Depression. Furthermore, he chose to forego the agency business model that most insurers used then (and still use today) in favor of a direct-to-the-customer operation conducted mostly by mail.

It was a fool’s errand on the face of it, but Leo and his wife, Lillian, were determined to make it work. GEICO was hardly an overnight success, however. It turned its first profit five years later, in 1941 – and remained profitable for another 34 consecutive years.

The Goodwins were retired by the time the company veered briefly into the red in the mid-1970s. Their successors realized that GEICO had strayed from the principles that had made it successful, and engineered a return to Goodwin’s fundamentals. Emphasizing outstanding service, underwriting discipline and low-cost operation, GEICO rebounded and has enjoyed steady success ever since.

The remarkable story of initiative, determination and perseverance Leo and Lillian started writing in 1936 turned out to be a best-seller – one that’s still being written today.

Want to add a few lines of your own? Check out the Careers pages on to see the many opportunities we have available. And for a quick look at GEICO – really quick – check out the video below.