Eric Donahoe, a 35-year veteran of the insurance business, hopes his planned gift to the University of Mississippi will help students discover there's a lot more to his profession than pushing papers.
In fact, for much of his career, Donahoe himself has been a soldier of sorts, standing guard over the security of major corporations – being proactive in preventing the businesses from becoming victims of risk. He designs the insurance coverages they need based on their level of potential risk.
Clients may only need minimal coverage, he says, to protect the business when a customer slips and falls on the premises, for example. But, now more than ever, his clients need protection from a much greater risk –criminal activity that may compromise a company’s internet security.
Donahoe recounts one case in particular: “We had a client whose network was hacked and the hackers wrote a code that prevented the business owner from accessing his own system. The client was locked out, so basically the business was held hostage and there was a ransom. So until the client paid the ransom, its system was shut down. It couldn’t do business; it couldn’t operate.”
In situations like this, several scenarios could occur: worst case, the company has no insurance against this particular risk and has to pay the hacker’s ransom, sometimes in the millions of dollars; the company has coverage but doesn’t need to make a claim because tech support finds a way to break the code; or the company’s insurance pays the ransom to keep the business afloat.
When Donahoe, a native of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, graduated from Ole Miss in 1980, he had no idea the insurance business could be so fascinating.
“It has just been a fantastic career,” he said. “I tell people all the time, especially young people, that if you want an exciting career, it’s the insurance industry. It’s amazing how many opportunities it affords to learn so much about global operations.”
With a $250,000 testamentary gift, Donahoe recently worked with the University of Mississippi Foundation to establish an endowment to support faculty and staff in the School of Business Administration’s risk management and insurance program. He hopes the gift will bring new life to the industry he has grown to love.
“I had some discussions with [professor of finance] Larry Cox when I was thinking about doing this and he made a great comment, ‘To attract the best and brightest students, you really have to have great faculty and staff’…. Our industry needs bright young people coming into it and if this will help in some way to attract really bright, talented young professionals to our industry, then that’s a fantastic thing,” Donahoe said.
UM School of Business Administration Dean Ken Cyree said private gifts like Donahoe’s help the university establish national credibility.
“Mr. Donahoe’s gift will significantly improve the level of faculty and staff we can attract, which directly affects the quality of education our students receive,” Cyree said. “We greatly appreciate his generosity.”
After graduating from Ole Miss, Donahoe joined Traveler’s Insurance Company of Jackson, where he worked for two years before joining the Bottrell Agency, an independent insurance firm in Jackson that was acquired by Trustmark Bank in 1999. Donahoe worked at Bottrell for 24 years before accepting a position with a large South Florida firm, Seitlin, now a subsidiary of the Marsh & McLennan Agency – an insurance brokerage operation.
Donahoe says his professional experiences have been personally rewarding.
“I never knew all that was involved in an automobile dealership, for example, and how that type of business operated until I was in the insurance industry,” he said. “You become an essential part of these businesses’ management teams because they count on you to manage their risk. That’s what you’re doing. You’re helping them stay in business.”
After a decade in the warm Miami sun, Donahoe felt his family ties had weakened. While visiting friend and Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother Mitch Mattingly in Oxford, Donahoe decided he would enjoy having a home near his alma mater as well.
“I knew that at some point I would return to Mississippi,” he said. “This is home and, in Oxford, there’s so many wonderful things happening. I felt like it was a great idea to be close to the university and experience all the things it offers. I thought I would just travel back and forth from Mississippi to South Florida.”
Meanwhile, Donahoe’s longtime employer, Bottrell, opened an Oxford location and invited him back. “It was a great opportunity for me to rejoin the firm that I was with for so long, and so I’m happy to be here. All my time away, I would think about what true, lifelong friends I made while I was in school here. When I came back and reconnected, it was like there was no lost time. I just fell right back into those wonderful friendships and relationships.”
Donahoe’s planned gift gives him membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university opened the Lyceum doors to its first students. The society recognizes generous donors who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.
“I wanted to give back to the university that has been such a major influence in my life and my career,” Donahoe said. “I also wanted to give back to an industry that has been an influence in my life and has afforded me so many opportunities.”
Adam Lee, development officer for the School of Business Administration, believes Donahoe’s gift will accomplish its goal.
“Private gifts of all sizes are important,” Lee said. “But generations of students, and ultimately the insurance industry itself, will benefit from the support Mr. Donahoe’s gift will provide to our faculty and staff. I hope his generosity will inspire others to support programs that have impacted their lives.”
For more information about including the university in a will or other estate plans, contact the UM Foundation at 800-340-9542 or visit www.umfoundation.com/planning. To give to the UM School of Business Administration, contact Adam Lee at 662-915-1586 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Bill Dabney