Tap tap tap, went the ruler on the shining wood of the piano. Roger Sandau peered up begrudgingly at his instructor, a stern woman whose face and demeanor wore a permanent scowl. He tried to keep his playing in time with her metronomic tapping, but truth be told, he found little gratification in the task. The young boy loved to watch his father play, taken with the immediacy of the creation of music before his very eyes, but did not enjoy the task himself. It wasn’t until the age of thirteen, when he sat down to play at a friend’s house and was immediately surrounded by dreamy-eyed girls, that his perception of the art changed. “I realized the ability to play music has an attraction to people and creates an emotion in the audience that is unlike anything else,” he remembers. “I suddenly saw it possessed the unique ability to transcend cultural, linguistic, geographic, and social boundaries.” Now the CEO of Doodson Insurance Brokerage LLC, Roger has created the opportunity to build his career around his passion—though not exactly in the way he originally planned.
After igniting his flair for playing and composing as a young teen, he started his freshman year of college with a roommate who, much to his delight, had been a traveling musician. “He was the first person I had ever met who had actually made a record,” Roger marvels. The relationship allowed him to bridge the mental gap between goal and reality, and suddenly a light went off. After meeting people who had successfully navigated the music business and seeing that it was possible to put out a record, Roger wanted to be a musician.
With this vision clear in his mind, he graduated college and left town for San Francisco, where he joined a band and played every opportunity that came his way in the hopes of being discovered. Despite this total immersion, however, he eventually found that success was not happening as fast as he had hoped or expected. Instead of abandoning his dream, Roger instead set about redrafting his mental blueprints. Noting that the music business was largely run by lawyers, he decided to go to law school while continuing to play. The strategy bought him three more years to pursue his dream while also developing a career that would be a good entry point into the business if his Plan A didn’t pan out. When he hadn’t realized a record deal by the time of his graduation and completion of the bar exam, his brief career as a professional musician ended and his new career as an entertainment lawyer commenced.
Following a decade of representing musicians, concert promoters, record companies and music publishers, Roger transitioned from his legal practice to the insurance industry, upon discovering the existence of specialized insurance products designed for the music and touring industries. In 1995, by a purely fortuitous stroke of curiosity and luck, he answered a classified ad in an entertainment magazine to work with a popular musical group known as The Three Tenors. Luciano Pavarotti, among the most commercially successful tenors to date, was one of its members. The musicians invested considerable funds each time they performed a show, always aiming to present a stadium-quality performance but also wary of the high cost and impossibility of rescheduling a show should something go wrong. Thus, Roger sought to ensure that they had proper coverage for such financial risks. “It was truly a turning point for me,” he remembers. “If I hadn’t gotten involved with them, I wouldn’t have developed an appreciation for this unique aspect of the insurance industry.”
Several years later, as The Three Tenors approached retirement, Roger found himself looking for an interim career move amidst the boom of the dot-come era. Struck by the idea of using the internet to sell wedding insurance, he set about researching. The concept was not yet widely available in the US, but it had a proven track record as an insurance product in the UK, so he signed deals with two major wedding portals and launched the company that would broaden his experience of the insurance industry. WedSafe became one of the first companies to sell insurance products online, developing all the technology to deliver their services through electronic means.
Though solid in its initial conceptualization, the fall of the dot-come era left WedSafe unsellable in 2001. “With the devastation and uncertainty caused by the events of 9/11, the insurance industry was a mess, and we wrestled with keeping an insurance carrier to support the program,” Roger recalls. Political and social context improved, however, and the company was finally acquired in 2005 by a Fortune 250 company called Aon. Through this experience, he was appointed CEO of Robertson Taylor Insurance Brokers, becoming deeply enmeshed in the music and touring insurance business. After running Robertson Taylor for over four years, he departed to work as the Chief Operating Officer of an insurance captive for a short time and then decided to set up his own insurance brokerage firm. Thus, Crossfields Insurance Brokerage, LLC, was born.
Rather than building a large specialty infrastructure, his business model focused on constructing a fabric of strategic partnerships with outside firms. Strong client relationships were the cornerstones of the enterprise, and this model enabled him to service particular client needs without having to build specific infrastructure for each type of coverage need. Such needs generally included niche insurance products applicable to the entertainment, sports, and leisure industries, such as non-appearance and event cancellation coverage, high limit disability coverage, contract bonus coverage, and an assortment of commercial insurance products as well.
After building Crossfields into a prominent player in the US music and entertainment insurance industry, Roger was approached by Arthur Doodson Brokers Ltd, a leading independent insurance brokerage firm in the United Kingdom founded in 1964 and specializing in entertainment. The firm had created an umbrella organization known as Doodson Broking Group to represent the various companies in which they held majority or full ownership. Through a number of acquisitions, the organization had come to house three different UK firms, which currently sit somewhere along the continuum of absorption into Arthur Doodson Brokers. The company was looking to expand into the US and was familiar with Roger’s background with Robertson Taylor, their most significant competitor in the UK. They contacted Roger with the hopes of integrating Crossfields into their business, with Roger himself spearheading the growth of Arthur Doodson on the US. Thus, in early 2010, the company merged with Crossfields to create an international live music and entertainment insurance enterprise, and Crossfields changed its corporate name to Doodson Insurance Brokerage, LLC, to reflect its status as a fully-owned subsidiary of the corporation.
The opportunity to merge Crossfields with Doodson Broking Group was the perfect opportunity arriving at the perfect time for Roger, granting him the capacity to, for example, work with the largest concert promoter in the world. It also provided him with immediate liquidity of his equity in the company, which posed a tremendous advantage. Furthermore, it afforded the possibility of leaving a larger global footprint, serving international clients he might have otherwise lacked the capacity to handle. Crossfields had reached a point at which it needed a larger service platform to work with more weighty and expansive clients, while Doodson had reached a point at which it had successfully transitioned from an entrepreneurial single-owner business to a multi-owner business while still maintaining its status as a closely held corporation. Equipped with a young and forward-facing management team, Roger felt as though both businesses were poised to truly pursue their growth through the synergistic partnership.
If one were to go back in time and ask a younger Roger where he projected his professional path to lead, the chances of a reference to the entertainment insurance industry are slim to none. Yet it is precisely this unanticipated plot twist that renders his story so compelling. While so many young people give up on their dreams when reality confounds their options, Roger saw that reality, though harsh, was not uncompromising. Though his path did not go exactly as originally planned, he has built a career that continues to emulate the principles of music that first impassioned him. “I grew up in a house where my mother played the piano, so music has always been a very tangible experience for me,” Roger stresses. He observed how it brought people together and allowed them to participate, and he feels a similar sense of unity, engagement, and immediacy when he promotes and witnesses live performances today. “It’s the same shared experience and sense of community that draws people to music and keeps the industry going now,” he remarks.
Roger’s secret to success seems to be three-fold. First, he advises an ongoing investment in technical knowledge about your chosen field. This is then supplemented by a true passion for the information and work at hand. With these two tools, individuals will be prepared to succeed in whatever opportunity may arise. “As you go through your career, you’ll be presented with various opportunities through people that you meet. Relationships lead to opportunities and you can decide to either pursue a given opportunity, or determine that it’s not right for you at the time,” Roger advises.
Beyond this advice, Roger’s background exhibits a resolve, resilience, and optimistic realism that seem to be built into the very fabric of his character. This is particularly fascinating in light of the fact that his maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors and had a tremendously challenging path through life, having struggled through labor camps in Munich and then a displaced persons camp in Germany. After witnessing one stillbirth and then one child who died from the mass inoculations required before immigrating to the US, they crossed the Atlantic to a foreign land without speaking any English. “By their very nature, they were survival people,” Roger proclaims. “They were people who had faced some of the greatest obstacles in life and had persevered with diligence, hard work, prudence, and tenacity. I see myself as continuing along this trajectory, and whenever I’m facing obstacles, I think of what my grandparents had to go through and see that the challenges I’m facing aren’t that formidable.”
This perspective is a valuable tool whenever one pushes toward some form of success, whether releasing a new piece of music into the world or seeking to transform a company through innovative theory and action. “Our greatest challenges and, conversely, our greatest successes will always be taking an idea and seeing how far it can go,” says Roger. “We create something and then put it out there for people to judge. The ability to do this is what advances the world forward, and actually seeing the result of your idea can be the greatest reward imaginable.” Whether your dream is artistic, entrepreneurial, business-oriented, or life-oriented, these universal principles help ensure that, despite obstacles, we allow our ideas and ourselves to achieve their full potential.