Professional Development

Photo by Rachel Nadeau

Wisdom of Fresh Socks

How a local leader found purpose and meaning in his life

By Nate Garvis, Tom Wiese and Kolina Cicero

Although only in his mid-thirties, Studio/E member Justin Hanratty has blazed a path that takes most people a half-century to achieve. President of his father’s insurance brokerage Hanratty & Associates by 2010 and CEO by 2013, Justin already has years of leadership experience under his belt. Which is likely why he was able to make the challenging decision last spring to merge with another brokerage, USI — a billion-dollar company with 4,400 employees.

Justin was born to lead. As it turns out, he was destined for the insurance world as well. At age four he proclaimed to his family that he would follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and work in the insurance industry. He grew up in the business, filing paperwork, running errands for team members and cleaning toilets. Today, Justin is president of USI Minnesota, a Midwest branch that provides comprehensive insurance, retirement and employee benefits programs.

Before we spent time with Justin learning about his extraordinary leadership skills, we saw them in action: On his way to greet us he dropped into each cube and office to say good morning to his team. His love for his team is palpable and is one of the many reasons Justin is a great person to follow.


Studio/E: Your desire is to give one metaphorical pair of socks every day. What does that mean?
Justin: My brother has Down syndrome and when we were younger he went through a major surgery. My mom spent seven days at the hospital and when I came to visit, she told me that each morning the doctors and nurses brought her a fresh pair of socks. When looking back on my life, this moment became the story that drove how I wanted to lead in business and in life — making people feel the way those doctors and nurses made my mom feel. Giving one pair of fresh socks every day.

Studio/E: What makes a good leader?
Justin: A good leader is someone who doesn’t need a title and will do the little things for people, like leave a note or give someone a hug. Maybe it’s getting people coffee, starting their cars on cold days or just being available to lend a hand. A good leader is also someone who loves people. There are a lot of leaders who love money, power and influence, but I don’t think at the end of the day they’re fulfilled. If you don’t love people and love helping them, what’s the point?

Studio/E: How do you give back?
Justin: One example is connecting with a kid named Nick. I met him when he was 12 and have been mentoring him since. He’s 20 now and it’s been a blast helping him. When I was his age I had so many questions and I’d have to go to all these people in search for answers. It’s been fun to try to be to Nick what I wish someone had been to me.

Studio/E: What led you to merge with USI?
Justin: There were a lot of reasons for the partnership, but a big reason was that customers needed it. We had large customers tell us they love what we do and who we are, but if they got any bigger they’d need more resources than we could provide. I also wholeheartedly believed we owed it to the staff. When you’re a family-run shop, you can’t offer the wages or growth opportunities of a billion-dollar shop.

Studio/E: How did you identify your desire to give one metaphorical pair of socks every day?
Justin: At age 27 I looked in the mirror and I didn’t like who I was. I reflected on my life and wrote down the memories that stuck out to my heart. I realized my brother TJ was my hero, the person I wanted to be like. One memory was my mom’s story of the fresh pair of socks, and so that became my desire.

Studio/E: What three pieces of leadership advice would you give to your younger self?
1. Have faith. Believing in a higher power grounds me and lets me see the bigger picture in business and life. Faith has taught me to be grateful for good and bad times, and is the foundation for all my decisions.
2. Constantly grow and learn. Great leaders are lifelong learners. A lot of CEOs are good people but they quit learning. Your team will see that. Learn as much as you can, evolve in your education and be open to other ideas.
3. Love and respect your people. It empowers them and encourages them to practice their own growth and leadership. Also, it’s the right thing to do.


Justin Hanratty, President, USI Minnesota
Headquarters: Plymouth
Inception: 1976
Description: Midwest branch of USI, a national insurance brokerage firm.
Justin’s Desire: Giving one metaphorical pair of socks every day
Studio/E Competency: Desire: Your purpose and why you live your life the way you do, both personally and professionally.


EDITOR: Full disclosure: USI provides insurance brokerage services for Tiger Oak Media, which publishes Minnesota Business magazine.