Before joining Argo Surety, Mike Svonavec had never worked a day in the insurance industry. But 30 years of running his own company – and experiencing the customer side of insurance – gives him valuable perspective.
“All I’ve ever done is own and operate mines,” says Svonavec, director of engineering – mining, Argo Surety. “Being on the policyholder side, I understand the value of the service you receive and the importance of respect in business relationships.”
Learning the family business
When inspiration is needed, Svonavec looks to his father, who grew up on a farm and quit school after completing the eighth grade in order to work in the mines to help support his family.
After serving in the U.S. Navy, Svonavec’s father and uncle returned to western Pennsylvania and started their own mine.
“Through difficult times, they never quit,” Svonavec says. “They built the company into a very successful business.
“His biggest push for his sons was for us to get an education,” he says of his father. “When we were young, we would give Dad words to spell from the dictionary. He never missed. At 93, he is as sharp as ever.”
The work ethic and commitment to self-betterment stuck with Svonavec, and he stuck with the family business. After graduating from West Virginia University with a degree in mining engineering, he purchased Svonavec Inc. from his father and uncle and then used its assets to form a new company, Wilson Creek Energy.
Energized by new challenges
Svonavec sold Wilson Creek in 2010 and continued to manage the business for a few years. He then spent about six months in retirement but didn’t enjoy his newfound leisure time.
“John Yedini, president of Rockwood, is a close friend,” Svonavec says. “I told him I was interested in working, and he made the connection with Argo Surety.”
Since Argo Surety’s founding in 2008, its president, Josh Betz’s, vision has been to distinguish the business in the surety industry by providing asset-based underwriting in the energy sector through collaboration between underwriters and engineers.
For Svonavec, it helps to be based in Rockwood, Pennsylvania. As he builds Argo Surety’s engineering department, he looks to the Rockwood team for insight.
“I asked their engineers what they provide to underwriters that helps make their decisions,” Svonavec explains. “They were extremely helpful to develop the asset-based underwriting.”
Bringing experience to his surety role
As a bonus, decades of working in nearby Somerset, Pennsylvania, gives Svonavec a unique perspective on the challenges facing companies operating in the region.
“When I look at prospective clients, I have a good background in evaluating risk involved with these particular mining companies,” he says.
Yet, despite his extensive experience, he does not take for granted the unpredictable nature of the business.
“Mines of all types are cyclical, where pricing can change with peaks and valleys,” Svonavec explains. “Making the determination what mines are most likely to survive the low points is the biggest challenge. You never know what you will see.”
The next big challenge? Further develop Argo Surety’s international presence.
“We have worked our way into Canada, Australia and, most recently, Peru,” he says. “We’re definitely working hard to develop our international influence.”
Learn more about Argo Surety and read more Behind the Scenes stories about Argo employees’ insurance journeys.