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Built to Last: Laura & Alden Sherman

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This is the story of the claim that never happened. Laura and Alden Sherman built their dream home in Belleair Bluffs, Florida, on a little knoll overlooking the water.

Laura is an insurance broker with a long career in the P&C industry. Having seen her fair share of claims, she wanted to build a home expressly designed to prevent them. With wind impact rated windows; a permanent, whole-house generator; a closet that doubles as a safe room; gable end bracing and engineered roof-to-wall connections to improve hurricane and high wind resistance; and much more, the Shermans are working towards the IBHS Fortified Home Designation.

It’s also stunning. Work was completed in November 2023, but it’s been a long and interesting road getting there—a road that involves Antiques Roadshow, college football and a Steinway grand piano.

I know that we've done everything we possibly can to build a home that will last for generations.

Laura was born and raised in central Ohio, not far from Columbus. She attended DePauw University where she studied economics. She was recruited right out of college into the insurance industry. “Who wouldn't want someone bright and very quick-witted with a magnetic personality as part of their organization?” Alden asks.

During the first few years of her insurance career, Laura held roles in various departments including marketing where she worked on the PBS series Antiques Roadshow that her then employer sponsored. She traveled with the show, promoted it, coordinated the volunteers and developed relationships with the appraisers.

“I worked as an underwriter for a year right after college. Then, with my work on Antiques Roadshow, I traveled the country in my off hours, learned about antiques and gained a greater appreciation for American history,” Laura says. “It was really amazing and actually turned out to be an interesting parallel to what I do now, helping some of my clients protect their high value artwork and antiques.”

Alden is a bit of a modern-day Renaissance man. Hailing from Albany, Georgia, he’s a classically trained concert pianist, neuroscience expert, clinical researcher and carpenter. In third grade, Alden asked his parents for piano lessons, and they gladly obliged. Though the initial years were frustrating, his parents encouraged him to keep at it, and his frustration soon turned to passion. He learned jazz piano on the side and ended up majoring in music with an emphasis on performance and composition at Emory University.

He had also always wanted to be a physician. After graduating from Emory, he entered med school at the Medical College of Georgia and gravitated towards neurosurgery. But as he looked at what that career path would entail and how little time it would leave for music, he began having second thoughts. “I'm a musician and I like composing and writing music,” he says. “And I came to realize that I wouldn’t have the time I wanted to spend on this passion if I had gone down that route.”

After what he refers to as his quarter-life crisis, Alden opted to leave medical school and go into pharma—a path that would leave more room to pursue his passion for music. After a stint in pharmaceutical research, he moved into the medical device sector and now leads clinical evidence strategy planning for Boston Scientific Neuromodulation.

So how did an insurance buff and a musically-inclined medical scientist cross paths? In 2002, Laura attended her sorority sister’s wedding. It was at the rehearsal dinner where she finally met Alden. “Our friends had been trying to introduce us,” Laura recalls. “They kept saying ‘We think you guys would be a perfect match.’ But we had both been in long-term relationships, so it just never worked out.”

Alden said he instantly felt sparks. When she started talking about college football (and she talked a lot about college football), he knew right then and there he wanted to marry her. "In fact, I almost asked her midway through her analysis of the University of Georgia's program in the nineties compared to Ohio State’s," Alden says.

Well, Alden didn’t ask Laura to marry him on the spot, but he did ask her out and they had their first date the following weekend. Eventually, Alden did propose, and they tied the knot in 2004 before combining homes in Atlanta. Shortly after, Laura got a call from two colleagues in the insurance business who were interested in opening an insurance brokerage together. They decided to set up shop in Tampa, Florida, and Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners was born.

What was it like being newly married and starting a new business in a new city? " It was a bit surreal,” Laura describes. “Just thinking back on all the late nights. And, at the start, we had no resources, no procedures, no colleagues, no employees. We just knew we wanted to take a different approach within the marketplace.”

The founding premise for the business was something the three of them had been kicking around for a while: they wanted to offer successful entrepreneurs, companies and employers an insurance and risk management solution that would serve their needs in a more integrated way. They’d observed that many people in this demographic don’t separate their lives into the tidy categories of traditional insurance which leads to gaps and overlaps in their insurance programs.

“They might have an employee on the corporate payroll who is really working as domestic staff,” Laura explains. “Is their home listed on the work comp policy? What about the vicarious liability if the employee causes a car accident on the way to pick up the children? Is the client covered? What if the client is sitting on a board in the community? Where is the D&O and is it sufficient to protect the non-profit and all of its directors?”

Laura and her partners made sure that the commercial lines team talked to the personal insurance team, and that they talked to the employee benefits team, taking a holistic approach that better matched the way their clients live their lives.

Alden played a role in the start of the business too, serving as the unofficial copy editor for marketing collateral and writing music for some of the firm’s videos. “They based their business on the value of integrity, a service-oriented mindset and passion for people. And they really took that seriously,” Alden recalls. “And she invested our life savings and a lot of sweat equity,” he continues. “And not just sweat. Tears too. But it’s been a massive success—a perfect American success story.”

When it came time to build their dream home, Laura and Alden applied the same level of vision, care and diligence as they did to build the business. They found an architect who had designed another PURE member’s home and told him they wanted to place a heavy emphasis on risk management and loss prevention to make their new home as resilient as possible.

They found a lot they loved overlooking the water, but before buying, made sure that even in a Category 5 hurricane, the storm surge would not reach the house. The neighborhood is zoned for 150 mph winds; they built to 195 mph. The cost for this added protection? Perhaps less than you’d expect at $11,000. They installed a whole-house water shut-off device. They interviewed three different lightning protection suppliers before installing whole-house lightning protection with surge prevention as well. They built drains into the laundry room floor. And they installed cameras and centrally monitored alarms…

Equally important as the safety of the home are the thoughtful spaces designed with their sons, Mercer, 15, and Gavin Alden, 14, in mind. “We wanted our home to be a reflection of the passions we share with our family and friends, along with our desire to serve our community, “said Laura. “We wanted this home to be a place for people to gather.” This includes a space of honor for their beloved Steinway.

One day, Laura and Alden were driving around and happened upon an estate sale. Alden wasn’t too enthusiastic about it, but once inside found a Steinway Model B Grand piano. He sat down. He played it. It was love at first keystroke.

Unfortunately, the seller had already promised her niece the piano, but she assured them that she would tell them within a week if anything changed. The week came and went, and a disappointed Alden flew to Atlanta to lead a training event. “Laura called me on a lunch break,” he recalls. “She said, ‘I just wanted to tell you, I'm so sorry. The niece decided to take the piano.’”

Little did he know Laura had actually purchased the piano and had it delivered while he was away. "She wanted to surprise me when I got home. But then when I walked in the door, I heard this plink, plink, plink, plink. Our cat had jumped onto it and was stepping on the keys.” he laughs.

Now, with their home finished and insured by PURE, they say all the extra effort was worth it. Not only do they anticipate receiving the IBHS Fortified Home certification—which increases the property value—but they know their home and family are safe. “It’s total peace of mind,” says Laura. “I know that we've done everything we possibly can to build a home that will last for generations.”