GEICO chairman steps down early Snyder helped make auto insurer 7th-largest in U.S.

William B. Snyder, who led Chevy Chase-based GEICO Corp. during some of the auto insurer's most profitable years, yesterday stepped down as chairman of the company a year earlier than planned.

Mr. Snyder, 64, also has resigned from the board of directors and will "pursue other interests in the property-casualty insurance business," the company said in a statement.


Apparently he'll spend some of his time running two Southern insurers GEICO bought two years ago.

Through partnerships he controls, Mr. Snyder has agreed to buy the Southern Heritage Insurance Co. in Atlanta and the Merastar Insurance Co. in Chattanooga, Tenn.


The two companies' combined annual premiums are $38 million, the company said, but no other financial details were disclosed. GEICO paid a total of almost $46 million for the two insurers in 1991.

In its statement yesterday, GEICO said its board has not named a successor.

But it has been widely expected that Olza M. "Tony" Nicely, one of

GEICO's two co-presidents and chief executive officers, will take over the top post.

Mr. Snyder relinquished the CEO title in June to Mr. Nicely, 50, and GEICO's investments chief, Louis Simpson, 56, who also serves as co-president.

Neither Mr. Snyder nor Mr. Nicely could be reached for comment yesterday.

A native of Clarksburg, W.Va., Mr. Snyder flew B-29s over Korea and then spent the first half of his career at the Travelers Corp. in Hartford, Conn.

GEICO, the nation's seventh-largest auto insurer, has stuck almost exclusively to its focus of insuring low-risk drivers through direct marketing campaigns, rather than through a higher-cost agent system.


The company's tough policy of quickly raising premiums on drivers with a history of accidents or refusing to renew their policies has allowed GEICO to keep its rates 10 percent to 15 percent lower than its competitors.

Mr. Snyder joined GEICO in 1977, two years after the company's near-financial collapse. With GEICO's then-chairman John Byrnes, a former Travelers colleague, Mr. Snyder and Mr. Simpson helped launch what was nicknamed "Operation Bootstrap" in an effort to revive the company. Mostly by avoiding high-risk customers, as well as risky stocks and junk bonds, the three men turned GEICO around.

The company, with $4.8 billion in assets, earned $84.5 million in the quarter that ended June 30, a 27 percent increase over the year-earlier period.

GEICO's stock closed yesterday at $55.25 a share, up 12.5 cents.