Salaries and Benefits Lead but Quality of People and Relationships Win Votes, Too
The results are in from the 2010 Best Independent Insurance Agency to Work For survey by Insurance Journal.
The owners of the Best Agencies to Work For in 2010 accent different programs or benefits depending upon their employee needs, their community, agency history, resources, even their own personalities and styles. However, it is clear that it’s not all about benefits and programs; it’s also about people and relationships. Employees of the winning agencies cite high personal job satisfaction, rate their relationships with their immediate boss or supervisor as positive, and express a high opinion of their agency’s owner or principals.
This year, many employees are grateful their bosses have managed their agencies well through the recession and dealt with them and their fellow employees fairly and openly in these tough economic times. A few agencies have actually managed to continue to grow and this achievement has not gone unnoticed by employees. But for those that have had to implement layoffs or freeze salaries, the best agencies did it fairly and communicated what was going on to employees at all times.
The best agencies also provide ways to help their employees grow – by giving them the tools and technology they need, and supporting them with education, training and, in some cases, mentors. The survey results clearly show employees value this support.
As expected, the winning agencies score high for overall employee benefits including wellness programs and for working conditions including flex-time and the ability to work from home when necessary. These agencies also believe in community involvement. Even as business slowed they continued to give back and to provide avenues for employees to participate in community service. Employees take pride in working for agencies that are respected in their communities.
The survey results are employee-driven, evaluations are based on employee feedback, and the comments are also from employees. The winners are representative of hundreds, if not thousands, of agencies across the country that are great places to work. Their examples may provide encouragement for other agency managers to think about ways to foster the employee loyalty and satisfaction enjoyed by the Best Agencies to Work For.
Best Agency to Work For – Overall
BARNEY & BARNEY LLC, San Diego, California
Finding the Perfect Balance
San Diego, Calif.-based Barney and Barney LLC, ranked No. 33 on Insurance Journal‘s Top 100 list, has grown year-over-year throughout the past 10 years. This privately held independent agency generated revenues of $36.61 million in 2009, including property/casualty written premiums of $277 million and other than P/C premiums of some $1.10 billion. Despite its large size, this organization maintains a positive corporate culture that encourages a work-life balance for all of its employees, says Paul Hering, CEO of Barney and Barney since 2004. That’s a main reason this agency beat out all others to rank as the 2010 Best Agency to Work For across all regions of the country.
“Barney & Barney has done a remarkable job in hiring people that have a passion for what they do. …It is an uplifting place to go every day. They care about me as a person. They encourage time off and vacations to be with your family. There is a true work-life balance here. It’s not said — it is actually practiced,” summarizes one employee.
Hering, who meets with every new associate — about 355 employees and counting during his tenure — says the reason his organization is a best agency to work for starts with the ownership’s strong belief in a healthy work-life balance.
“It’s easy these days with the pressures in the working world and with the economic challenges that we face in our own industry to let work become all consuming,” Hering says. But by maintaining a healthy work-life balance, the workforce at Barney and Barney stays happier, and in turn so do its clients.
“I think the clients get a sense when they are interacting with our people that our people like what they are doing; they like being here,” Hering says. That positive energy is contagious, he adds.
Employees also value this 100-year-old agency’s commitment to giving back to the communities it serves.
“The establishment and the endowment of the Barney & Barney Foundation epitomizes who Barney & Barney is,” wrote one employee. “As the company has grown, it has continued to focus outwardly, looking for ways to give back to the community, rather than focus only inwardly to try to maximize profit.”
Hering says that while the agency has always remained committed to its community over the years, for its 100th anniversary in 2009 leadership founded its own charitable foundation to further that commitment. Through the foundation’s efforts, Barney and Barney contributed $180,000 last year to charitable causes that the agency’s employees support.
Most of all, the employees at Barney and Barney say they feel valued and supported at every level.
One industry veteran summed up why he came to Barney and Barney after 30 years working elsewhere in the industry:
“Excellence is supported and rewarded; nothing less than the highest of ethical standards are demonstrated and demanded. People are treated with dignity and respect. Our reputation is stellar and I can be very proud of the company I work for and the people I work with.”
Best Agency to Work For – East
KMRD PARTNERS, Warrington, Pennsylvania
Something Special Every Time
When Kevin McPoyle and Robert Dietzel founded their namesake independent agency, KMRD Partners Inc., six years ago, they aimed to create a unique business model that blended high-level expertise in risk management techniques with an agency-wide emphasis on relationship-building. And they believe one of the most important relationships is with their employees.
Judging from the votes and appreciative comments from employees, the relationship-building at KMRD is working, which is why KMRD is the Insurance Journal Best Agency to Work for in the East region.
Working at the agency, according to one of the employees, “is one of those rare situations where you actually feel part of something new and special every time you walk into the office. I know it’s only insurance, but to us it’s a passion to change the industry one client at a time.”
The Warrington, Pa., agency focuses on providing coverage and risk management services to “upper middle-market” commercial accounts — many of which are too small to hire a full-time risk management staff, but large enough to need one. That’s KMRD’s selling point, a strategy that has allowed it to quickly add customers and new employees. Since its launch in late 2004, the firm has seen its annual premium volume grow to $14 million, its staff increase to 16 employees and five part-timers, and its offices expand into three locations.
McPoyle and Dietzel have achieved this early growth by building a work atmosphere that is competitive, provides well for employees and still maintains an atmosphere that feels like “a family,” according to employees.
“We spend a lot of time vetting new hires, so once we have that person we’re looking for, we want them to be able to focus on their job,” McPoyle said. “We want staff to feel secure that they and their families are taken care of.”
Those benefits include fully funded health insurance and matched 401ks, along with frequent lunches and picnics — and even occasional massages. The partners also work to build camaraderie and a sense of shared accomplishment, which helps complement the family-like atmosphere.
The agency has an “Employee of the Day” trophy, for instance, that is awarded by the agency’s CSRs, who often hear the compliments on how producers or other staff are doing their jobs. That praise is shared widely. Whenever an e-mail, phone call or other mention of an employee doing a good job comes in, it’s sent along to all of the staff. Perhaps the most obvious symbol of this shared sense of mission is the victory bell that hangs on the wall in the firm’s “war room.” “We ring it whenever we win,” McPoyle said. And what’s winning? “Winning is taking the other broker ‘out’ and winning the right to represent an account as their professional service provider.” In short, another relationship has been formed.
Judging by KMRD’s rapid growth in just six years — and by their employees’ enthusiasm — McPoyle and Dietzel should become experts in ringing that bell.
Best Agency to Work For – South Central
BRYAN INSURANCE AGENCY, Graham, Texas
A Place Worth Staying
“I would never consider leaving this agency for another job.” That’s what one obviously very happy employee said of Bryan Insurance Agency in Graham, Texas, one of Insurance Journal‘s 2010 Best Agencies to Work For.
That employee was not alone in praising the management, fellow employees and atmosphere at Bryan Insurance, which has been in business since 1921. The company was founded by Pat Bryan Sr., who “established a reputation of extraordinary personal service and professional compassion,” according to the agency’s Web site.
Current managing owner, Denny Bryan, became a partner in 1983 and took over the firm in 1986. A mid-size agency, it’s a member of the Combined Agents of America, which as a network of agencies is #19 on Insurance Journal‘s list of Top 100 Privately-Held Independent Agencies. Bryan Insurance serves the North Texas area writing all lines of insurance, including commercial business, personal, life and health policies. The agency has a specialty in the oil and gas sector, and writes around $19 million in property/casualty premium annually.
With a team of 20 insurance professionals, Bryan Insurance has been recognized in multiple years as an Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers “Best Practices Agency.”
Denny Bryan said he and his management team are glad to hear that their employees are happy where they are. We “realize that if we didn’t have them we wouldn’t be as successful as we are. We know they’re part of the team,” Bryan said. “We know that they work hard and we appreciate it. We know we couldn’t do it without them,” he added.
The anonymous employee who has no intention of leaving the firm went on to say: “The owner of our agency firmly believes in the team concept. Everyone, from the owner to the assistant receptionist, knows that their job is critical for the agency to be successful. Everyone works hard, and everyone is rewarded for his or her hard work. We are a team but we are also a family.”
The family theme reverberated in other employee responses.
Another said: “I know that if I have a family emergency, my ‘family’ members will be behind me with support at the office and prayer. Our ethics are high. That is such a valuable asset! We do what is right for the customer, always!”
Yet another employee explained: “The agency owner is our boss and very involved in the business. As employees, we can go to him with our concerns and know they will be taken into consideration.”
With an emphasis on high quality service, education, teamwork, ethics and maintaining a close family atmosphere, Bryan Insurance Agency certainly qualifies as a “best agency to work for.”
Best Agency to Work For – Southeast
SEITLIN, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Pride in What They Do
The employees at Florida-based insurance agency and advisory services firm Seitlin appreciate their salaries, bonuses and wellness program. But for them, their working environment is exemplary not just for what the agency does for them but also for what the agency allows them to do for themselves and for their customers.
What is striking about their evaluations of their agency is the pride the employees take in working there. They take pride in how customers are treated, in the agency’s role in the community, in their fellow employees, in the quality of their management, in their own professionalism, in how they have performed through the recession, even in the agency’s systems and procedures.
“Seitlin empowers employees and therefore as an extension of the organization, we work to give our clients no less than the best. It is this formula that brings about a successful employee and a satisfied client,” explained one employee with the agency that has been named the Best Agency to Work for in the Southeast by Insurance Journal.
“When a member is recognized for excellence, the good news is always relayed to the entire family and celebrated. Most importantly, all members are treated with respect. All in all, I am a proud member of the Seitlin family,” wrote another.
Seitlin reported $163 million in property/casualty premiums alone in 2009, placing it #63 on Insurance Journal‘s list of the Top 100 privately-held retail independent insurance agencies. Seitlin is also the exclusive southern Florida member of Assurex Global, a global partnership of agencies with a combined $19 billion in premium and access to the world’s insurance markets.
Seitlin President and CEO Thomas Cornish thinks one key to his agency’s success in providing a winning workplace is its strong commitment to the personal development of its people in the form of career planning and industry education — as well as in being proactive in providing real opportunities to move up in the organization.
“Seitlin strives to empower employees to utilize their individual unique talents, and to expand their abilities and expertise. …Employees are constantly encouraged to continue learning and growing within the industry,” one satisfied employee said.
Cornish also believes that giving employees a voice really matters. “We invest a lot of time in formal and informal communications,” he says, including town hall-style as well as informal breakfast meetings. The communication is appreciated — employees said they believe that their opinions do matter. “People are really given the room they need to learn and grow and ideas are always encouraged and welcomed,” summed up one employee.
Employees praised Cornish’s communication through the bad economy of the past few years in particular. “Through these tough economic times, Seitlin has done its best to keep our associates informed and feeling safe,” wrote an employee.
Another key is Seitlin’s strong commitment to the communities it serves through philanthropic and volunteer efforts. Seitlin associates are currently board members on Community Partnership for Homeless Inc., the Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation, The United Way Cabinets and The United Jewish Communities of Broward to name just a few. They are also involved in various associations for the industries they serve.
“People feel a need for connection to a greater cause,” Cornish contends.
Just one more reason to be proud of working at Seitlin.
Best Agency to Work For – Midwest
WINE SERGI & CO., St. Charles, Illinois
All in the Work Family
A few years back, R.H. Wine & Co., the parent corporation of Wine Sergi Insurance, had become big enough that some thought it might become a takeover target. Management worried that having that prospect hanging over their heads might demoralize the employees. And so, the company initiated an employee stock option plan so the company could become employee-owned and the employees could be sure that nothing was going to happen to the company without their input.
“They were going to take the entire work family as a whole and include them in any decisions,” said Adam Hackman, an account executive at the company. That inclusion of the employees created a “culture of caring,” where people work hard because they have a sense of ownership.
Wine Sergi Insurance, of St. Charles, Ill., was named a 2010 Best Agency to Work for, Midwest region, by Insurance Journal.
In the surveys employees of Wine Sergi sent in to Insurance Journal nominating their company, they mentioned as benefits of working for Wine Sergi everything from the fact that there is the stock option plan to the fitness facilities in the company building.
One employee said: “Our management is very open-minded, accommodating to the employees and they treat us like family.”
Another said: “Wine Sergi is employee-owned and, as a result, everyone is pulling on the same end of the string, working toward the same goals.”
R.H. Wine & Co. was founded in 1924 in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, the home town of Ernest Hemingway and the town where Frank Lloyd Wright had his home and studio in the early part of his career. In 1990, the company moved to St. Charles, Ill., a quaint little town on the Fox River in the far flung suburbs of Chicago.
In 1997, Jeff Wine, grandson of the founder, Dan Sergi and Gregg Peterson bought the business and formed what is now Wine Sergi Insurance.
The company has 95 employees, 30 of whom are in retail insurance, and it represents 50 insurance carriers. It is largely a business insurance firm, but they offer personal life, automobile, and health insurance too. Most of Wine Sergi’s business is located in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. But, it has accounts everywhere from Missouri to Texas to overseas.
Hackman said the company’s strength is that it is “niche specific.” He said it is a generalist agency that has a number of agents with expertise for particular types of businesses and institutions. That includes expertise in medical malpractice, expertise in insurance for financial companies and expertise for foundations and private schools. The company recently began offering financial services, as well.
Best Agency to Work For – West
CHAPMAN INSURANCE GROUP, Pasadena, California
The Feel Good Agency
It’s easy to feel good about your job when you’re helping people that help underserved communities. That’s why Greg Chapman, president of Chapman Insurance Group didn’t seem all that surprised that his agency was selected as the Insurance Journal Best Agency to Work For in the West region.
For more than 35 years, Chapman Insurance Group has provided insurance for nonprofits and social service agencies, such as homeless shelters, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and hospitals. Terry Chapman, who founded the company in 1973, began focusing on insurance for nonprofits since writing the first malpractice policy for Free Clinics in 1968. Over the years, he grew his small, family-run company and relationships in the industry, so that the company now, including benefits, writes about $100 million in annual premium and represents more than 2,200 social service agencies throughout the western United States.
Viewed as an expert in the nonprofit insurance niche, Terry Chapman co-authored the book, “Am I covered for …? A Comprehensive Guide to Insuring Your Nonprofit Organization,” which often is referred to as “the Nonprofit Insurance Bible.” And his son Greg is a faculty member at The Center for Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles and Sacramento.
But the company’s 48 employees say there’s a lot more to the agency than specializing in a feel-good industry. In particular, employees voiced appreciation over the fact that the company is run as a “meritocracy.”
At Chapman, employees have control over the work they do because they are paid on a percent of revenue on the size of book they handle — retention and new business — not the number of years they’ve been employed with the company, explained Greg Chapman. “The newest person, if he or she can handle a lot of business, can be the highest-paid employee. Compensation is all merit-based, and everyone knows where they stand all the time,” he said.
This comes in handy when employees experience life changes. For instance, if an employee says his children are starting school and wants to leave on time every day and handle less business, the company is OK with transferring accounts to another employee. “A few years later when the kids are in college and the employee has more time and wants ramp up his business again, as long as he’s hitting the servicing standards, he can get more business and increase his compensation,” Greg Chapman said.
That also means there are no surprises when it’s time for an annual review. Because compensation is tied to the size of business and employees receive feedback constantly, there’s no need to discuss money during a performance review. So the annual review process at Chapman has morphed into a training opportunity. Employees receive 360-degree reviews, in which peers give feedback on each other, so that the reviews are constructive and collaborative. Greg Chapman said the process breeds a team environment in which everyone benefits.
It’s also efficient: The agency was recently honored with an award for superior performance and efficiency by MarshBerry, a mergers and acquisitions consulting firm.
As one client advisor said: Chapman is a “rare and special place to work.” Employee benefits include flexible work schedules, the ability to telecommute every other day (especially handy given Los Angeles’ notorious traffic jams), and company-paid time to volunteer for charitable activities.
“Chapman is a very progressive firm where people are empowered to work to their full potential,” said another employee. The company “has created an environment where employees are respected for who they are and encouraged to contribute to the greater [good] of their fellow employees.”
- Brightway Insurance, Jacksonville, Florida
- Clark-Mortenson Agency, Keene, New Hampshire
- Hester, Heitel & Associates, Phoenix, Arizona
- Holmes Murphy & Associates, West Des Moines, Iowa
- Johnson Kendall & Johnson, Newtown, Pennsylvania
- Premier Insurance, Twin Falls, Idaho
- Rogers & Gray Insurance Agency, South Dennis, Mass.
- Thompson Flanagan, Chicago, Illinois
About the Survey
The results of the Insurance Journal 2010 Best Independent Insurance Agencies to Work For survey are from research that began with an online survey on www.insurancejournal.com in July. Employees were asked to nominate property/casualty independent insurance agencies; respondents were limited to current employees of the agency being nominated. A minimum of three to seven agency employee nominations, depending upon agency size, was required for an agency to be nominated. Employees had to complete a survey with 20 multiple part, in-depth questions on their working environment, employee benefits, work satisfaction and evaluations of owners and immediate bosses. Employees were asked for agencies that failed to qualify, 58 independent insurance agencies of all sizes and from all regions were in the competition.
Each question was assigned to one of five categories and assigned a numerical weight. The responses were scored according to various factors that included the importance to employees of the category and employees’ degree of satisfaction with their agency, boss and owner in that category. The responses were further analyzed in light of additional information that included specific workplace examples, relevant supporting comments and the size of the agency along with the number of employees participating. The process produced the agency with the highest overall score, as well as the top performers for each of five regions served by Insurance Journal.
Contributors to the survey design and results analysis include Wells Publishing Vice President of Content Andrew Simpson; Insurance Journal Editor-in-Chief Andrea Wells; Wells Publishing Vice President of New Business Development Adam Dunford and Christopher J. Boggs, director of education for the Insurance Journal Academy of Insurance. Insurance Journal also wishes to acknowledge Pamela Simpson, a management consultant based in South Hadley, Mass., for her contributions to the design and analysis. The winners’ profiles were written by Insurance Journal editors.