Best Agency to Work For – East

By | September 19, 2011

Belchertown, Mass.

Bell & Hudson

“Our boss is the bomb,” says Michelle Tetrault, her voice barely above a whisper as if she’s afraid of revealing a closely guarded secret. “They broke the mold with him. He’s a giving person, and family is always first. It’s an incredible environment to work in.”

That boss, James Phaneuf, has created an atmosphere at Bell & Hudson Insurance Agency that employees rave about. “The environment here is that of an extended family. We all watch over one another,” said one employee.

Tetrault spoke to Insurance Journal following Hurricane Irene’s descent on the east coast. Bell & Hudson, situated in Belchertown, Mass., had spent days bracing for the storm and preparing for an onslaught of property claims from the storm. The team of 14 employees protected their own homes, then returned to the office. “This is when our customers need us,” says Tetrault.

Such dedication in the face of an impending storm is not only admirable, but the backbone of why the agency has received the award as well as a Five Star Rating by the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents.

Bell & Hudson has been around a while — since the Civil War, in fact. Frederick Taylor, a cloth manufacturer, wanted to safeguard his property, so he established an insurance business. It was purchased in 1913 by George Bell, who then brought in a partner, Byron Hudson, in the 1930s.

Today, Bell & Hudson is an independent agency that produces $7.5 million in premium volume. A number of current customers are descendents of the company’s original customers. The agency has about 65 percent personal lines and 35 percent commercial.

Mergers are not a common part of business for Phaneuf and crew. In fact, much of the business growth comes via organic means. However, Phaneuf says they’re open to the possibility. “This is a time when a lot of smaller agencies are looking for partners. We’re exploring opportunities.”

One opportunity the company did take advantage of was to join an aggregator organization, Insurance Services of New England (ISNE). Phaneuf believes the expanded products and resources and access to markets enhances the agency’s offerings while allowing Bell & Hudson to remain independent. It also helped to secure more business with major carriers. “Insurance companies like dealing with big agencies. Now when we go in with the combined premium volume of 30 agencies, we have some clout.”

Another area of clout — staff education. Phaneuf says all of the staff is involved in some form of continuing education. But he’s quick to add that the climate at work is not all serious. “We’re trying to create an atmosphere where people can come to work and not just do a good job, but have a good time. You spend a third of your living hours in the office. If you can’t be happy at work, you really need to change what you’re doing.”

It must be working. The nomination for this award came at a particularly trying time for the employees. “Normally, I give raises on July first,” says Phaneuf. “I didn’t do that this year because it’s been a challenging year from a profit sharing point of view, and there’s some uncertainties in the marketplace. To do that and then a month later to have people answer a survey that says nice things about you — that makes it even better.”

The company brochure says “We don’t just make our living here — we make our lives here.” That motto plays out in how the agency gives back to the community. One particular fundraiser — the Putt-a-thon for the Jimmy Fund — was suggested by the agency about eight years ago. The miniature golf tournament wasn’t embraced at first by the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, but the agency convinced them to let them try. To date, that one event has raised over $300,000.

Employees embrace that same can-do attitude. “I’m so proud of our agency for its community involvement,” says one employee. “Also when a claim arises, I’m so proud how our agency steps up and helps our customers.”

Phaneuf is proud of his team and their professionalism, which he believes brings customers back. “We deal with people a lot of times when they’re not happy. They’ve had a fire or an accident or gone through a hurricane. We’re not always dealing with people when they’re at their best. It takes a special person to be able to do that and turn it into a positive experience for them.”

There are no heroes or standouts, and that’s by design. “It’s a lot of ‘we’,” says Phaneuf. “People are happy here.”

Very happy, it would seem. His employees often receive offers from other agencies trying to woo them away. Invariably, they tell their boss, who thinks this award will help reduce those calls. Little chance of anyone pulling these employees away from their boss. As one nominee stated “Our work environment is wonderful.”

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Insurance Journal West September 19, 2011
September 19, 2011
Insurance Journal West Magazine

Professional Liability Directory, The Best Insurance Agencies to Work For, Employment/HR Issue