Best Agency to Work For – South Central

By | September 19, 2011

Houston, Texas

HARCO Insurance Services

“We already knew we were the best place to work. We just wanted to let everyone else know, too.”

Gerri Rougeau is echoing what she and her team of 24 staff, 8 producers, and three managers already know. Houston-based HARCO Insurance Services is one great place to be. It’s not because the entire office was treated to a Mexican cruise for completing a six-month project within four months. That came from hard work and determination on the part of everyone in the office. It’s more than likely the product of a number of factors — from the family-style business atmosphere to the level of commitment exhibited in all employees. But make no mistake — HARCO is a cohesive, hardworking group that pulls together without hesitation.

Rougeau, the agency’s vice president, and her team were completing a computer conversion of files coming in from a new acquisition — a small family agency with 1,000 customers whose owner was ready for someone else to take over the administrative part. She referred to the file system conversion as a search-and-rescue effort, but despite the technical headaches, the acquisition has gone well. “It’s such a sense of accomplishment because you know all the challenges and we conquered it. The HARCO Swat Team has come in and rescued the project,” she says.

She’s not kidding. The agency has set up exactly that — a swat team approach to challenges that the firm faces. Everything from acquisitions to getting behind on renewals is cause for the company to hold a Swat Team Saturday, as Rougeau calls it, to help lighten the load and get the job done. That means giving up time off sometimes. But Rougeau says those that can show up do. “In this acquisition, we had 100 percent participation. They were here. The same goes if someone gets sick or there’s an illness or death. Our group pulls together.”

The company is actually two companies — HARCO Insurance Services, which is the property/casualty side, and HARCO Financial Services, which sells benefits and health products.

The insurance agency was founded in 1969 by Willis J. Hargrave Jr. Rougeau worked with Hargrave since 1970. Hargrave’s son Josh joined the firm in 1985, and together Josh and Gerri acquired ownership in the agency in 2000. Throughout the years, the company has managed over 30 acquisitions from one-person shops to small agencies.

The company is at $35 million in premium production and revenue is over $5 million.”We’ve grown a lot,” says Rougeau. “One of the things we like about acquisitions is our staff is very good at account rounding — account development. What we look for is an agency that doesn’t do a good job at that. That’s our claim to fame. That’s how we make our money.”

The last five or six years, however, acquisition possibilities are in short supply. Rougeau says it’s because of the growth requirements that companies have put on all agents. “Every agent around is looking for the opportunity to buy somebody or merge with somebody. Some of the smaller agents are being squeezed out because of companies demanding more and more.”

Their best selling point is to offer relief of the administrative side, says Rougeau. Our industry has changed a lot, and it’s evolving very differently. Some of the smaller agencies don’t keep up with the automation and technology part of it. We’re a good fit for them.”

That’s not to say all who apply are accepted. The team at HARCO vets each potential acquisition to ensure the cultures mesh. The well-being of the client is also an indicator of the fit. “We put the client first, so you can tell just in conversation how they feel about their clients, companies and relationships. We do a lot of homework.” The reason: they’ve made mistakes, ones that Rougeau says were tough to separate from.

Those mistakes are in the past, and Rougeau and company are much better at recognizing the traits that make an agency a good fit.

So is HARCO. All acquired customers get two letters post-acquisition — one comes from the originating agency explaining the acquisition and the promise of no disruption in service. The other comes from HARCO welcoming them to their family and inviting them to visit the office and meet the staff. Also, the original owners and producers are encouraged to stay on board. “When the owner or producer stay with the agency, our retention rates are very high. Customers don’t feel abandoned.”

Staff retention is high, as well. Most of the staff has been with the company five years or more, with some employees 20+ year veterans. That’s what makes this award — one from the employees — so special. “It’s for them,” says Rougeau. “Without them, there is no HARCO.”

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Insurance Journal West September 19, 2011
September 19, 2011
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